Last month, the NBA G League announced that Select Contracts will be available for elite prospects not yet eligible for the NBA Draft beginning in 2019-20. On Tuesday, the league tapped the basketball executives who will be tasked with leading that “professional path” initiative.
Former WNBA player Allison Feaster will helm the group tasked with identifying eligible players and overseeing the implementation of the initiative. Former NBA player Rod Strickland will focus on educating the prospects on the professional path.
NBAGLeague.com caught up with both to learn more about their new roles and answer questions that have already arisen about the NBA G League professional path.
NBAGLeague.com: How did you initially get involved in planning for the professional path and what were your initial thoughts on the initiative?
Feaster: I started with the G League after my stint with the Basketball Operations Program wrapped up a little over a year ago in September 2017. One of the wonderful things about the G League is that we touch a lot of areas. [NBA G League President] Malcolm Turner and [NBA G League Head of Basketball Operations] Brad Walker certainly included our group and allowed us to include our feedback.
It’s an example of how agile and nimble our league is. We’re able to be mindful of and respond to what’s going on in the basketball ecosystem. This is a developmental league and it’s a testing ground. It makes sense for us in training future NBA players.
NBAGLeague.com: Rod, how did this opportunity to be program manager for the professional path come about?
Strickland: I had been coming to the office and meeting with people, having conversations about basketball and the high school and college development systems. That’s what really started it. People started throwing my name out there. I had an opportunity to sit down with Malcolm Turner and [NBA G League Vice President of Operations] Tommy Smith and have a conversation about the G League and everything went from there.
NBAGLeague.com: What made you decide that this should be the next step of your career?
Strickland: I was a professional athlete for 17 years and a college coach for 11 years, so that gave me the background of dealing with players, the coaching responsibilities, and the mentoring and evaluation aspects of the job. I was looking to get back into the NBA in some capacity, so when this was presented to me, I thought that was a great fit.
NBAGLeague.com: What will your role be getting this off the ground?
Strickland: I will educate and be the first line of communication for the professional path. I have to be out and about and see these players. I’m going to talk to parents about this path and walk them through the options. We’re still in the process of figuring things out, but we’ll balance time in the office and on the road as we go.
Feaster: I’m going to lead a group of internal people who will identify prospects. We’re going to refine the professional path overall for potential signees. We want to make it as appealing as possible for future players. We want to get feedback and educate folks on the G League as an alternative path. We are flexible. We have a framework with a higher salary that is attractive and a full scholarship for finishing education. We anticipate crafting something that can attract a prospect.
NBAGLeague.com: Who was involved in hiring the program manager and what were you looking for?
Feaster: I wasn’t involved in the hiring, but I can certainly say that Rod Strickland is the best person for the job. He has an extensive background in the college space and had a storied NBA career. He has a son who was a prospect in his own right. Rod is someone with diverse experience who will be able to speak to a variety of stakeholders as we move forward.
NBAGLeague.com: Rod, what did you learn during your time in college basketball, specifically working under John Calipari, that will help you in this new role?
Being a college coach, working with him is a different level. You learn leadership and how to help kids grow into young men. Coach [Calipari] holds people accountable and I’ve come to understand what that means from him. He’s a forward-thinker who thinks long-term. As we look at these [Select Contract-eligible] players, we want to help them develop and meet their end goal of reaching the NBA in a similar way.
NBAGLeague.com: How many prospects do you expect to sign to Select Contracts during this first year?
Feaster: We anticipate no more than a handful of Select Contract signings.
NBAGLeague.com: How will you identify which players to offer the Select Contracts to?
Strickland: We have a group that we’ve put together and will use some of the scouting services available. We’ll also use our eyes and target players who are physically and mentally ready to become a professional. It won’t be easy. Players will have to dig deep and put their mind and body into it. They’ll be pushed, but I think that’s a great thing. That’s what athletes are looking for. It’s a new challenge and I think the first player that takes advantage of this opportunity can change the game and make his mark.
NBAGLeague.com: Why should these elite high school prospects choose the G League over college basketball?
Strickland: We just want to inform them of their options. If they want to become professional athletes sooner, we want to guide them and try to help them become successful. But this is their choice. The professional path is an opportunity where you can play NBA-caliber players, be developed throughout the year, and have a chance to finish your education. You’ll be mentored by former NBA and G League players who have been through it. You’ll hone your skills every day and be pushed.
NBAGLeague.com: How do you see the dynamic between teenagers with Select Contracts, and grown men who are making less money, playing out in the locker room? How can you work to make sure issues don’t occur?
Feaster: These are contracts for elite prospects — prospects who would otherwise be able to make the jump from high school to the. G League players play alongside NBA assignees and Two-Way Players day-in and day-out. We respect the hard work that our G League players put in and consider them the backbone of our league. We are constantly working to improve their experience. This has always been a developmental ground for everyone. We have the second-best league in the world and are proud of that. Those feelings are possible, but we hope players realize that this will make our league better in the future.
Strickland: I think basketball is basketball and the locker room is just part of the experience. I don’t foresee it being much of an issue, but we’ll have mentors available to help them get through it. We have to find people who are ready to handle their business professionally. That’s part of growth and learning, so it doesn’t concern me.
NBAGLeague.com: There have been cautionary tales of young athletes who pour everything into basketball and then it doesn’t work out. How will this program support Select Contract players beyond their one year in the G League?
Feaster: When this professional path was announced, one of the criticisms was that it may diminish the emphasis on education. As someone who played four years in college and then professionally, a big component of this path is the education and the off-the-court development these players receive. There’s scholarship and other career opportunities they’ll receive that are amazing. Once a player is in the NBA family, they have access to different initiatives and career development programs. I was a recipient of one of those programs, and it changed my life.
Strickland: We’ll have mentors who will help young people understand life after basketball. It’s the reality of what we do. Regardless of how long you play, you have to think of what comes next. We have to inform them of their options and prepare them for that adjustment.