David Stevenson says the proven pathway from the NBL to the NBA provides greater "credibility" for the league.

19 Dec
By Dan Woods for

NBL CEO David Stevenson says the league’s focus is on recruiting the world’s top young basketballers over NBA veterans at the end of their careers, due to the increased “credibility’ it can provide for the league.

Eight Next Stars are currently participating in NBL24. Americans AJ Johnson (Illawarra) and Trentyn Flowers (Adelaide), Europeans Mantas Rubstavicius (New Zealand), Bobi Klintman (Cairns), Alexandre Sarr (Perth) and Ariel Hukporti (Melbourne) and Australians Rocco Zikarsky (Brisbane) and Alex Toohey (Sydney) are part of the largest crop of Next Stars in NBL history, with only Zikarsky ineligible for the 2024 Draft.

Sarr has been touted as a potential number one selection by The Athletic, while Bobi Klintman, AJ Johnson and Trentyn Flowers have all been projected as first round selections in Yahoo Sports’ recent mock draft.

“We had great interest from a number of those NBA legend type players, what I would say is our Next Stars program is really our priority in that regard,” Stevenson told RSN.

“Even though they’re younger and generally only playing here for a year, if they go and be a top five draft pick like Alex Sarr is looking like in Perth, then you get the credibility for the rest of their career versus the tail end.

“The clubs are in lots of good conversations with some of those NBA players, but really Next Stars is our focus.

“I just think it shows the quality of the league that those players are feeling like their best pathway to get to the NBA is through the NBL, and that’s pretty powerful.”

The success of the NBL in an already stacked Australian sporting landscape has seen calls for the league to further expand past its ten current teams.

South East Melbourne entered the competition in NBL20, while the Tasmania JackJumpers made the Championship Series in their debut NBL22 campaign.

Stevenson says the success of the JackJumpers – both on and off the floor – is a barometer for any new club that might enter the league in the near future.

“I’m struggling to think of any expansion club in any sport that’s been more successful than the JackJumpers,” he said.

“The fact they’ve sold out every game for two and a half years, they’ve made the finals including the Championship Series in year one; they’re just an incredibly well-run club and most of all they’ve connected to the whole community, they’ve galvanised that whole state.

“We’re actively in conversations about expansion with probably half a dozen pretty serious destinations. We want to make sure we don’t just expand for expansion's sake, so they’ve got to make sure they tick that box around fan support, corporate support and government support.

“We definitely see a model as we continue to progress to that 14, 15 clubs and we think the demand we’re seeing today with incredible broadcast and attendance growth just shows fans are looking for more NBL content.”

Round 11 of the NBL24 season tips off on with a Friday night double-header before Christmas Day hoops returns on Monday when Tasmania hosts the Phoenix and Illawarra faces Sydney.

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