Grant Chapman: New NZ Breakers signing generates clicks - not necessarily wins

At least, at the end of the seemingly endless (and dumb) build-up, the NZ Breakers have signed an actual living, breathing player for next season.

Not like the apparent attempt to recruit disgraced college coach Rick Pitino last year or the embarrassing billboard pitch for superstar LeBron James to bring his talents to Auckland.

And it's not NBA has-been Carmelo Anthony or NBA hasn't-been LaMelo Ball, as groundlessly speculated by some media (but mostly social media) this week.

By all accounts, American phenom RJ Hampton has the talent to become a legitimate star in the world's most overhyped sports league, and his decision to bypass college and transition directly from high school to the pros is at least newsworthy.

The point guard's arrival at Atlas Place has generated clicks - but will it generate wins? You should probably temper your expectations.

At 18, he will be a boy playing among men in a competition dominated by veteran American point guards, many of whom have tried and failed to secure NBA contracts.

In recent years, the Australian NBL has become a bona fide pathway into the 'big show', with many homegrown stars graduating through their local teams onto the international stage, then into overseas careers.

Just this year, centre Andrew Bogut used his MVP stint with the Sydney Kings to tune up for a playoff return to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

An increasing number of Americans are also using the league to springboard into NBA opportunities. Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig fronted for Cairns Taipans and Brisbane Bullets (as well as Wellington Saints in NZ), before breaking into the big time.

Philadelphia 76ers forward James Ennis helped Perth Wildcats to a title, before entering the NBA with the Miami Heat. He's become something of a journeyman since - the Sixers are his seventh team.

RJ Hampton (second right) making his announcement on ESPN's 'Get Up'
RJ Hampton (second right) making his announcement on ESPN's 'Get Up' show. Photo credit: SKY Sport

But Craig and Ennis were 24 and 23 respectively, when they arrived in Australia. After four-year college careers, they were already men among men.

The ANBL's 'Next Stars' initiative is designed specifically to attract youngsters like Hampton to Australia (and NZ) to begin their professional careers.

Two years ago - before the programme began - shooter Terrance Ferguson, 18, blazed the trail, when he spent a season with the Adelaide 36ers and was then drafted with the 21st pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

In South Australia, he averaged just 15 minutes a game and 4.6 points.

Last season, Brian Bowen, 20, signed the first 'Next Stars' contract with the Kings, after he was implicated in a college recruiting scandal - the same one that cost Pitino his job at Louisville - and flagged his US education altogether.

In Sydney, he flashed glimpses of his ability, but averaged just 15 minutes and 6.3 points a game. He's not projected for the first round of next month's NBA draft.

Complicating the situation for Hampton will be the fact that the Breakers already have two established point guards signed for next season - Tall Blacks star Shea Ili and Aussie battler Jarrad Weeks, who was one of their best performers last summer.

Exactly how they all fit into the rotation will pose an interesting challenge for whoever's coaching the team by October - if you believe rumours that Kevin Braswell is for the chop, after just one year of his three-year contract.

Congratulations to Breakers owner Matt Walsh on getting their brand on prime-time US TV and putting the Australian league in the spotlight for this news cycle.

Now comes the more important task of providing some substance to support the hype.

Grant Chapman is the Newshub online sports editor.