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What makes R.J. Hampton a special basketball prospect, in his own words and in the words of a scout

The Texas point guard is skipping college to play professionally in New Zealand. This is how he grew into a top NBA prospect.

R.J. Hampton is forgoing college basketball to play professionally for the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian-based NBL, he announced on Tuesday. The decision comes as a surprise after Hampton reclassified his high school graduating year from 2020 to 2019 earlier this spring and announced a final college list of Kansas, Memphis, and Texas Tech.

Hampton is ranked as the No. 5 overall recruit in ESPN’s 2019 rankings. He will be expected to be a top-five NBA draft pick in 2020 after spending one year in the NBL.

“There’s something that radiates from him that a lot of others don’t have,” said Corey Evans, a recruiting analyst for Rivals. “It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s something about him that’s different.”

Though he’s just 18 years old, Hampton already feels like he’s been in the spotlight for years. This isn’t the case of a late bloomer impressing scouts with one big weekend — Hampton has been consistently proving himself against the best players his age throughout his high school career. His credentials already include two medals with USA Basketball, a Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas, and a consensus top five ranking in his class.

At this point, Hampton has nothing left to prove at the high school level. He has burnished his reputation as a 6’5 lead guard with long arms, quick feet, and refined scoring instincts. Though Hampton has been groomed as a point guard, he’s versatile enough to play either backcourt spot because of his aggressive mindset, developing pick-and-roll capabilities, and 6’8 wingspan. The foundation of his game is driving to the basket as he continues to hone his jump shot.

What makes Hampton special? We talked to a recruiting analyst after his decision to reclassify, and also talked to Hampton himself one year ago in Indianapolis after a weekend of playing on the Under Armour Association.

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Hampton on himself

All quotes from April 28, 2018.

What do you feel like you need to work on before making the decision to reclassify?

I have the mental side of the game. I’m ready for that. I really need to get in the weight room and get stronger.

How can grassroots ball help you get better?

They’re sending double teams at me. Sometimes triple teams. Just learning how to make the right read, make the right play. I feel like if I do that, things are going to be a lot easier as the competition gets better.

Do you see yourself as a point guard or a shooting guard?

I’m really comfortable at both, but my true passion is being the point guard. I think college coaches would like to play me at the one and two. Whichever one works for them is fine. I’m comfortable at both.

What are the main things you want to improve at?

Getting more consistent at coming down and pulling up as a shooter. Also knowing your personnel as a passer. If you’re passing to a big who can’t really catch, as a point guard you have to know that. You can’t say it’s their fault if there’s a turnover. You have to know where he likes the ball,.

What player have you tried to model your game after?

I try to model my game a lot after Trae Young. Not really with shooting, but his ability to get into the crease of the defense and make plays out of it. Everyone saw his three-pointers, but he can pass the ball really well, too.

What are you looking for in a school?

Just somewhere I can say is home. Somewhere that feels like a family. I want the coach to let us play through mistakes, play early and often. If a coach lets me do that, I think I’ll be fine.

On Kansas

Kansas, they’ve been on me hard since my freshman year. Coach Self is a great guy. Him and coach Jerrance Howard have really talked to me the hardest about reclassifying in the 2019 class. They’re really just telling me they’re gonna have a good group of guys around me to play point guard, and off the ball.

R.J. Hampton on abolishing the NBA draft age limit

In spring 2018, SB Nation went to Indianapolis to talk to top high school players about the emerging FBI scandal in college basketball and the idea of abolishing the NBA draft age limit. Hampton is one of the players we talked to.

SHOULD THE AGE LIMIT BE ABOLISHED? “That’s something I would like to see a lot. I feel like with all the scandal and stuff going on in college, I don’t see why you shouldn’t let 18-year-olds come out and go straight to the league. If kids love basketball this much, they should be able to be paid for it.”

WOULD YOU CONSIDER GOING PRO IF IT WAS ABOLISHED? “Definitely. If I’m getting the right feedback, and I think I have a good chance of getting drafted, I would definitely explore that option. That’s my dream, so I would never turn that down.”

A scout’s take on R.J. Hampton

From Corey Evans, a national basketball analyst at Rivals.

What makes R.J. Hampton a blue chip prospect?

He can score, he can rebound, he can pass, he’s so quick footed. There’s so much potential to what he can become as a defender because he’s 6’5, instinctive, good length, quick feet. When you put it all together and project what he could become, that’s a serious NBA prospect in the coming years.

