Former NZ Breakers guard RJ Hampton has realised his NBA dream, but immediately learnt the harsh realities of a career in the world's most cutthroat basketball league.
The young American was selected by Milwaukee Bucks in the 2020 NBA draft, but then traded to Denver Nuggets, via New Orleans Pelicans - a whirlwind introduction to the big time.
Hampton, 19, will also be disappointed to slip down the rankings - he was once projected as high as top 10 and more recently top 20, but landed at No.24.
With COVID-19 forcing the annual draft into the virtual realm, he received the news from his home in Rockwall, Texas, along with family and friends.
Hampton starred for Little Elm High School, but rejected the college route to the NBA, choosing to play professionally in the Australian NBL instead.
In 15 games for the Auckland-based Breakers, the young American started 12 and averaged 8.8 points, but suffered a hip injury that forced him to return home early.
"If you have the mental toughness and want to be one of the best players in the NBA, there's no better route than to go play against professionals and learn from their experiences," Hampton told NZ media this week.
"I had guys on my team that were seasoned pros that I still take notes from every single day.
"At college, I feel you're babied. If you go to the NBL or any professional league, at 17-18 years old, you have to grow up very quick and that helps you prepare for your ultimate goal in the NBA."
Another who chose that route was LaMelo Ball, who starred for Illawarra Hawks and earned ANBL Rookie of the Year honours. Charlotte Hornets have scooped up the guard with the draft's No.3 pick.
If he had stayed at Milwaukee, Hampton would likely have played alongside reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokunmpo on a team that are among the favourites to take out the NBA crown.
Denver Nuggets finished third in the western conference last season, spearheaded by Serbian centre Nikola Jocic and point guard Jamal Murray.
"It's very exciting to see RJ Hampton get drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded on to the Denver Nuggets," says Breakers owner Matt Walsh. "We knew Denver really like him pre-draft.
"To see him fulfill his NBA dream... I know he would have liked to be a top-10 pick, but now his journey begins. We're proud to play a small role in that and I think he's going to move on to be a very good NBA player."
If Hampton doesn't make an NBA roster, he is still contracted to the Breakers for the coming ANBL season.