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What’s Next for LeBron James Jr.?


NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — As LeBron James sat on a folding chair within the corner of a recreation-center basketball court last week, he often gave the impression to be in a state of agita.

There was James, edging onto the court repeatedly to envision the scoreboard and the clock above him. Or chomping on an apple and digging right into a gallon-size bag of nuts. Or pleading “Come on, ref,” when a call was to not his liking.

He stood to whisper instructions to his son, who nodded sharply when he was passing the ball inbounds along the baseline. James stepped onto the court at halftime — first to provide advice to the coach of the travel ball team he sponsors, Strive for Greatness, after which to stand up some shots left-handed, which prompted many within the packed bleachers to whip out their cellphones to record the exercise.

For several days at Peach Jam, Nike’s annual summer recruiting showcase, James was just one other basketball dad (albeit one with a security detail). He was there watching his eldest son, LeBron James Jr., who goes by Bronny and is determining where his basketball future lies, just like several other highschool player entering his senior season (even ones with 6.3 million Instagram followers and a world-famous basketball superstar father).

Bronny, a 6-foot-2 guard, is basically characterised as having a keen basketball I.Q. but lacking elite athleticism and a elegant shot — an asset to almost any team but almost definitely a task player.

Whatever Bronny finally ends up doing a 12 months from now — attending college, playing in a development league or taking an unconventional route — it’s unlikely to change the trajectory of the championship ambitions of, say, Gonzaga or North Carolina, or turbo charge the expansion of the G League, the event league run by the N.B.A., or Extra time Elite, a nascent development league that pays highschool and college-age players.

Still, his next move is definite to generate interest far beyond the hyperkinetic fish bowl of faculty basketball recruiting. James, 37, told The Athletic just before the N.B.A. All-Star Game in February that his last season could be spent playing alongside his son. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be,” he said, reprising a scenario from his childhood wherein Ken Griffey and his son Ken Griffey Jr. played together for the Seattle Mariners. “I’d do whatever it takes to play with my son for one 12 months. It’s not in regards to the money at that time.”

(Bronny turns 18 in October and won’t be eligible for the N.B.A. draft until 2024 under current rules, which require that players be not less than 19 years old and a 12 months faraway from graduating highschool.)

James, whose contract with the Lakers expires next June just as Bronny is ready to graduate from Sierra Canyon School, a non-public school in Chatsworth, Calif., declined to debate Bronny’s plans or what the experience of preparing him for the following step of his basketball life is like for him and his wife, Savannah, who last week often sat beside him with their 7-year-old daughter, Zhuri. (The Jameses’ younger son, Bryce, 15, also plays at Sierra Canyon.)

There can be time to speak about Bronny’s future later, James said.

That is true. While lots of Bronny’s contemporaries will make campus visits, announce college commitments or reach agreements with development leagues in the approaching weeks, Bronny has more immediate plans. He’ll leave Aug. 7 with a highschool all-star team to play exhibitions in London, Paris and Rome that can be broadcast on ESPN.

Still, when he does begin to finalize his next step this fall, greater than two dozen college and travel-ball coaches, N.B.A. scouts, television-network officials and teenagers who’ve played with and against Bronny expect his recruitment — if not quite The Decision Jr. — to be removed from the norm.

“I don’t think I’ll be on the phone on a regular basis with the mom and the dad like I often am,” said one head coach at a faculty with an interest in Bronny. This person, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because coaches are prohibited by N.C.A.A. rules from commenting publicly on recruitable athletes.

Ed Estevan, the Strive for Greatness coach and an assistant at Sierra Canyon, expects Bronny to take recruiting visits this fall.

“I understand he doesn’t have a traditional life, but he’s just a daily, normal kid,” said Estevan, noting that it’s rare for Bronny to enter a restaurant or walk through an airport without gawkers. “He desires to experience all the opposite things that each one other kids get to experience.”

College coaches, he added, had not put much effort into recruiting Bronny until recently because they were skeptical that he would attend college. “Now, quite a lot of college coaches know that he has interest in college and that’s somewhere he’ll probably see himself going, so the phone goes off like crazy,” Estevan said.

