RJ Hampton wanted to change the culture of American basketball – and he chose New Zealand of all places to do it.

The American teenage sensation created a stir in the basketball world in May when he announced he would be joining the New Zealand Breakers for the upcoming ANBL season instead of going to college in the States.

It's a route not often sought – particularly by players of Hampton's stature – to fill their requirement of being a year removed from high school before being eligible for the NBA draft. He's not the first player to take the route less travelled, but he is the most high-profile case since Brandon Jennings chose to spend a year in Italy before the 2009 NBA draft.

But Hampton knew what he wanted, and when the idea was presented to him it became the obvious path to take.


"I made the decision knowing this would happen, knowing I was going to cause some buzz in the basketball world and I'm glad I did because I think I really made the right decision," he said.

"I was in calculus class like, three months ago with my friends in high school, going to lunch every day. All my friends started school for their senior year a couple of days ago and I'm not in school – I'm in New Zealand. But everyone understands; I'm just glad it all happened.

"I wanted to do this. I wanted to change the culture of basketball."

The 18-year-old and his family touched down in Auckland in the early hours on Saturday morning and were welcomed with a pōwhiri. It was their first glimpse of New Zealand culture, and Hampton was quick to tell the fans who showed up to greet him that he's here to win.

RJ Hampton was welcomed into New Zealand with a pōwhiri. Photo / Getty Images
RJ Hampton was welcomed into New Zealand with a pōwhiri. Photo / Getty Images

He'll join a Breakers side with plenty of potential to make a run for the ANBL title this season, with team veterans like Thomas Abercrombie and Corey Webster, and imports including Team USA representative Scotty Hopson headlining a talented roster.

Asked about playing alongside the rest of the roster and under new director of basketball Dan Shamir, Hampton said: "I feel that if I develop as a player like I know I can over the season, we'll be the best team in the NBL."

With a massive reputation already in the States, Hampton isn't feeling any pressure that is being channelled in his direction. He says: "It's not really pressure. I feel like I've got a great support system behind me and at the end of the day it's just basketball – you just have to go out there and play the game you know how to play."

Included in that support system are the likes of NBA superstars such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant who have been more than willing to share advice and give him support as he works his way toward one day playing against them on the biggest stage in the sport.


Last month, he was in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League where he caught up with San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV, who had plenty of good advice to share.

RJ Hampton with NBA stars Lonnie Walker IV and Landry Shamet. Photo / Getty Images
RJ Hampton with NBA stars Lonnie Walker IV and Landry Shamet. Photo / Getty Images

"All the guys I've talked to in the NBA told me I made the right decision, this was going to better help my game and that if they would have thought about this they might have done the same thing too.

"Lonnie was just telling me when you come into a professional basketball league you have to stay physical. You have to be able to withstand hits, and that's really what it is – it's a different league to playing in high school of AAU basketball which is what I'm used to but when you have the skillset and the mindset I feel like you can adjust to the physicality.

"This is a 'no cupcake' league and that's what I'm here for."