Is he a score-first guard or more of a true facilitator?

He still thinks score first, so you might think more two, but then again in today’s game scoring guards are now point guards. I think he’s a very good off the ball playmaker type. I think he’s still ironing some things out in terms of skill set. But long term, I think he’s a playmaking lead guard.

How skilled is he as a passer?

He has it all (as a passer). He can make the right reads, he’s gotten better off the high ball screen, he gets downhill with the ball so quickly, he sees the swing and kick out pass to the corner. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with the attack dribble. I think the next step for him is becoming a better perimeter jump shooter and also decision making. He can be a little loose with the ball. It’s more about evolving into the point guard position.

Where is he at as a shooter? He hit 27 percent of 26 attempts from three-point range last weekend on the EYBL.

I don’t think he’s as bad of a shooter as he showed the first weekend of the spring. I don’t think he’s a great 40-38 percent guy, but I think he can be a worthwhile 35 percent guy down the road. A lot of times these kids try to make a point by showing what they supposedly can’t do instead of making it what they can do. I think it’s about the shot selection as a whole. I also don’t think his team was super talented. He had to make some plays happen, and that might be why he shot so many threes.

I think it’s more about shot selection. His mechanics are decent. I think he needs to put more reps in with it. Another factor is he keeps growing. He’s grown about an inch or two in the last year or so. That changes the release point on your shot. I think in due time, once the body fills out, I think 35 percent is about right.

I still think he’s first and foremost a driver, a playmaker off the bounce. I think he’s also a worker. He’ll improve on that minor deficiency in his game. Three, four, five years down the road, when he’s playing his best basketball yet, he is a worthwhile shooter off the bounce from 22 feet.

How athletic is he? Would you say he’s less explosive than someone like Anthony Edwards (a Georgia commit who also reclassified)?

He might be honestly as athletic as Edwards. I wouldn’t call him explosive because of his body type, but he’s a deceptive athlete, a fluid athlete, and he’s so light footed. He’s not Jalen Green (a top class of 2020 recruit). That’s not what he is. But he is a way above average athlete. He can really move and surprise you every now and again.

What is R.J. Hampton’s mindset like?

He’s always been thee guy in the Texas area. He has a good friendship with a lot of NBA guys. He trains with De’Aaron Fox in the summer time. He’s had a lot of weight on his shoulders throughout the years. And that comes with the territory when you’re this acclaimed at such a young age.

What do you think of his recruiting decision?

Texas Tech is definitely the hot school right now when it comes to getting better and improving. You have guys like Jarrett Culver and Zhaire smith going from three-star recruits to lottery picks. I still don’t really give Texas Tech much of a chance there. I don’t think Kentucky has much of a chance either. I think it’s down to a two school race between Memphis and Kansas.

I think Kansas gets him. I know Memphis has a building, evolving cupboard of talent there. James Wiseman, DJ Jeffries, potentially Lester Quinones and Precious Achiuwa. That’s a lot of talent, but there’s only one ball to go around there. i think the proof is in the pudding at a place like Kansas. There’s no way that R.J. is not starting. They could go with a two guard tandem with Devon Dotson. It makes you think twice about Quentin Grimes’ future at Kansas.

R.J. Hampton by the numbers

Here’s how Hampton stacked up on Nike’s EYBL circuit in April 2019 in will be his only weekend of grassroots ball this year. You can find more EYBL stats here.

Here are Hampton’s numbers in 2018 on the Under Armour Association.

2018 Under Armour Association stats

League Games Usage rate True shooting percentage Points per game Assist rate Rebound rate Steal rate
League Games Usage rate True shooting percentage Points per game Assist rate Rebound rate Steal rate
2018 UAA 8 35.36 55.5 24.6 33.26 7.8 2.7

Here are Hampton’s stats through two appearances with USA Basketball. His 2018 run was limited because of a foot injury.

RealGM

R.J. Hampton mixtape

Here are Hampton’s highlights from late April 2019 playing on the EYBL circuit:

Here are his highlights from his final season of high school basketball at Little Elm in Texas.

R.J. Hampton recruiting prediction

Kansas. The Jayhawks don’t have a superstar recruit already committed for next season, but Hampton would change that. He’d start in the backcourt likely alongside sophomore Devon Dotson to give the Jayhawks a two point guard look reminiscent of the one they once ran with Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. Expect the Jayhawks to be a top-10 team in the preseason polls with Hampton.