16-Year-Old Jalen Lewis Becomes Youngest American Pro Basketball Player Ever
[July 11, 2021: Tim Daniels]
Jalen Lewis, a 16-year-old 5-star center, has reportedly signed a contract with the new Overtime Elite league to become the youngest basketball player to turn pro in the United States.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Friday that Lewis signed a multiyear deal worth "more than $1 million" amid college basketball interest from Duke, Kentucky and UCLA.
Although turning pro at an early age is commonplace overseas, it's only more recently started to gain traction in the U.S. Players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft, and college basketball was the traditional route for the bridge year after high school.
The Overtime Elite league is trying to carve out a path as an alternative to the NCAA by presenting top prospects with contract offers to play professionally until they're eligible for the NBA without having to go to Europe, Australia or another overseas destination.
Two pairs of twin brothers, Matt and Ryan Bewley and Ausar and Amen Thompson, previously signed with Overtime Elite, per Charania.
Lewis was quickly emerging as one of the most coveted prospects in the 2023 group thanks to an intriguing combination of size (6'8'', 215 lbs) and athleticism paired with a well-rounded game that matches the current trend of basketball away from traditional post-only centers.
In June, the Bishop O'Dowd High School (Oakland, California) standout told Jason Jordan of Sports Illustrated he wanted to continue to prove himself as a high-end talent at this summer's showcases.
"I just wanted to show people that I deserve my spot," Lewis said. "I came into the season with the mindset to dominate everyone and not let up no matter what the competition was."
He added: "I didn't want to just back that [high ranking] up. I wanted to expand on it."
Overtime Elite plans to launch in September with up to 30 players who will compete against each other along with exhibitions against American prep schools and overseas teams, per Martenzie Johnson of ESPN's The Undefeated.
Lewis' signing is an indication the pro option remains attractive for top prospects despite recent movement to allow college basketball players to financially benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights while still in school.
The rapidly developing center will be eligible to enter the 2024 NBA draft.
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