The first rumblings of Bronny James coming to the New York metro area came way back in 2020 — before the pandemic. I was standing on the extreme outskirts of a LeBron James scrum after his Lakers beat the Knicks in an otherwise forgettable game. A question about his then-15-year-old son caught his attention.
If LeBron's son was drafted by the Knicks, would he consider playing in New York?
He didn't say no… pic.twitter.com/Qf16j2GkKn
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) January 23, 2020
Trying to project Bronny’s NBA future was ridiculous at the time, but now? Not so much. Bronny isn’t the top-ranked recruit in the country, but he’s the biggest name by far. James currently ranks 43rd for the 2023 class in the 247Sports Composite Rankings (which compile rankings from 247Sports, Rivals, and ESPN). A strong summer showing at Nike’s Peach Jam and on the exhibition circuit could change that ranking.
With his senior season approaching, it’s time for the Sierra Canyon point guard to carve out his own path to the next level. Rutgers is one of many schools leaping into the fray per Adam Zagoria and Billy Witz of The New York Times:
One school making an unexpected push to recruit James is Rutgers, a basketball striver. As far-fetched as it might seem, Rutgers is hoping Coach Steve Pikiell’s strong record of development — turning lightly regarded recruits such as Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Myles Johnson into decorated Big Ten players — carries some appeal to James.
LeBron James bypassed college and jumped straight to the NBA. But he still has tons of connections to coaches and programs across the country. Duke, Ohio State, Michigan, and a few others are mentioned by Zagoria and Witz. Clearly, there’s a lot more to Bronny’s recruiting process than a normal four-star recruit.
Although there don’t appear to be any immediate ties between the James family and Rutgers, Ron Harper Jr. is a success story as the son of a former NBA player in Piscataway. Harper Jr. left Rutgers as an honorable mention All-American, second-team All-Big Ten, and Haggerty Award winner. Oh, and he recently inked a two-way deal with the Toronto Raptors. There’s a chance he ends up playing against LeBron at some point next season.
Everyone who comes through the program seems to improve year after year. Player development is how Rutgers went from being a laughingstock to a legitimate basketball program. If Pikiell can start bringing in four- and five-star recruits, the sky is the limit. For what it’s worth, Rutgers already has a commitment from the 36th ranked prospect in the 2023 class, Gavin Griffiths.
Add in the fact that Pikiell has led his team to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and the idea of Rutgers landing the most famous basketball recruit in the country doesn’t sound so crazy.
Bronny doesn’t need a blue blood program like UCLA, Kentucky, or Duke to land NIL deals. Rutgers is not some mid-major school that flies under the radar. They play in the Big Ten and Piscataway is only a 45-minute drive from Manhattan. Not to mention, he has more than twice the Instagram followers (6.3 million) of those three basketball programs combined. He’s already a brand unto himself. Visibility won’t be an issue.
Could LeBron send his son out to lay claim to the Northeast by way of New Jersey? After all, King James has already conquered the Midwest (Cleveland), Southeast (Miami), and West Coast (Los Angeles). Sending his son to new lands would be another step in LeBron’s empire-building both on and off the court.
But would LeBron — one of the faces of Nike — send his son to an Adidas school? Rutgers and Adidas have a contract that runs through the 2023-24 season. Maybe all of this big-picture theorizing is a bit of a stretch. For all the hype and moving parts surrounding Bronny’s recruitment, it’s going to come down to factors mostly outside of Steve Pikiell’s control.
If we squint hard enough, in just the right light, we can envision a future with Bronny playing games at the RAC in 2023-24. It would be a major recruiting win for the program if it happens. But we’re a long way away from Bronny choosing the Scarlet Knights in his own version of The Decision.