Landmark NBL Next stars program kicks off with 2018/19 season

Earlier this year, the NBL released their newest initiative to bring young overseas talent to Australian shores. The Next Stars program is an attempt to further solidify the league's growing standing as a legitimate stepping stone to the NBA.

The Next Stars program targets NBA draft-eligible talents, and gives them an alternative to playing college hoops in America. Terrance Ferguson could well be seen as the guy that blazed the path for the idea, after the Oklahoma City Thunder guard opted to play for the Adelaide 36ers instead of NCAA ball during the 2016/17 season.

Ferguson would go on to be drafted 21st overall in the 2017 draft, and has since provided several highlight reel performances as his status continues to grow in the league. Playing NCAA basketball has long been the prime avenue for top-tier NBA draft prospects, but the continued battle for student/athlete renumeration and several potential rule breaches make Australia an intriguing alternative.

While the NBL pay scale pales in comparison to the NBA, it is handsome income for a teenager, and one that dwarfs a current G League deal. According to Fox Sports, Next Stars will earn $100,000 per year, along with perks like an apartment, car, flights, and personal development training.

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From a press release in March, NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman is confident the league can provide a unique experience for US players, and one that gives them an adequate path to the NBA.

“The NBL provides strong visibility back to the US. Our league is closest to the NBA in terms of style of play and game day presentation. We will work to build a program to provide the right access to NBA teams and scouts alike.

“While they are in the NBL we will work with the players to help them develop an acute understanding of the life of a professional basketballer on and off the court and ensure they are equipped to make the transition to their professional careers," Kestleman said.

The rules stipulate that eligible players must be in line to enter the draft the following year and spend at least one season with their club. To allow for room on the roster, the league will allow a fourth import spot, where a Next Star would slot in.

To this point, only one player has joined the program, with Brian Bowen signing on with the Kings for 2018-19. Speaking with the media post signing, Bowen was excited and optimistic it was the best avenue for himself.

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"I am honoured to be the first player under the NBL's Next Stars program and feel it will be the perfect next step as I continue the path toward fulfilling my dream of playing in the NBA," Bowen said.

“In joining the Sydney Kings, I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to start my professional career and look forward to learning from all the team's veteran pros, like Andrew Bogut, Jerome Randle and Brad Newley. I can't wait to get out to Sydney and join the team.”

A former McDonald's All-American in high school, Bowen is prodigious talent that will look to add to the championship favourites led by former NBA star, Andrew Bogut.

Via Fox Sports, NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger would have unquestionably liked to have more than one player signed on such a deal as the season tips off, but he remains hopeful Bowen won't be the lone Next Star on a roster this season.

“Because the NCAA make some of their decisions really, really late, we are still waiting on a couple of eligibility calls. There are still a few irons in the fire of some pretty high profile players," Loeliger said.

“We’ll wait and see, but I still hope to get one or two more.”

Bowen and the Kings are slated to tip off of their regular season campaign on Saturday afternoon against the Adelaide 36ers.

Stick with The Pick and Roll for any further developments of the Next Stars program as the 2018-19 season rolls on.

The Sydney Kings face the Adelaide 36ers on Saturday afternoon at 2:50pm AEST - The game will be televised on Fox Sports and Nine Go.