Area basketball fans missed watching Detroit native Jaden Hardy develop into a likely first-round draft pick.
When his older brother Amauri, who was a high school standout in Detroit suburbs, signed with UNLV in April 2017, the family moved to Las Vegas, where Hardy became a top-five high school prospect at Coronado (Nev.) High School.
Area fans have a chance to see Jaden Hardy, 19, and his brother Tuesday night because both chose to spend their first professional basketball seasons with the NBA G-League Ignite, the developmental league’s learning environment for young prospects.
The Motor City Cruise will play host to the Ignite at Wayne State Arena. The game will be air on Bally Sports Detroit at 7 p.m.
“I’m really looking forward to that because it’s been a long time since I played the game in Detroit,” Jaden Hardy told Pistons.com recently. “Just being able to come back as a professional and playing in Detroit, my hometown, it’s going to be great.”
“Family will be there, friends I grew up with, so just being able to be in that type of environment again, it’s going to be fun.”
The game is one of the marquee contests for the Cruise’s G-League inaugural season. As part of the Black History Month celebration, the Cruise will wear new uniforms, which were introduced last week on Bally Sports. The uniforms were conceptualized by local fashion designer Ken Walker.
The Cruise has had a successful first season, standing atop league standings for most of the season that began in November. Second-year point guard Saben Lee was recently named the G-League’s player of the week.
The G-League Ignite is in its second year of competition and boasts a roster of four players – including 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jaden Hardy – on The Athletic’s top 100 prospects for the upcoming NBA Draft. The Ignite’s main purpose is to give elite prospects another option besides college basketball or going overseas.
“This offers an opportunity for players after high school,” Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Players might not want to go to college or be a good fit for college. “That’s OK because the Ignite gives them that platform of being able to play, work on their craft and also get compensated for it at the same time, right here in their home country.”
Why the G-League Ignite was created?
For most prospects, one season must elapse after high school graduation to be eligible for the NBA Draft. Traditionally, that meant spending at least one year in college or overseas before fulfilling a lifelong dream.
It was announced in April 2020 that high school standouts would be given another option, the Ignite. Select prospects could play with veterans in exhibition games against other G-League teams and national teams from other countries. The prospects would be paid; eventual third pick in the 2021 draft Jalen Green quickly signed for $500,000. High draft picks Green and Jonathan Kuminga played during the first season.
Jaden Hardy said he spoke to both while weighing the G-League vs. college.
“It was just to see how their experiences were and they told me they really enjoyed it,” said Hardy, who will compete in the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend later this week. “They felt like it was a good fit for me.
“They said that if I just did what I just continue to do, just keep working then everything will work out for the best.”
Jaden Hardy has the added benefit of playing with his older brother, who transferred to Oregon for his final year of eligibility. Amauri Hardy, who wasn’t drafted in 2021, contemplated going overseas to begin his professional career, but decided to join the Ignite with his brother.
“It was a good opportunity for me when I came out of college,” Amauri Hardy said. “I felt like I could really develop here and work on my craft at a professional level. Then the opportunity to play with my brother is pretty much a unique situation, being able to play with him.
“Even for my first year, I feel like it would just be a step in the right direction.”
And he speaks for both players when it comes to the Detroit area where he led North Farmington to the MHSAA Class A state title game as a junior in 2016.
“I haven’t played back in Detroit since high school so being able to see familiar faces in the crowd will be cool,” Amauri Hardy said. “I know the game is going to be played at Wayne State, so that’s going to be cool. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of my family who haven’t even been able to see me play in person since I’ve been in high school.
“I feel like people are going to come out and show love and support – especially seeing (Jaden) left to go to Vegas to play basketball. This might be people’s first time seeing him in Detroit in a game setting and not on TV. It’s going to be a good experience.”