The debate over changing eligibility requirements to once again allow recent high school players who are at least 18 years old into the N.B.A. has resurfaced as elite prospects cycle through college for pit-stop solitary seasons or consider playing professionally overseas.
In the meantime, the N.B.A. created the Ignite team, which has already drawn the ire of some college coaches. The team is headed by Brian Shaw, a former longtime N.B.A. player and Denver Nuggets head coach. Jonathan Kuminga was 17 when he signed to play with the Ignite during its truncated inaugural season. Because of his October birthday, Kuminga is draft eligible and is expected to be an early lottery selection.
Henderson will remain a member of the Ignite longer than if he had gone to college for a season at Georgia or Auburn, his two finalists.
“He can take his time a little bit,” said Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the G League’s president. “There’s no expectation that he has to get everything accomplished in a short amount of time. That takes a little bit of the whatever you want to call it — the anxiety, the pressure, the anticipation — of how he enters this. I think he can really enter it with a growth mind-set.”
Shaw described Henderson’s attacking style of play as “kind of similar to like a Russell Westbrook,” who is one of Henderson’s favorite players, as is Kobe Bryant, one of Shaw’s former teammates.
“I think that just gives him more time to develop and to prepare for his journey and his lifelong dream to play in the N.B.A.” Shaw said. “This is a new situation, and we’re evolving kind of with the teams and this unique situation.”
The Ignite team is not a traditional G League member. Based in Walnut Creek, Calif., a city about 15 miles east of Oakland, the team plays against G League opponents and scrimmages against international teams. The players receive a scholarship to Arizona State University to enroll in online courses and are taught life skills like community involvement and how to handle taxes and interviews. Top prospects like Jaden Hardy, Michael Foster and Fanbo Zeng have already committed to this year’s team.