NBL CEO confident NBA lottery picks could play in Australia this season

The NBL could have "several" future high NBA draft picks playing this season as they look to expand their Next Stars program.

NBL chief executive Jeremy Loeliger recently returned from the United States where he met with multiple top NBA agents and advisors to top-tier teenagers who are looking at their options beyond playing in the college system.

NBL chief executive Jeremy Loeliger.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Loeliger told The Age he was increasingly confident lottery talents – the top 13 picks – could chose to play in the NBL and use it as a springboard into the 2020 NBA draft.

The Australian league has made big strides, having had Oklahoma City guard Terrance Ferguson drafted in the first round in 2017 after playing with Adelaide and current NBA players Torrey Craig and James Ennis begin their professional careers in the NBL before earning NBA deals.

NBL MVP Andrew Bogut has also pushed the league further into the spotlight since re-joining the Golden State Warriors after a stellar season with the Sydney Kings.

This season the Kings had US swingman Brian Bowen jnr on their roster as a Next Stars signing and he is projected to be on the fringe of the first round or early second round of the draft, scheduled for June 21 (AEST).

Bowen jnr was ruled ineligible to play US college basketball so played professionally in the NBL.

The NBL launched Next Stars last year, a program where the league signs a star teenager and assigns them to an agreed team outside of the three imports.

This off-season they plan to sign players to longer-term deals, which comprise an NBL ambassador role once they enter the NBA.

"I think there will be several Next Star offers this year as the program has taken a step up in terms of the maturity and credibility," Loeliger said.

"We have transitioned from a program where we were essentially they slipped through the cracks to instead being an bona fide, alternative pathway to the NBA for folks who will be lottery picks and genuine superstars."

It's understood the NBL has eyes on at least two top-tier talents and has interest from some others but don't expect to announce any signings until later in the Australian winter.

"That has potentially happened quicker than I was anticipating and I say potentially because we haven't signed anyone yet," Loeliger said.

"But the conversations we are having are on a completely different scale to this point last year."

During Ferguson's season with the Adelaide 36ers, Australian teammates Mitch Creek and Nathan Sobey caught the eyes of NBA scouts who were watching Ferguson. Creek spent time with Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves this season.

Loeliger said the league had no qualms in putting more money into Next Stars because of the potential returns.

Bogut, Ennis and Craig have all played big roles during the NBA playoffs and all have had their NBL connections mentioned during the TV coverage, exposing the league to millions of viewers around the world.

"We want to maintain the connection with these athletes and engage them as ambassadors to spread the word about the league and the credibility of the program," Loeliger said.

"Essentially it helps us recruit the next generation of talent after them and with greater profile these guys will have, they can do significant things with their profile for the benefit of the league for an ongoing basis."

For many years elite Australian players chose the US college system due to the exposure to NBA scouts and audiences, but that is changing too, with rookie of the year Harry Froling leaving college to star in the NBL with Adelaide last season and his younger brother Sam recently following suit and signing with Illawarra Hawks.

Harry Froling completed an NBA draft workout with Utah Jazz this weekend and is expected to complete several more as he looks to work his way into the draft.

Loeliger is confident the league could make some big news should their targeted players sign on.

"You never know what can happen at the 11th hour but if we can announce one or two of the guys we have been talking with then that will open discussions with many more agents," Loeliger said.

"If you are moving in the right circles and speaking with the right people that gets noticed and we have some great people in the US helping spread the word about the program."

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