Sunday, April 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Jerrell Springer is a professional basketball player.
Well, technically, he has yet to receive his first paycheck. But the 19-year-old Las Vegas native can call himself a pro, as he beat out hundreds of players at an open tryout in Houston last week to earn a spot in the start-up Junior Basketball Association, a professional league that is set to tip off in June.
The brainchild of famous basketball parent LaVar Ball, the JBA is an eight-team summer league that is being positioned as an alternative to NCAA basketball. Prep players who would rather begin their careers than go to college can choose the JBA and earn money while working toward their goal of making it to the National Basketball Association.
That description fits Springer, a 6-foot-6 wing player who said he has always dreamed of making his living as a professional basketball player.
“I knew if I could make this league, I’d be able to call myself a pro,” Springer said. “I see it as a great opportunity for myself and my career.”
Springer was one of the top high school prospects in Las Vegas for 2017. As a junior at Shadow Ridge, he averaged 20 points and eight rebounds, good enough to earn a 3-star ranking from internet recruiting services. He wanted to transfer to Desert Pines for his senior year in an attempt to gain more scholarship offers, but the Clark County School District blocked the move, costing him his senior season.
Despite the year off, Springer still had a scholarship offer on the table from Southern Utah, and he signed last spring. But he decided not to enroll at SUU, instead choosing to play a post-grad season at Las Vegas Prep in hopes of attracting more offers.
When Springer learned that the JBA was holding tryouts in Los Angeles last week, his interest was piqued, but he erroneously thought the event was invitation-only. When he saw some of his friends had attended and made the cut, he called them and found out the tryouts were open to all comers. Springer immediately looked at the schedule and saw another chance to get in front of the JBA scouts in Houston on April 15. He booked his flight for the next day and made it to the workout, where he was one of more than 200 hopefuls.
Over a span of hours, the field was culled to 20 finalists, who then played 5-on-5 scrimmages until the final cut was made. Springer was one of seven players selected for roster spots.
Las Vegas native and former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon is serving as a consultant for the league, and he was in Houston to help scout for diamonds in the rough. He said the league is looking for big players and superior athletes, and that Springer caught his eye with his size, athleticism and attitude.
“He played hard,” O’Bannon said. “I think that was one of the biggest things for us. A lot of kids came out, and the biggest thing for us was to see who was playing hard and who understood the game. His knowledge of the game I thought was great. He was attacking the rim, going after rebounds, controlling the game, that sort of thing.”
O’Bannon has long been an outspoken proponent of compensating NCAA athletes beyond their scholarships, and he thinks the JBA can be a successful alternative for young players who want to be professionals.
“I think eventually, athletes who are 3-star, 4-star, and maybe even 5-star players will take a look at what we’re doing and find it attractive and want to give it a shot,” O’Bannon said.
The JBA is planning to have eight teams in eight different cities — Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago and New York — and O’Bannon said players will earn anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per month, plus a per diem for travel.
Springer wasn’t sure of his potential pay scale, but he’s excited about the prospect of earning a living in the JBA.
“You get paid every month,” Springer said. “I don’t know how it breaks down each month, but it’s more than a college would pay.”