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Be­tween Dante Exum, Ben Sim­mons, Thon Maker and most re­cently Jonah Bolden, the stream of tal­ent from Aus­tralia to the NBA has be­come well-es­tab­lished. Is there a place for Aus­tralia’s league in that flow?

The NBL has pro­duced play­ers who have gone on to long NBA ca­reers, in­clud­ing the likes of Stephen Jackson. But rather than be­ing a stop for hoops vagabonds, the league hopes to po­si­tion it­self as a des­ti­na­tion on bas­ket­ball’s de­vel­op­men­tal lad­der. The pos­si­bil­i­ties were ev­i­dent with Ter­rance Fer­gu­son (in­set), the Amer­i­can who by­passed col­lege to play for the Ade­laide 36ers last year. The teen was ex­pected to be cho­sen in the NBA Draft af­ter spend­ing the manda­tory year out of high school, and he was duly picked no.21 last June by Ok­la­homa City.

In a fil­lip for the NBL, an­other of its play­ers from last sea­son, Bris­bane im­port Tor­rey Craig (be­low), landed an NBA deal with the Den­ver Nuggets. It il­lus­trates how the path­way to the NBA has be­come a dual track: teams still pri­ori­tise young, raw tal­ent such as Fer­gu­son, but rather than pluck the next guy out of col­lege, they take a longer look at sea­soned pros such as Craig.

Andrew Gaze had an up-close view of the NBA’s per­son­nel process while work­ing as a coach for the In­di­ana Pac­ers in Sum­mer League. “It’s a path­way which the NBA teams like be­cause they see guys de­vel­oped who are role-spe­cific, they un­der­stand what it takes to be a pro­fes­sional on and off the floor,” Gaze says. “That path­way wasn’t there 20 or 30 years ago, or wasn’t as heav­ily mon­i­tored ... You look at these kids like Ter­rance Fer­gu­son, they’re see­ing the in­ter­na­tional route as not just say­ing ‘this is going to be my lot for the rest of my ca­reer’."

Gaze has his own in­ter­est­ing prospect at the Kings, as highly touted Aussie big man Isaac Humphries re­turned home to start his pro ca­reer. Humphries made a sur­prise de­ci­sion to leave Ken­tucky, col­lege bas­ket­ball’s premier fin­ish­ing school, hav­ing never quite found his foot­ing.

“But, he’s only 19 years of age,” Gaze notes. “Whether it’s here or in Europe, if his ul­ti­mate goal is to get to the NBA, he’s got the skill set and if he builds up his body, there’s no rea­son to think that goal isn’t an un­re­al­is­tic one.”

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