If you aren't familiar with G League Ignite superstar Jonathan Kuminga, you better get to know the name.
Once the No. 1 ranked prospect in the class of 2021, Kuminga elected to reclassify to the class of 2020 where he ranked No. 4 in the country. With endless Division I offers from high-major programs looking to acquire the talents of the 6-foot-7, two-way forward, Kuminga decided to bypass all of those scholarships to pursue a new opportunity presented by the NBA's development league.
Signing a one-year deal with the G League Ignite, a brand new select-team that will help high school prospects prepare for the next level while earning a salary, Kuminga has the chance to familiarize himself with NBA-level practices. Learning professional offensive and defensive schemes and terminology, among other things, he's looking to become one of the first players selected in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Passing on playing for an elite college program wasn't an easy decision to make, but Kuminga feels like he's made the right decision to best prepare himself for the next level.
"Coming out of high school, I was one of the top players," Kuminga told the media recently. "When all of those offers came in, and then the offer from the G League, I just sat down with my family, talked about it and asked 'how can I get better every day, having people to push me to become the pro that I want to be?"
"That's what made me choose the G League, because I knew I could get better faster than if I was with a college team."
In the past, when you take a road less traveled such as playing overseas as opposed to the NCAA, it can sometimes hinder your draft stock. Most recently, Denver Nuggets rookie RJ Hampton, who elected to play in Australia's NBL instead of the NCAA, said this in his pre-draft interview on taking a different path to the league: "If you're willing to lose some of the hype but get more of the work, it's definitely your route."
When I asked Kuminga his thoughts on that quote, he doubled down that the G League will best prepare him for the NBA.
"It's a little bit accurate, but I never went to college so I don't really know what's happening there," he told NBA.com. "But on the G League way, I just feel like I'm getting better every day to get ready for the league."
He also mentioned how learning under head coach Brian Shaw, a three-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, adds to this endeavour.
"It's a great experience. Him being around all those legends (playing in the league) like Kobe (Bryant), Shaq (O'Neal), a lot of great players, anything that he says I'm going to keep in my head because he's been there."
And while mentioning Kobe Bryant as his favourite player and a key aspiration for his game, Kuminga's Ignite teammate Reggie Hearn thinks he plays more like two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
"When you ask what some of (Kuminga's) strengths are ... strength is one of them. He really knows how to use his body well, and I've said this before, his game reminds me of Kawhi Leonard a lot," Hearn told the media in post-practice availability.
"He's able to get to his spots and elevate over defenders. He can really hit from all three levels - from 3, from midrange and most definitely he can finish at the rim. ... He can score the ball and I see him doing that in the league for a long time."
When Kuminga was asked about the Kawhi comparison, he did say Leonard is a player he watches film on, especially on the defensive end.
As for mentors on his path to the league, there's a different NBA superstar that has taken Kuminga under his wing.
Kuminga and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving attended the same prep high school, The Patrick School in New Jersey. The Patrick School (formerly St. Patrick's of Elizabeth) is no stranger to producing NBA talent with notable players such as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Harrington on the alumni list.
Kuminga told the media about how Irving would sometimes attend team practices, giving the Democratic Republic of Congo native some pointers on adjustments to get him ready for the NBA.
"Kyrie is one of my mentors," he stated plainly. "Me and Kyrie pretty much talk every day, going back to when I was at school. Sometimes he would come to our practices and we would talk after practice, if I did something or he saw something that he can help with, he would tell me what to do. So Kyrie's been there to help any time I have a question or anything."
Learning from a three-time champion in head coach Shaw, receiving pointers from another champion in Irving and drawing comparisons to two-time Finals MVP Leonard, all in the first couple weeks of Kuminga's G League Ignite career.
The future is bright for this top prospect and we'll get to see our first look at him in action when the G League Ignite take on a squad of G League veterans on Dec. 15 and 17.
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