R.J. Hampton leaves New Zealand and returns to United States
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Teenage star R.J. Hampton has ended his short sojourn in New Zealand and Australian basketball and is returning to the United States to recover from a hip injury and prepare for the NBA draft.
Hampton was a high school star, highly sought-after by NCAA Division 1 colleges, who made a surprise decision last year to forego a college career and play professionally for the New Zealand Breakers in Australia’s National Basketball League.
He told The Associated Press at the time he preferred to “live like a pro and to play with grown men and not have to juggle books and basketball.”
Hampton later told New Zealand media he chose a unique route to the NBA to “change the culture of basketball.”
“I made the decision knowing this would happen, knowing I was going to cause some buzz in the basketball world and I’m glad I did because I think I really made the right decision,” he said.
“I was in calculus class three months ago with my friends in high school, going to lunch every day. All my friends started school for their senior year a couple of days ago and I’m not in school, I’m in New Zealand. But everyone understands; I’m just glad it all happened. I wanted to do this.”
The 1.96 meter (6′5″) point guard signed with the Breakers in March, 2019 with an option to leave when he felt ready to enter the NBA draft.
“R.J. leaves the NBL as a projected top 10 pick in the NBA draft,” NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said. “There is no doubt the time he has spent in a world-class league in the NBL has helped prepare him for the next step in his professional career.”
Hampton played 15 games for the Breakers, averaging 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Another 18-year-old American who played in the NBL this season, LaMelo Ball with the Illawarra Hawks, also returned to the U.S. last week The Hawks said Ball will continue his rehabilitation from a foot injury which kept him sidelined since November.
Both Ball and Hampton are expected to be first-round picks, with Ball touted as a possible No. 1.
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