NBA champion Kenny Smith jets into key Next Stars gig

Influential NBA champion-turned-pundit Kenny Smith has announced his intention to invest in the NBL's next expansion club and play a key role in the league's Next Stars program.

The 10-year playing veteran and host of NBA on TNT on Friday confirmed his appointment as head of Next Stars' player initiatives in North America.

Smith, known as The Jet, will recruit, develop and mentor Next Stars prospects.

It's another boost for the program, after the NBA's rival pathway - second-tier development team G League Ignite - was shut down.

"I'm creating the portal system for US players to get to the NBL, that's how I look at it," he said.

"No league in Europe is saying they're preparing their players to leave.

"For those one or two years you're there, you're becoming a pro."

Former NBA star Kenny Smith.
Former NBA champion Kenny Smith has been appointed head of Next Stars' player initiatives in the US.

Next Stars launched in 2018, pushing high-calibre rookies into the Australian league, rather than the US college system, to gain valuable professional experience.

There are currently 11 former NBL players in the NBA, with Australian Josh Giddey, American pair LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton and Frenchman Ousmane Dieng graduating as first-round draft picks.

Another French forward, Alexandre Sarr - a star at the Perth Wildcats this season - has been touted as a No.1 pick in some mock drafts, while six other current NBL players could be drafted.

"We are extremely proud of our Next Stars program and what it has achieved, but this is just the beginning,” NBL owner Larry Kestelman said.

"The addition of ambassadors and future team owners of Kenny Smith’s calibre and reputation is truly exciting and shows how far we have come, but also indicates to the basketball world where we are headed. “There are currently 11 former NBL players in the NBA and we want to see that number increase significantly.

"We believe Kenny will help us expand the Next Stars program dramatically to achieve this.

"We are quickly becoming the most legitimate, and best pathway to the NBA.”

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