Michael Foster Jr. seemed to be on the traditional path that most talented basketball players have taken in trying to reach the NBA.
When he was an early talented freshman at Milwaukee Washington High School in 2017, Foster engaged to play at Arizona State.
Much has happened since then. In 2018, Foster has reopened its recruitment. Then he moved to a prep school in Arizona. After reflecting on the state of Florida or Georgia, Foster chose not to go to college and is playing this season. with the G League Ignite, a team of talented young players competing in the NBA minor league.
This is one of the many roads that have opened up for the hoop phenomena.
NBA prospects could still skip college and play professionally abroad. Former Milwaukee Bucks goalie Brandon Jennings made headlines for making the move in 2008, and several players have chosen to follow suit, including Alex Antetokounmpo, former Dominican from Whitefish Bay, last year.
There’s also Overtime Elite, a new company that pays school-aged players.
“It’s definitely the best route for me,” Foster said of G League Ignite.
Foster finds the right moves
Foster didn’t think much about his future when he started to make a name for himself in Washington. He had just started playing in earnest in college with the Milwaukee Spartans AAU team.
But soon, Foster found himself ranked among the top players in the recruiting class of 2021.
âTo be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to things like that,â Foster said. âEven college level, which I was supposed to be looking for. As a kid, I spent my days hooping. I try to be the best I can be.
Once he realized he had professional potential, Foster went on to do what was best for his career. This included leaving for Hillcrest Prep in Arizona after two seasons in Washington.
âThe city center was getting a little bad,â he said. âI wanted to play at the highest level and show my skills, so I decided to prepare myself. Arizona was the best for me at the time.
Hillcrest has played against top contenders across the United States. Foster grew into a force at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, finishing as a No. 22 rookie in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2021 class.
By then, the G League Ignite had become a serious option. The NBA created the squad for the 2020-21 season, signing a handful of highly-rated rookies and surrounding them with veterans to teach young players the ropes. The NBA collective agreement states that a prospect must be at least 19 years of age in the calendar year of the draft to join the league.
Foster was intrigued. He decided to drop out of college and enlisted in the G League Ignite in April. He would have signed for about $ 300,000.
âI wanted to be a pro,â Foster said. âI saw what they did last year with the other guys, Isaiah Todd, (Jonathan) Kuminga, Jalen Green. I feel like I’m a lottery pick. Top five. feel like it gave me a better opportunity.
âPlus, it was about being competitive. I know it’s a filthy league. I’m all about it. I want to show my talent at the best level.
Foster lives in an apartment complex with other Ignite players in Walnut Creek, California. The team provides them with media training and life learning courses. But the players are here to improve and Foster has already reaped the rewards of being a pro.
âYou can see it,â Foster said. “If you watch the games, I get better with every game. I have people coming to me from the stands and saying, ‘You are better in every game. Keep up the good work.'”
In his first 13 games for the Ignite, Foster averaged 14.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Most of the early 2022 NBA drafts project him as a late pick in the first round or early in the second round.
A new business is emerging
De’Vontes Cobb grew up playing around Milwaukee on the same courts as Foster. They ended up with similar trips.
By the time Cobb reached eighth grade, he had gained viral fame with his reel of dunks on YouTube.
âI grew up watching Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Diamond Stone,â Cobb said. âA lot of potential from Milwaukee came out. Just seeing how they got to such a stage really put a lot of fuel on me. Because I wanted to be there too.â
Cobb wanted to play in Washington, where his mother was present. But she moved the family to Arizona just before he enrolled in high school.
âI was a bit injured because I wanted to play at home,â said Cobb. “But I feel like moving has helped me get into the position I am in.”
Cobb bounces. There was a brief stint in California with his father and stopped at several prep schools in Arizona, including Hillcrest, where he teamed up with Foster. The two still keep a close eye on each other.
Cobb, a 6-3 guard, had drawn offers from Class 2022 major schools, but he was more drawn to a new venture in Atlanta.
The Overtime Elite League was born from a digital company specializing in flagship videos of amateur players. With financial backing from celebrities such as Drake and NBA player Carmelo Anthony, Overtime wanted to create their own content and therefore began offering contracts worth over $ 100,000 to high school players. The company has built a vibrant facility in Atlanta that includes classrooms and a gym that will host games against other development teams not bound by amateur rules.
Cobb’s flashy play suited Overtime’s eyeball-seeking strategy well.
âI loved what they were talking about,â he said. âI just like the things they said to me to persuade me to come here. It wasn’t just ‘you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that.’ It was you are going to get better on and off the court.We are going to teach you how to be a better person in life, not just in basketball.
âIt’s more than basketball. Yeah, basketball is my dream. It’s my life. But the ball has to stop bouncing someday. Here we just learn life skills type stuff. How to be a better person or just energetic stuff. “
Signing a contract in August meant Cobb was no longer eligible to play in the NCAA.
âIt was a bit difficult at the start,â said Cobb. âThe first few days were tough just thinking about it. Just giving up my college eligibility was a huge thing. Because I would be the first in my family to play DI basketball. So the simple one. Being able to give it up was a huge loss. But coming here has been a huge gain because I’ve improved a lot since we’ve been here. I feel like what we do is real professional stuff. “
Overtime also helps Cobb complete his education. The league will also pay the tuition fees for one of its players.
âIt’s convenient,â Cobb said. âPeople are listening. The teachers really care. Even on our days off when we don’t have a school, you can call them and ask them for help and I guarantee they will help you out. proper way.”
The more options the better
In most countries, the development of young players is not linked to the education system. Professional teams have their own youth teams and academies.
Alex Antetokounmpo saw the whole spectrum. Growing up in Greece, his brothers Thanasis and Giannis got attached to professional teams as a teenager. The family moved to the United States after Giannis was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, so the younger brothers Kostas and Alex became members of the American amateur system while playing Dominican.
Kostas spent two years at college in Dayton, including a red shirt season, with mixed success before turning pro. He won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 and now plays in France.
The G League Ignite only takes a handful of high school’s top prospects – Foster is one of five this year – but now Overtime Elite offers a professional league where young American players can stay at home.
âI’m never the type to close any type of opportunity,â said Alex Antetokounmpo. âIf that was a factor or thing that was going on at the time, I certainly would have taken that into consideration and seen how it could benefit me, see how it could improve the situation. I would have sat down and I would have watched, analyzed.
The best rookies always choose to play in the NCAA, which gives them more exposure on TV and puts them in front of much bigger crowds than the G League or Overtime Elite. College players can also enjoy their name, image and likeness for the first time this season.
This all adds up to more choices, which most would agree is a good thing.
“It’s a great opportunity for young people to just be able to have more options, to be able to go somewhere to really finish their game,” said Antetokounmpo. âI really believe that not everyone is suited to the traditional university path. Also, not everyone is suited to go abroad.
âThese are kids who need to be fed and supervised and who can just play for their hometown or stay closer to their family. And some kids who need to get away from that. There are kids who need to have a financial impact. in their life the household right now and some kids who prefer to go developmental and get a degree. Having as many options as possible is going to be the best avenue possible for kids playing basketball. “
Sentinel Journal reporter Jim Owczarski contributed to this story.