Prospects get a taste of NBA life during All-Star Weekend

Amauri Hardy sat in the stands during NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, watching his little brother, Jaden, on the court with the leagu...


Amauri Hardy sat in the stands during NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, watching his little brother, Jaden, on the court with the league’s best young players. He thought about the work Jaden had put into his game and the courage he had shown leaving home as a teenager to pursue an untraditional path to professional basketball.

“I don’t know if he actually realizes how important this is, but I did it because I grew up watching this game a lot,” said Amauri Hardy proudly. “Just to see him there with the shirt with our last name on it, just to represent our whole family.”

He added: “He made the most of those moments.”

Jaden Hardy, 19, does not play in the NBA, although he believes he could have been drafted last year, right out of high school, if the rules had allowed it. Instead, he signed with the NBA G League Ignite, a Northern California development team that allows elite prospects to play professionally in the United States before being eligible for the NBA Draft.

This season, playing for the Ignite offered another advantage. The NBA included players from this experimental team in their All-Star Game festivities. It was an opportunity for the league to present the Ignite, a project now in its second year. It also gave gamers, many of whom were teenagers, an experience like no other.

Four Ignite players — Jaden Hardy, Scoot Henderson, MarJon Beauchamp and Dyson Daniels — joined 24 first- and second-year NBA players, 12 from each conference. Players were split into four teams, each with six NBA players and one Ignite player, for a mini-tournament on Friday of All-Star Weekend. Ignite players Fanbo Zeng and Mike Foster were scheduled to compete in a shooting competition during the tournament, although Zeng was unable to participate due to injury.

“I was nervous before the game before I even got out, but when I got out it relieved me,” said Beauchamp. He watches All-Star events every year, he said, “so just to see me on screen is pretty amazing.”

While league rules prevent players from going straight from high school to the NBA, playing for Ignite can be a lucrative path for prospects compared to playing in college – Ignite players can earn up to at $500,000 for the season. This may be more familiar than playing overseas, which some have tried.

They first heard that a few of them would be taking part in All-Star Weekend while training in New York.

“I just thanked God, honestly,” Henderson said. “I was very excited. The first thing I did was call my parents and share this moment with them. They were just saying they were proud of me and what I’ve done throughout. throughout my year.

The rest of their teammates attended Friday night’s events, as did family members and friends. Amauri Hardy was part family and part teammate – he plays on the Ignite with his brother. Daniels’ father traveled from the family home in Australia and saw his son for the first time in months.

This is the second season that the Ignite has existed. The team was designed to play a schedule that includes games against other G League teams and international exhibitions. Last year’s team produced two top-10 draft picks — Jalen Green of Houston and Jonathan Kuminga of Golden State.

It is made up of prospects and veterans who serve as mentors. They practiced in Cleveland Thursday and Saturday in preparation for a Sunday afternoon game against the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate.

Practices include competition and camaraderie for this group. They are all trying to become lottery picks, most of them in this year’s draft.

“It’s a bit tense at times in training,” Foster said. “They became brothers. We had this brotherly fight.

On Friday morning, they sat down for Rising Stars media day. That’s when Jaden Hardy really started to feel part of the weekend.

“It was just fun to be able to be out there on the field with these young stars really and just being able to go out and just laugh and compete,” he said.

One of those young stars was Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, a sophomore NBA player who met Hardy at camp a few years ago.

“I think he’s around us seeing young guys thriving in the NBA, I think he’s got a little glimpse of that,” Haliburton said. “And his future is bright, so I’m delighted he’s joining the league.”

Hardy’s team played Beauchamp’s team in the semi-finals and Hardy’s team won.

Beauchamp caught two lobs for dunks from Cole Anthony, a second-year guard for the Orlando Magic.

“I’m sure it must have been a surreal experience,” Anthony said. “Not even playing in the NBA, being NBA All-Star, that has got to be one of the most amazing experiences a kid can have. I wish I was there when I was in college just that year before entering the draft.

Among the players Henderson was most excited to play with on Friday night was LaMelo Ball, the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year.

When Henderson reflected on his path to professional basketball, Ball was one of his role models. Ball left high school after his second year to play professionally in Lithuania.

During his freshman year, Ball was very confident, noted Henderson, who joined the Ignite after his freshman year of high school.

Henderson was on Ball’s team for the Rising Stars Challenge and was thrilled to have the opportunity to play with him. Conversely, Ball appreciated Henderson’s interest in his path.

“My whole journey, I felt like it was going to help the younger generation, which I feel like I’m doing,” Ball said. “So just having kids do whatever they want, I feel like that’s awesome.”

Credit…Brian Sevald/NBAE, via Getty Images

But restrictions remain on players as they attempt to enter the NBA. Henderson, for example, won’t be eligible for the draft until 2023.

“If I had the opportunity and this chance, I would really like to play in the NBA next year,” Henderson said.

Henderson added that he found the environment with the Ignite helpful given the mentorship opportunities and the chance to play against NBA talent.

Beauchamp was a little nervous backstage on Friday before being introduced as a Rising Stars Challenge entrant to a larger audience than he’s ever played.

But the butterflies dissipated by the time he arrived for the introductions.

His appearance was an honor normally reserved for players in their first or second NBA season, not those, like Beauchamp, who are preparing for the draft. Between his accomplished teammates and the NBA veterans he saw sitting courtside, he looked around and pondered what he wanted for his future.

“I feel like that motivates me to want to be here,” Beauchamp said. “Again and again and again.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Prospects get a taste of NBA life during All-Star Weekend
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