An NBA dream a long time in the making became a reality on Wednesday night for former Little Elm star RJ Hampton.
He guided the Lobos to their brightest pastures on the basketball court and will get a chance to contribute for one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Hampton was drafted 24th overall in Wednesday's NBA draft – a pick made by the New Orleans Pelicans that was then traded to the Denver Nuggets.
Hampton’s path to the NBA is no doubt unique, but one he began to forge as early as his first game as a high school freshman with Little Elm. That came in November 2016 when he scored 33 points in a 78-52 victory over Naaman Forest — setting the stage for a breakout freshman campaign that saw Hampton average 23.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.5 steals per game. He led the Lobos to a district title, a two-round playoff run, and earned a score of all-state and All-America honors.
Although Hampton nearly transferred to national powerhouse Montverde Academy prior to his sophomore season, he opted to return to Little Elm and further bolstered his status as one of the country’s top prospects. He averaged 30.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 4.4 steals and 2.5 blocks per game — earning district MVP honors and helping Little Elm match its deepest playoff run in program history with a trip to the regional quarterfinals.
As a junior, Hampton’s numbers were nothing short of absurd. He averaged 32 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 3.9 steals per game with Little Elm. Throughout his district slate, the five-star recruit ramped up his scoring efforts to another level by averaging just over 35 points per game while also coming through in numerous clutch moments for the Lobos — he hit the game-winner in a 62-61 overtime victory against top rival The Colony, and authored a pivotal road upset of Justin Northwest.
Hampton’s monster year resonated statewide, named the Gatorade Texas Boys Basketball Player of the Year and one of three finalists for the national award as well.
He led the Lobos to an area-round battle with eventual state champion Mansfield Timberview, bowing out in a 29-point effort in a 76-70 loss — a night that marked the final time Hampton would don a Little Elm jersey.
Weighing scholarship offers from Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech, among others, Hampton reclassified to the class of 2019 before announcing in May 2019 on ESPN’s “Get Up” that would forgo college and play overseas with the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s National Basketball League.
“I just thought going overseas would better prepare me for the next level,” he said in a USA Today High School Sports video blog shortly after his decision. “My ultimate goal isn’t college – my ultimate goal is to get to the NBA. I feel like starting that pro year early is really going to help me. Everyone since the beginning thought I was going to Kansas, but I felt like this decision was best for me.”
Signing a professional contract straight out of high school, Hampton played in 15 games for the Breakers, starting 12. He averaged 8.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals.
Several draft experts mocked Hampton around the middle of the first round, lauding his explosiveness as a finisher at the rim, as well as his potential as a playmaker and defender. Cons included the need to bulk up in size and develop a more consistent jump shot.
He'll get a chance to earn minutes for a Denver team that posted a 46-27 record and advanced to the Western Conference finals.