Terry Armstrong is joining the South East Melbourne Phoenix of the Australian National Basketball League, he told ESPN.
Armstrong, the No. 40 prospect in the ESPN 2020 mock draft, will join projected No. 6 prospect RJ Hampton and No. 24 prospect LaMelo Ball as American teenagers who elected to spend their one-and-done season between high school and the NBA in the NBL. Hampton signed with the New Zealand Breakers in late May and Ball with the Illawara Hawks in mid-June. All three were brought in under the NBL’s Next Stars program, which has emerged as a competitor with college basketball and the G League as pathways to the NBA.
“RJ and Lamelo are two of the most highly rated players in our class,” Armstrong told ESPN. “The NBL will give all of us the top exposure we seek to fulfill our ultimate dream which is to play in the NBA.”
The NBL has become a destination for players looking for a year of competitive play before they are eligible for the NBA draft. It’s a nine-team league that begins play in early October and ends in late March. Armstrong agreed to a two-year deal with NBA out clauses and will become automatically eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft.
“The NBL is one of the most competitive leagues in the world,” Armstrong said. “Australia has a rabid fan base and a proven track record of putting players in the NBA. In addition, there is a strong focus on development and a season which consists of 32 games which lends itself to more developmental rigor. I’ll have a chance to train with some of the best professional coaches and trainers in the world, so that is a very attractive situation for me.”
Armstrong, a four-star recruit who played high school basketball at Bella Vista College Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona, was previously committed to the Arizona Wildcats. He elected to pursue professional basketball opportunities after it became clear that he will need to attend summer school at Arizona in order to become eligible academically due to an insufficient GPA.
Armstrong comes from a challenging family background in Flint, Michigan and got off to a difficult start academically, attending four different high schools in three states, but could have become academically eligible to play college basketball, his agent Arthur Smalls told ESPN. “After seeing RJ Hampton announce his intentions to go pro and hearing the interview he conducted on ESPN’s Get Up, it changed his perspective,” Smalls said.
“Head coach Simon Mitchell and general manager Tommy Greer laid out a very detailed plan on how I will develop as a player and as a young man,” Armstrong said. “There is a strong emphasis on strength and conditioning as is evident on the hiring of the strength and development coach from Melbourne United.
While not as well known as Hampton or Ball, Armstrong is a NBA prospect in his own right, as a tough, aggressive and versatile scorer standing 6-7 with long arms, wide shoulders and good athletic ability that allow him to play either the shooting guard or small forward positions. He ranked in the top 10 in scoring in the prestigious Nike EYBL AAU circuit in the spring and summer of 2018, averaging 20.4 points per game. This helped him emerge from being ranked outside of the top 100 of recruiting services at that time, and it earned him scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Florida State, LSU, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oregon and others.
Armstrong will be accompanied by his mentor, Tim Jones, in joining the newest expansion team in Australia, the Phoenix, a team which is owned by an American investment group.
“We’re very excited to have Terry Armstrong coming to join our newest team — the South East Melbourne Phoenix,” NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger told ESPN. “I think he will be a great fit, complementing their roster nicely both in terms of skill set and culture. His physicality and his basketball IQ will stand him in good stead in a competition like the NBL. Having guys like Mitch Creek and Ben Madgen in the leadership group, I think, will go a long way to aiding Terry in his preparation for the transition to the NBA.”
Greer, the GM, echoed those thoughts: “We were very cautious of finding the right Next Star prospect for our club — we wanted to find a professional league-ready candidate who could contribute right away. With Terry’s combination of athleticism and scoring ability, he will give us a different look in the shooting guard position we were looking for. We expect Terry to be able to contribute straight away. He has the size and athleticism to be able to do so in what’s considered a physically demanding league. We want to see Terry develop over the course of the year and give him the best possible opportunity to realize his NBA dream.
“It’s a huge vote of confidence in our club and all the hard work we have put in over the last 11 months in preparing a first-class-players-focused franchise for the south east of Melbourne. This signing will allow us to spotlight the South East Melbourne Phoenix on the international stage. You couldn’t ask for better publicity for our league. We know the quality of this league for a long time now and having Next Star players of this caliber take note of the professionalism of the league and development and pathway opportunities will help is further expose this quality to international basketball public.”
Armstrong will join the Phoenix in Melbourne at the end of July.