Basketball: Breakers star RJ Hampton returning home for NBA draft

American teenager RJ Hampton is cutting short his stay at the NZ Breakers, returning home to rehab his hip injury before the NBA draft in June.

The 18-year-old point guard has played 15 of the Breakers' 26 games this season, averaging 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

But he has missed all but two games - both losses - in the late-season 9-3 run that has seen his team challenge strongly for a playoff spot.

"If I was healthy, I would definitely be here," says Hampton. "Everyone in the organisation thought it was best to go home and prepare for the draft.

"I'm not healthy enough to be back on the court and there aren't many weeks left in the season, so they're thinking about my long-term future.

"I don't think this has NOT worked out, I'm just disappointed my team is making this playoff run and I'm not healthy enough to be out there with the guys."

Breakers owner Matt Walsh insists Hampton's tenure at the club has been successful, despite his mixed success on the court. As a poster boy for the league's 'Next Star' programme, Hampton proved a fan favourite and attracted attention from NBA scouts throughout the season.

Basketball: Breakers star RJ Hampton returning home for NBA draft
Photo credit: Getty

"As the first 'Next Star' signing in the history of the NBL, RJ brought excitement and fanfare to the club and the league," says Walsh.

"We wish him well in his continued recover and preparation for the NBA draft, and look forward to draft night, when he will no doubt be a top pick.

"We would like to thank RJ and his family for their time here in Auckland. We are proud to have played a role in such a talented young player on his journey to the NBA."

Hampton is actually contracted to the Breakers for another season, but obviously no-one expects him fulfill that commitment to the Australian NBL, if he is drafted as expected.

"The biggest eye-opener for me has been this is a business," he says. "There are different things that go into the game of basketball.

"As a kid, you play basketball for fun and you still do, but there's a political side of things that you have to deal with." 

Fellow draft prospect LaMelo Ball pulled the plug on his season with Illawarra Hawks last month, averaging 16.75 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Ball is projected as a top-three pick, while Hampton has slipped outside the top 10 on some mock draftboards.

"He's gotten so much better, so much faster, so much stronger, so much wiser," says dad Rod Hampton. "He didn't come over to play all the minutes, he came over to get better and we knew that coming into it."