<
>

Loeliger lauds Next Stars program amid 'challenging' two years

The NBL is projected to produce more NBA talent from this season, with a number of young prospects eyeing off the June 23 draft.

On the back of headliners LaMelo Ball in 2020 and Josh Giddey in 2021, New Zealand Breakers wing Ousmane Dieng is expected to hear his name called in the first round. Melbourne United's Ariel Hukporti is also in the mix and while Perth Wildcats star Luke Travers isn't in the Next Stars program, he is hovering around the late draft conversation.

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger is pleased with the momentum the program has been able to carry despite being faced with the challenges of the global pandemic.

"It's been a challenging couple of years from a Next Stars point of view because it's been very, very difficult to recruit with COVID," Loeliger told ESPN.

"We got LaMelo, we got Josh over the line and then we had this strange couple of years. Essentially, we're asking parents to send their sons to the other side of the world during a global pandemic."

Travers and Dieng lead the Rookie of the Year running for NBL22, with Travers eligible despite playing a significant role with the Wildcats last season.

"The eligibility side of it is quite clear, when you're a development player, you're not considered to be in your rookie year," Loeliger said. "I guess the difference with Luke was that he was quite an exceptional development player and ended up playing so much basketball and contributing."

Given his importance to Perth's success over the last two seasons, it's difficult to view Travers as a rookie, with Loeliger admitting this rare occurrence may lead to an eligibility change in the future.

"That's something we might consider, but we do look at the eligibility criteria for all of the awards every year and we realistically live in a pretty dynamic world where things change," he said.

"We might need to review eligibility based on circumstance that hadn't really been presented before in the case of Luke Travers. It's something we will look at it and consider but I don't envisage it changing for this season."

The NBL's Next Stars program continues to grow in providing an alternative to NCAA basketball, while competitors such as the G League Ignite and Overtime Elite are beginning to make their mark with young prospects.

"We yielded a bit of ground to the G League and OTE so they've very much caught up and I think that's fine," Loeliger said.

"The Ignite are targeting the same age group but I think the two programs can suit different types of players. We've had a fantastic group of players this season, a number of them from Europe. I think it was a successful year, but certainly conversations are now absolutely inclusive of young US talent.

"Last year as a result of COVID there was a waiver of the rules where you have to sit out a year if you are transferring between schools. That rule has been reinstated now so if a player has had a less than ideal experience at a college, then we will certainly be in the mix for their next destination because they won't have to miss a season."

play
3:12

G League's Daniels excited to put versatile skills on show in Rising Stars Challenge

G League Ignite guard Dyson Daniels can't wait to test himself against NBA competition in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Australian guard Dyson Daniels, a projected lottery selection, just completed a successful season with Ignite. Daniels told ESPN that the advantage of playing under NBA regulations, including ball, court size and 48-minute games was just one of many factors that helped him make the decision to join Ignite.

"I don't think it hurts us too much that we aren't the same as the NBA," Loeliger said. "How important is it to a player like Dyson Daniels that he has the motor to go 48 minutes? He's a 19-year-old kid, I don't think anyone is really querying whether he has the stamina to go 25 percent longer.

"You bring a next star over here whether it's 40 or 48 minutes, it doesn't make a huge difference, it's whether they can play against a full-grown man, whether the mindset is there, whether the body is ready."

The topic of reverting the NBL back to the 48-minute era has been a topic of conversation lately, with Wildcats star Bryce Cotton telling ESPN he would like the extended game time.

"You've got the issue of being a FIBA accredited league. We don't really have the discretion to make those changes. The NBA has enough market power that they can make those decisions," Loeliger responded.

"It's also part of what makes our league unique, the court dimensions are slightly smaller, there's no defensive three second rule. It makes it tougher to score, it makes it a more defensive orientated competition that can be a real arm wrestle that comes down to physicality and IQ while having less reliance on athleticism. For me, I think that's a great thing."

Those principles don't necessarily jive with the NBA, where defensive limitations by law and wider offensive skillsets have created an explosion of scoring across the league.

Despite the differences, the NBL has emerged as a genuine pathway to the NBA, with the annual preseason crossover games set to resume prior to the 2022-23 season later this year.

"There will be two games. We're still finalising and looking forward to confirming with teams and then the public who those games will be between and still working to secure some more games," Loeliger said.