Just a few things seem certain: If Bronny attends college, it would be at a faculty sponsored by Nike, which has invested heavily in his father since James entered the N.B.A. as a generational phenom in 2003. And ESPN, which has been a frequent collaborator with James, can be an eager partner. James’s longtime advisers, Wealthy Paul and Maverick Carter, can be conduits for anyone desirous about recruiting Bronny. “I’ve got to hearken to dad, Wealthy or Maverick,” said an assistant at a faculty that has expressed interest in recruiting him.

Finding the appropriate place for Bronny will not be so simple as picking a blue blood. Kentucky and Duke, for instance, have already received commitments from 5-star point guards, his almost definitely future position. U.C.L.A. is targeting an elite point guard, Isaiah Collier of Marietta, Ga., and may even have a stacked depth chart. (U.C.L.A. and his other hometown school, Southern California, had not shown any interest as of last week.)

If Bronny is just not playing a outstanding role, what coach would want the headache of explaining why — to fans, media and James and his camp?

“You grow to be a traditional person as a parent — you’re just on the lookout for one of the best scenario on your child,” said Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway, himself a former N.B.A. star whose son Ashton, 18, is mulling whether to play at Memphis or elsewhere. “As a parent, you desire to be certain they’re being supported wherever they go.”

Hardaway, who watched Bronny play not less than twice last week and chatted briefly with James, has leveraged his N.B.A. connections with Mike Miller, Rasheed Wallace and Larry Brown on his staff in recent times. (Brown is weighing whether to return; the others have left.) Hardaway’s record, though, is mixed. Emoni Bates, among the many nation’s top recruits last season, flopped at Memphis and has since transferred to Eastern Michigan.

Michigan Coach Juwan Howard, whose son Jett can be a freshman this season, played three seasons alongside James with the Miami Heat and spent one other season with him as an assistant coach. The Wolverines are also interested, though it could be something if James — a lifelong Ohio State fan — sent his son to the Buckeyes’ rival.

Still, Bronny could find yourself in Columbus. Ohio State, which is where James would have almost definitely played if he had gone to varsity, has let James realize it is desirous about recruiting his son, and Coach Chris Holtmann and his assistant Jake Diebler watched Bronny play at Peach Jam.

The boundaries of familial connections, though, could be tested if Keith Dambrot, James’s highschool coach in Akron, makes a call. He’s the coach at Duquesne.

One school making an unexpected push to recruit James is Rutgers, a basketball striver. As far-fetched because it may appear, Rutgers is hoping Coach Steve Pikiell’s strong record of development — turning evenly regarded recruits akin to Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Myles Johnson into decorated Big Ten players — carries some appeal to James.

As amusing as Bronny in Piscataway is likely to be, Peach Jam has provided a window into what it would seem like. Since he first played within the tournament before starting highschool, crowds waiting to see Bronny play have packed the hallways outside each court an hour before tipoff — even when high-major coaches were at other courts watching more highly regarded prospects. This 12 months, Ramel Drake, 32, got here from Graniteville, S.C., together with his son, Mark, 5, thankful that they may wedge into the packed bleachers. (Mark identified Bronny, who was wearing No. 6.)

At this particular game, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul sat beside James within the corner of the gym, which he entered through a side door from the car parking zone.

“Oh, man, the environment was crazy,” said Josh Hubbard, a guard from Madison, Miss., who together with his father posed for a photograph with James and his son after they played. “There was people outside the doors, people at the sport before waiting simply to see our game.”

At this 12 months’s in-person evaluation season, which just ended this week, college coaches saw a special side of Bronny, who has often played a supporting role on his highschool and travel-ball teams. Over the previous couple of months, the Strive for Greatness roster perpetually churned, the team rarely won and Bronny was left to hold his team — a task that’s familiar within the household.

“He’s solid as hell,” said Thaddeus Young, who just finished his fifteenth N.B.A. season and sponsored a team that played Strive for Greatness, an assessment that was largely echoed by college coaches and N.B.A. scouts. “Obviously, probably not the elite of the elite. But he’s athletic, he’s strong, he plays defense, he can shoot the ball well, he can run the purpose guard position, he can play off ball.”

“I really like his game,” Young added.

Before too long, a wider audience will get to guage for itself.

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