Coming from as far as Oklahoma and Florida, there were about 40 young men standing outside Pebblebrook High School in Georgia this past Saturday morning. All of the young men were on the verge of playing the most important basketball games of their lives. The Big Baller Brand Junior Basketball Association (JBA) made its tryout stop in Atlanta, which was the fifth out of eight participating cities in the league.
“This is what I consider a ‘no joke opportunity’ because you’re going to be compensated,” Team America Basketball owner and director Darrell Hykes, who had a handful of players trying out for the league, said. “To me, it’s like another job. This is an interview. Today is your interview and then they’ll call you back if you got the job; it’s very simple. And isn’t that how life works?”
The association allows for high school seniors, who previously had to spend a year overseas or in college before becoming eligible to declare for the NBA Draft, to travel and play while being compensated from mid-June to September. It was previously reported that the league will pay its players $3K to $10K a month and the association’s website said that every player on the championship-winning team will win a new Mercedes, BMW, or Cadillac.
Los Angeles Lakers guard and the face of the Big Baller Brand Lonzo Ball is personally excited about the possibilities of the league.
“I think it’s going to be good,” Ball said in an interview with rolling out. “Something new, it gives guys a lot of opportunities to follow their dreams and follow their paths. I’m looking forward to it.”
Due to ongoing NCAA investigations, nationally-ranked recruits may be unable to join the JBA, according to the league’s website. Although he reportedly turned down the chance to play in the JBA, five-star Princeton High School senior Darius Bazley is on his way to the NBA G-League to spend his gap year between high school and the NBA.
“Of all the critiques I’ve gotten, I think the funniest one is when people point out I’m only going to make $26K next year,” Bazley wrote in The Player’s Tribune. “Because I’m like, ‘Yo! I’m going to make $26K next year!’ I’m 17. I think having five dollars is a lot of money. If I have five dollars in my pocket when I go to school, I’m the happiest guy on earth. If my mom slips me a $20 I feel like I won the damn lottery.”
Ball believes, however, that the JBA will eventually begin to land the prospects like Bazley.
“I think it’s going to come with time,” Ball said. “People have to see that the league is real. It’s a real deal league; we’re not playing around and once guys see that, definitely more talent is going to come flooding in.”
There was still talent, however, at the Saturday’s tryout. Though there were occasional turnovers and natural mental mistakes that are bound to happen in such a pressured situation, there were also fast-paced rounds of scrimmages that featured backboard-rattling jams and equally impressive blocks. While waiting for the evaluators to make the final decisions, three players passed the time by comparing self alley-oop windmill dunks to one another.
One player who stood out among the others was a mobile big man who’s handles and passing skills were just as impressive as his ability to always look comfortable with any group that was on the floor with him. The player who was picked first to be on the Atlanta JBA squad earned the nickname “Big Jelly,” which was given to him by Ball himself after seeing the big man jelly early in the tryout process.
“We see a lot of potential in that young man,” JBA talent evaluator Lorenzo Ball said in an interview with rolling out. “He’s got good hands, good touch, but we just want to make him know that he has the ability and the talent. He’s just gotta put it all together to become a professional.”
The JBA tryout reveals there’s a chance that a great player who’s always flown under the radar will get some late exposure in the JBA circuit this summer. In year one without the big names on the prep-level, sending a couple of players from the league to professional leagues overseas, who wouldn’t have gotten the attention before playing in the league, should definitely be considered a 2018 success for the Big Baller Brand.
Watch the video recap of the Atlanta tryout on the next page.