How NBA draft hopeful Darius Bazley almost made history with Salt Lake City Stars but took a internship with New Balance instead

CHICAGO — Measuring 6-foot-7.75 inches without shoes with an official weight of 208.4 pounds, 18-year-old NBA prospect Darius Bazley showcased his basketball ability in front of scouts during last week’s combine after taking a full year off.

“Are those the Kawhi Leonard’s?” a reporter asked about his lime green sneakers, during Thursday’s media availability at Quest Multisport.

“No, they’re the Omnis 1,” Bazley quickly corrected him.

Even while focusing on basketball, the New Balance player’s exclusive sneakers were a reflection of his recent journey from McDonald’s All-American to Syracuse commit to near NBA G League player to intern and a recent combine attendee, preparing to be drafted.

However, last summer, there were serious behind-the-scenes discussions being made in Salt Lake City after he decommitted from Syracuse with the intention of becoming the first player to ever jump straight to the G League from high school, according to Deseret News sources. There was never direct interaction between the Salt Lake City Stars and Bazley, but the possibility was certainly tantalizing.

“I think it could be interesting because these high school kids are coming in,” Stars coach Martin Schiller told the Deseret News last June during the team’s open house. “So that could be interesting from a management and marketing standpoint because a lot of people will look at it. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.”

The Stars, the Utah Jazz’s G League affiliate, were awarded the No. 1 pick and seriously considered taking Bazley, which could’ve reshaped G League history forever. However, he ultimately chose to skip that option to train all year for the 2019 NBA draft, then accepted a three-month internship, worth $1 million, with New Balance in Massachusetts as the Stars selected Willie Reed first overall in October.

“I was gonna go to the G League but after talking to my agent (Rich Paul) and my mom, we just thought that wasn’t best for me and to sit out a year,” Bazley said. “It wasn’t really a long process, it was just going through it, weighing out options and seeing the pros and cons, what was good and what wasn’t, and I ended up choosing not to go.

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“At the time, I was about 190, maybe in the 180s, so to go to a grit-and-grind league like that, playing with grown men and just to be thrown in that, I didn’t think that might’ve been best for me,” he added. “The G League doesn’t have a high reputation for their travel and how they eat and how they train, so we just didn’t think that was the best thing for me, at the time for a kid to be thrown into a man’s league.”

During the time away, Bazley continued to follow NBA and college basketball closely, while developing a routine of weightlifting and basketball training at least two or three times a day. He occasionally played pickup games, but mostly competed through 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 sessions.

Bazley put up 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting in Scrimmage Game 4 during the combine to help Team 4 Gray beat Team 1 White 91-74 on Friday.

The former five-star recruit claims his original intention wasn’t to challenge the current NBA draft eligibility system in place for players to be one year removed from their original high school class, but more so for his own personal gratification. He interviewed with multiple teams throughout the combine, which he wouldn’t disclose, but whatever happens next in his career, he remains thankful for the New Balance opportunity where he studied marketing and teamed with the apparel and social divisions.

“For apparel, I held a focus group,” Bazley described. “I went to one of the local high schools and showed them some of the clothes sent to me, some of the basketball shoes … the ones I’m wearing now, but learning what fabrics to use, logo placement and what goes into making that. Looking at future trends, collaborations and stuff like that.”

As for the Stars, they did reach the club’s most successful season yet with 47,794 total fans at their home games this season. The team also improved by 11 victories, after racking up 27 wins in the regular season, to finish with a 27-23 record in 2018-19 and appear in the postseason.

For Bazley, that’s water under the bridge for what might’ve been as he’s now endorsing New Balance while fighting for an NBA spot, which was on display with the lime green shoes. He will celebrate his 19th birthday on June 12.

“New Balance, it’s very family-oriented so it’s not really like we tell you to do this and you do it,” he said. “They give me an opportunity to voice my opinion, so I think learning that was good for me, so I do have the knowledge for me to be able to say, ‘Maybe we should go about things this way,’ and me being able to learn that also gives the credibility.”

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