Three years ago, there were only high-major, blue-blood programs vying for the top high school talent in the country. Over the past summer and through this high school season, NBA scouts and executives have been allowed to attend a record number of AAU and high school events. Very soon, it will be a top player choosing among Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or going straight to the NBA — something that hasn't been an option since 2005.
Murmurs started circulating in early September that the NBA and National Basketball Players Association were expected to change the draft-eligible age from 19 to 18, possibly clearing the way for high school players to go straight to the NBA, forgoing the gap year in college, in the G League Ignite or overseas. The earliest time frame for the change would be for the 2024 NBA Draft.
"It's only a matter of time before they change the rule," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "I don't know if it will be as soon as the 2024 Draft, which was originally reported, but the fact that we're all able to attend more high school events and scout high-level players at a younger age, it's definitely coming."
The McDonald's All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit used to be the first in-person introduction to NBA scouts and executives before players became draft eligible a little more than a year later. Both games highlight the top senior basketball players in the country, and NBA personnel line the gym for a handful of practices and scrimmages before the all-star game.
"This year is different in that we've seen this group of seniors several times already, and it's only the end of January," another NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "It's still a great benchmark for us and good to see the growth in some players."
NBA scouts were able to attend several high school and AAU events for the first time, including the Pangos All-American Camp, Adidas 3SSB Circuit, Tarkanian Classic and, most recently, the Hoophall Classic two weekends ago. They've also spent two years taking in games at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and Nike's Peach Jam.
This past summer, there were more NBA scouts than college coaches at a 15-under game between two top sophomores, Cameron Boozer and Cooper Flagg.
"This is the first time I've ever scouted a player with a mouth full of braces," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports after watching Flagg and Boozer at Peach Jam. "They're young, and there's a lot of time for both [Flagg and Boozer], but there's a lot to like about their game."
Since this past summer, scouts have been able to see Boozer and Flagg two more times each at the USA Basketball minicamp in October and the Hoophall Classic with their high school teams, at which both earned first-team honors.
"I just want to show the NBA scouts my versatility and that I have an inside-out game," Boozer told Yahoo Sports. "If I just keep improving on myself and working on becoming the best version of me, that will shine through on the court."
The NBA is already adjusting to the potential removal of the one-and-done rule, hiring former grassroots and high school analysts and insiders who are already plugged into the space. The Oklahoma City Thunder added former Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Corey Evans to their scouting team two years ago. Soon after, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced the addition of Josh Gershon, a former recruiting analyst for 247 Sports.
There's a lot of preparation going on behind the scenes signaling the end of the one-and-done era, but there has been no official announcement of progress or timeline.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he was hopeful for a change to the current 19-year-old age-limit rule, which requires draft-eligible players to be one year removed from high school, when he addressed the media in July. During his annual news conference at the conclusion of the league's board of governors meetings, Silver said, "I think there's an opportunity [to change it]."
"It's [based on] larger conversations than just whether we go from 19 to 18, but I'm on record: When I balance all of these various considerations, I think that would be the right thing to do, and I am hopeful that that's a change we make in this next collective bargaining cycle, which will happen in the next couple years," he said.
The change seems unlikely to be in 2024, given all the details that still need to be worked out. Could it happen in 2025 (Flagg and Boozer's high school senior class) or 2026? The high school freshman class is showing promising signs, with AJ Dybantsa and Tyran Stokes already turning heads, so the 2026 NBA Draft could be a monster one if the one-and-done rule is removed by then.
Until that change is announced and solidified, NBA scouts will continue to pack high school gyms and sit alongside college coaches during AAU tournaments, scouting the next wave of NBA talent coming up and preparing for the end of the one-and-done era.