Amauri Hardy sat in the stands during NBA All-Star Week in Cleveland, watching her little brother, Jaden, on the field with the best young players in the league. He thinks about the work Jaden has put into his game and the guts he showed when he left home as a teenager to follow the nontraditional path into professional basketball.
“I’m not sure if he really realized how big that moment was, but I did because I’ve grown up and watched this game a lot,” Amauri Hardy said, proudly. “Just to see him there with a shirt with our last name on it, just representing our whole family.”
He added, “He’s making the best of these moments.”
Jaden Hardy, 19, does not play in the NBA, although he believes he could have been enlisted last year, shortly after graduating from high school, if the rules allowed that. Instead, he signed with NBA G League Ignite, a Northern California-based development team that allows elite prospects to play professionally in the United States before they qualify for the NBA.
This season, playing for Ignite brings another perk. The NBA included players from that test team in their festivities around the All-Star Game. This is an opportunity for the federation to introduce Ignite, a project now in its second year. It also gives the players, many of them teenagers, an incomparable experience.
Four players from Ignite – Jaden Hardy, Scoot Henderson, MarJon Beauchamp and Dyson Daniels – join 24 first- and second-year NBA players, 12 from each conference. The players were divided into four teams, each with six NBA players and one Ignite player, for a minor tournament on Friday of All-Star Week. Ignite players Fanbo Zeng and Mike Foster were scheduled to participate in a shooting competition during the tournament, although Zeng was unable to participate due to injury.
Beauchamp said: “I was very nervous before the game before I walked out, but when I walked out there it felt like a relief. He watches All-Star events every year, he said, “so just seeing myself on the screen is pretty amazing.”
Although league rules prevent players from going straight from high school to the NBA, playing for Ignite can be a lucrative route to prospects when compared to playing in college – Ignite players have can earn up to $500,000 for the season. It may be a more familiar game than playing abroad, which some have tried.
They first heard that some of them were going to All-Star Weekend while practicing in New York.
“Honestly, I just thank God,” said Henderson. “I was so excited. The first thing I did was call my parents and share that moment with them. They just said they were proud of me and what I’ve accomplished in the past year.”
The rest of their teammates attended Friday night’s events, as did family members and friends. Amauri Hardy is both a family member and a teammate – he plays on Ignite alongside his brother. Daniels’ father was traveling from the family home in Australia and saw his son for the first time in months.
This is the second season of Ignite in existence. The team is designed to compete on a schedule that includes matches against other G League teams and international exhibitions. Last year’s team made two top 10 draft picks – Houston’s Jalen Green, and Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga.
It is made up of potential customers and veterans acting as mentors. They trained in Cleveland on Thursday and Saturday in preparation for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate.
Practice includes competition and camaraderie for this group. They’re all trying to be the draw, most of which are in this year’s draft.
“Sometimes it gets a little stressful in practice,” says Foster. “They have grown into brothers. We had a brotherly fight. “
On Friday morning, they sat down for a Rising Star media day. That’s when Jaden Hardy started to feel really part of the weekend.
“It’s been fun to go out on the field with those young stars and be able to go out and just laugh and play,” he said.
One of those young stars is Indiana Pacers bodyguard Tyrese Haliburton, a sophomore NBA player who met Hardy at a camp a few years ago.
“I think he’s around us, seeing us as young boys thriving in the NBA, I think he’s getting a little taste of that,” Haliburton said. “And his future is very bright, so I’m glad he’s in the tournament.”
Hardy’s team played Beauchamp’s team in the semi-finals and Hardy’s team won.
Beauchamp was caught twice by Cole Anthony, a sophomore of the Orlando Magic.
“I’m sure it must have been a surreal experience,” Anthony said. “Not even being able to play in the NBA, being in the NBA All-Star, it has to be one of the worst experiences a kid can go through. I wish I could have been there when I was in college just that year before admission started. ”
Among the players Henderson was most excited about Friday night was LaMelo Ball, the NBA’s 2020-21 rookie of the year.
When Henderson thinks about his path to professional basketball, Ball is one of his role models. Ball left high school after his sophomore year to play professionally in Lithuania.
During his rookie year, Ball was very confident, notes Henderson, who joined Ignite after his junior year.
Henderson was on the Ball’s team for the Rising Stars Challenge, and was delighted to have the opportunity to play with him. By contrast, Ball appreciates Henderson’s interest in his path.
“My whole journey, I feel it will help the younger generation, which I feel like doing,” Ball said. “So just letting the kids do what they want, I feel like that’s great.”
But restrictions remain for players as they attempt to enter NBA. Henderson, for example, will not qualify for the draft until 2023.
“If I get that chance and that opportunity, I’d definitely love to play in the NBA next year,” Henderson said.
Henderson added that he has found the environment with Ignite helpful when it comes to mentoring opportunities and the opportunity to play with NBA talent.
Beauchamp had a bit of anxiety behind the scenes on Friday before he was introduced as a participant in the Rising Stars Challenge with a larger audience than he has ever played.
But the butterflies were gone when he arrived for the introduction.
His appearance was an honor usually reserved for players in their first or second NBA season, not those who, like Beauchamp, prepare for the draft. Between his successful teammates and the NBA veterans he sees sitting side by side, he looks around and thinks about what he wants for his future.
“I feel like it motivates me to want to be here,” Beauchamp said. “Again and again.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/sports/basketball/nba-draft-prospects-basketball.html Outlook Enjoying NBA Life During All-Star Week