basketball

What’s next for LeBron James Jr.?

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC – As LeBron James sat in a folding chair in the corner of a recreation center basketball court last week, he often seemed to be in a state of agitation.

There was James, repeatedly walking up the court to check the scoreboard and the clock above him. Or chomp on an apple and dig into a gallon-sized bag of nuts. Or pleads “Come on, ref” if a call didn’t go his way.

He stood to whisper instructions to his son, who waved sharply as he passed the ball along the baseline. James took to the court at halftime – first to advise the coach of the travel ball team he sponsors, Strive for Greatness, and then to get up some left-handed shots, which many in the packed bleachers instructed to take out their cell phones to record the exercise.

For a few days at Peach Jam, Nike’s annual summer recruiting showcase, James was just another basketball dad (albeit one with a security detail). He was there following his oldest son, LeBron James Jr., who goes by Bronny and finds out where his basketball future lies, just like any other high school player entering his senior season (even with 6.3 million Instagram followers and a world- famous basketball superstar father).

Bronny, a 6-foot-2 guard, is largely characterized as having a sharp basketball IQ but lacking elite athleticism and a polished shot — an asset to almost any team but most likely a role player.

Whatever Bronny ends up doing a year from now — attend college, play in a developmental league or take an unconventional route — it’s unlikely to change the course of championship ambitions, say. the G League, the development league of the NBA run, or Overtime Elite, a nascent development league that pays high school and college-age players.

Still, his next move is sure to generate interest far beyond the hyperkinetic fishbowl of college basketball recruiting. James, 37, told The Athletic just before the NBA All-Star Game in February that his final season will be playing alongside his son. “Wherever Bronny is, that’s where I’m going to be,” he said, reenacting a scenario from his childhood in which Ken Griffey and his son Ken Griffey Jr. played together for the Seattle Mariners. “I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for a year. It’s not about the money then.”

(Bronny turns 18 in October and won’t be eligible for the NBA draft until 2024 under current rules, which require players to be at least 19 years old and have completed a year of high school.)

James, whose contract with the Lakers expires next June just as Bronny is about to graduate from Sierra Canyon School, a private school in Chatsworth, Calif., declined to discuss Bronny’s plans or how the experience will shape him next. Steps of preparing his basketball. Life is like that for him and his wife, Savannah, who sat next to him often last week with their 7-year-old daughter, Zhuri. (The Jameses’ youngest son, Bryce, 15, also plays at Sierra Canyon.)

There will be time to talk about Bronny’s future later, James said.

That’s right. While many of Bronny’s contemporaries are making campus visits, announcing college commitments or reaching agreements with developmental leagues in the coming weeks, Bronny has more immediate plans. He leaves Aug. 7 with a high school all-star team to play exhibitions in London, Paris and Rome that will be broadcast on ESPN.

However, as he begins to finalize his next step this fall, more than two dozen college and travel ball coaches, NBA scouts, television network officials and teenagers who have played with and against Bronny expect his recruitment — if not quite D ‘Decision Jr – to be far from the norm.

“I don’t think I’ll be on the phone with mom and dad all the time like I usually am,” said a head coach at a school with interest in Bronny. That person, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because coaches are prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting publicly about recruited athletes.

Ed Estevan, the Strive for Greatness coach and an assistant at Sierra Canyon, expects Bronny to recruit this fall.

“I understand he doesn’t have a normal life, but he’s just a regular, normal kid,” Estevan said, noting that it’s rare that Bronny enters a restaurant or walks through an airport without gawkers. “He wants to experience all the other things that all the other kids experience.”

College coaches, he added, didn’t put much effort into recruiting Bronny until recently because they were skeptical he would go to college. “Now, a lot of college coaches know that he has interest in college and that somewhere he will probably see himself, so the phone calls are going like crazy,” Estevan said.

A few things seem certain: If Bronny goes to college, it will be at a school sponsored by Nike, which has invested heavily in his father since James entered the NBA as a generational phenom in 2003 came James, will be a willing partner. James’ longtime advisors, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter, will be conduits for anyone interested in recruiting Bronny. “I have to listen to Dad, Rich or Maverick,” said an assistant at a school that expressed interest in recruiting him.

Finding the right place for Bronny may not be as easy as choosing a blue blood. Kentucky and Duke, for example, have already received commitments from 5-star point guards, his likely future position. UCLA is targeting an elite point guard, Isaiah Collier from Marietta, Ga., and will also have a stacked depth chart. (UCLA and his other home school, Southern California, had shown no interest as of last week.)

If Bronny doesn’t play a prominent role, what coach wants the headache of explaining why – to fans, media and James and his camp?

“You’re a normal person as a parent — you’re just looking for the best scenario for your kid,” said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, herself a former NBA star whose son Ashton, 18, is considering whether to play at Memphis or elsewhere. . . “As a parent, you want to make sure they’re supported wherever they go.”

Hardaway, who watched Bronny at least twice last week and spoke briefly with James, has leveraged his NBA connections with Mike Miller, Rasheed Wallace and Larry Brown on his staff in recent years. (Brown is weighing whether they will return; the others have left.) Hardaway’s record, however, is mixed. Emoni Bates, among the nation’s top recruits last season, flunked Memphis and has since transferred to Eastern Michigan.

Michigan Coach Juwan Howard, whose son Jett will be a freshman this season, played three seasons alongside James with the Miami Heat and spent another season with him as an assistant coach. The Wolverines are also interested, although it would be something if James – a lifelong Ohio State fan – sent his son to the Buckeyes’ rival.

Still, Bronny could end up in Columbus. Ohio State, which is where James most likely would have played had he gone to college, James said was interested in recruiting his son, and coach Chris Holtmann and assistant Jake Diebler had Bronny at the Peach Jam played

The limits of family ties would be tested, however, when Keith Dambrot, James’ high school coach in Akron, made a call. He is the coach at Duquesne.

One school making an unexpected push to recruit James is Rutgers, a basketball powerhouse. As far as it seems, Rutgers is hoping coach Steve Pikiell’s strong record of development — lightly regarded recruits like Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr.

As fun as Bronny’s could be in Piscataway, Peach Jam provided a window into what it looks like. Since he first played in the tournament before starting high school, crowds waiting for Bronny packed the aisles outside each court an hour before tip-off — even when high-major coaches on other courts look at more highly regarded prospects. This year, Ramel Drake, 32, of Graniteville, SC, came with his son, Mark, 5, thankful that they could wedge into the packed bleachers. (Mark pointed to Bronny wearing number 6.)

At this particular game, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul sat next to James in the corner of the gym, which he entered through a side door from the parking lot.

“Oh, man, the environment was crazy,” said Josh Hubbard, a guard from Madison, Miss., who posed with his father for a photo with James and his son after they played. “There were people outside the doors, people at the game before waiting just to see us play.”

During this year’s personal evaluation season, which just ended this week, the coaches saw another side of Bronny, who often played a supporting role on his high school and travel ball teams. Over the past few months, the Strive for Greatness roster has been constantly floundering, the team has rarely won and Bronny has been left to carry his team – a role that is familiar in the household.

“He’s solid as hell,” said Thaddeus Young, who just turned 15. “Obviously, probably not the elite of the elite. But he’s athletic, he’s strong, he plays defense, he knows the ball well shoot, he can run the point guard position, he can play the ball.

“I love his game,” Young added.

Before too long a wider audience will judge for themselves.

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