Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Australia’s latest NBA prospect, Mojave King, is a Queenslander who was born in New Zealand to an American father and a Kiwi mother.
It’s a little confusing, I know, but what’s clear is that King is on a path to join the horde of other Aussies currently playing in the NBA.
And that path could potentially wind its way through the NBL.
A scholarship holder at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, King is currently playing for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE) in the inaugural season of the NBL1.
He’s a 16-year-old, sharp-shooting, mobile wing with a tremendous feel for the game and explosive athleticism.
For those NBA scouts who are tapped into the Australian system, King has been on the radar for the last couple of years.
But after balling out at a Global Academy Showcase in Minneapolis last weekend as part of the festivities surrounding the NCAA Final Four, the talented teen has suddenly launched himself onto the whiteboards of every single NBA team and high-major American college.
Competing against many of the world’s top high school-age players – including America’s best freshman, sophomores and juniors – King was the Showcase’s standout performer, establishing himself as a genuine NBA prospect.
“It was very impressive,” ESPN Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony told NBL Media.
“He came in and played against guys who were two years older than him – including the best American players that we have – and just really fit in and was very aggressive, dunking over people and making plays.”
The Showcase featured squads from NBA Academies in Africa, Australia, China and Latin America as well as members of the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team.
Amongst all that talent – in front of swarms of college coaches and NBA scouts – King put his entire package on display; throwing down in transition, making plays off the dribble and effortlessly draining long range bombs.
Mojave King emerging as a real NBA prospect today. Has nice physical tools and a plus IQ. Making 3s from all over, dunking on people in transition, making the extra pass impressively. Another talented guard coming out the increasingly stacked Australian national team pipeline. https://t.co/d9InaxYTep
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 7, 2019
“He’s obviously got a really good feel for the game, he’s got intriguing physical tools, he’s got a good body, he’s a good athlete, can play pick and roll, can shoot it and can really pass the ball,” Givony said.
“He’s got a pretty complete game and he plays with great poise, maturity and aggressiveness.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids that age and it’s pretty rare for a guy to play up and really hold his own and at times even dominate.”
King is the latest ‘son of an import’ to rise through the Australian junior ranks, following in the footsteps of NBA players Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden as well as Arizona commit and future NBA Draft pick Josh Green.
His father, Leonard, played as an import in the New Zealand NBL throughout the 1990s while his mother, Tracey, was a speedy Kiwi point guard.
Mojave and his older sister, Tylah (who is also a baller), were both born in New Zealand before the family moved to Australia prior to Mojave starting primary school.
Since January, King has been developing his game at the CoE under the tuition of head coach Adam Caporn and the NBA Global Academy’s Technical Director, Marty Clarke.
“We were big fans of him and wanted him here. Then when he got here in January he had got a little bit better,” Caporn told NBL Media.
“He had matured a little bit more physically and the first week here we were all saying, “He is an NBA prospect for sure.’”
That feeling has only grown as King has continued to rapidly develop his game, culminating in last weekend’s explosion in the States.
“He’s an NBA athlete,” Caporn added.
“He has speed with the ball, gets past people easily – I mean, he just glides past them – and dunks on people with ease. He’s a really eye-opening athlete in Australia.
“Then, to add to his athleticism, he can really shoot. He’s got a good feel for the game – he’s a combo so he’s not just an athlete – he has got serious offensive game.
“His shooting plus his athleticism makes him a very dangerous commodity.”
Great setup here at the NBA Academy Next Generation Showcase in Minneapolis. 6-4 Australian guard Mojave King has really shown his talent these last couple days. Impressive blend of physical tools, scoring instincts and feel at 16 years old. pic.twitter.com/ysm7y48XO8
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 7, 2019
Also working in King’s favour is that he has been something of a late developer.
Having been fairly undersized throughout most of his junior career, Mojave spent a number of years almost exclusively playing point guard before a recent growth spurt has seen him develop into a play-making wing.
“Fortunately for him his body is now starting to take the type of shape you want it to take as a basketball player,” King’s father explained.
“He’s starting to get a little bit of size to him which will allow him to play either the one, two or three. That is pretty exciting for him to be so versatile.”
In fact, that is precisely what makes him such a terrific NBA prospect.
“Versatility is the name of the game in basketball today both in the NBA and internationally,” Givony said.
“It’s a positionless game so you want guys who can handle the ball, can shoot the ball, can pass it and can guard multiple positions.
“With Mojave having that kind of frame and that kind of length – you can see him potentially growing little bit more too – that’s what we are looking for; big guards who can play a lot of different positions.
“When he does get into the NBA he probably will need to become a little bit more of a specialist, but at the youth level you always like to see a guy who can do a little bit of everything.”
That varied skillset is what King has already displayed in the NBL1.
In the middle of a brutal triple-header in the league’s opening round, King came off the bench and scored 24 points in 18 minutes for the CoE against the Ringwood Hawks.
His team went down, so that performance ended up sliding a little under the radar, but it was a thoroughly impressive display.
“That explosion in Ringwood was phenomenal,” Caporn said.
“It sort of snuck through but anyone who was there would’ve gone, ‘What the hell? This kid was born in 2002?’ He was very, very good.”
The next step for Mojave is to decide on his pathway towards the NBA, beyond the Global Academy. It has become the million-dollar question for prospects like him: go to college or turn pro for a year of development against men?
After his head-turning play in Minneapolis, King is about to receive a flood of offers from many of the NCAA’s biggest schools. As Givony described it, “He’s going to have the pick of the litter of American colleges.”
A year of pro ball, however, may be the wiser play prior to getting drafted in 2021.
Truth be told, those opportunities are already knocking on the door. One of Germany’s top pro teams were keen to sign King up last year and he has recently received interest from European powerhouse FC Barcelona.
And while Euro offers will continue to come in, starting his professional career in the NBL is also a legitimate possibility.
“We have definitely sat down and talked about pathways, with US college being one, but we’ve also looked at the pathway of going straight into playing professionally and developing that way as well,” King’s father explained.
“The NBL have been doing a great job. Not only have they developed young Australian talent but they have also developed some young American talent.
“This year they had the kid (Brian) Bowen out from the States and the year before that (Terrance) Ferguson was in Australia playing.
“At the moment we are committed to the AIS and Global Academy in Canberra and at the end of the year we will sit down and assess things and see what is going to be best for his development moving forward.”
The other big question surrounding King has been whether he will play for New Zealand or Australia in future FIBA competitions.
Mojave currently possesses both New Zealand and US citizenship but, having grown up in Australia, he considers himself an Aussie and intends to don the green and gold.
“He is going to play for Australia,” Leonard stated emphatically.
“He was pretty much raised in Australia but he just doesn’t have that passport just yet. We’re working hard to try and get him his Australian passport so he can play for Australia but at the moment he doesn’t have it so he probably won’t be a part of the Australian junior team until we can obtain the Australian passport.”
It’s a decision that will come as a blow to Kiwi hoops, especially considering Leonard’s role as Basketball New Zealand’s General Manager of High Performance.
In the shorter term though, King will step out for Queensland South later this week at the Under 18 National Championships. He’ll then knuckle down and keep working at the CoE while also playing in the NBL1.
“We just want to make sure he gets better each and every day,” his father explained.
“He’s there in Canberra for a reason and we think being under the tutelage of Adam and Marty, they have developed some very good talents in Australia.
“We’re hopeful they’ll be able to work some magic with Mojave.”