NBA prospect RJ Hampton: ‘I kind of try to model my game after Zach LaVine now’

On the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto is joined by RJ Hampton, who is a projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft. After becoming a pro overseas following high school, Hampton discussed what he learned playing in the NBL and going up against LaMelo Ball. Hampton also explained what advice he’s received from Ja MorantMike Miller and Penny Hardaway, his long-term goals, and more. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below. 

1:20 What factored into Hampton’s decision to go overseas instead of playing college basketball?

I think the decision for me was the right decision as a basketball player and as a business person and who I want to be in the future. I definitely feel like the decision I made helped me on and off the court to be a pro and be an NBA player, which is my main goal. Looking back on that decision, I don’t regret it one bit. I’m happy with the outcome. I’m happy with how much I learned this past year.

2:00 Hampton on other players he spoke to that made the jump from high school to playing professionally overseas. 

2:30 What was life like for Hampton overseas daily? 

It was a lot different than America, probably from the fact that I didn’t have to go to school. You wake up, go to the facility, get treatment, watch film, start practice, then probably get some lunch, come back, get up some shots and go home and do the same thing all over again. I feel like the biggest thing was time management. This is the first time in my life I didn’t have to dedicate seven or eight hours a day to school.

3:13 The differences between playing the overseas game versus high school and AAU 

I think the biggest thing I learned over there that’s different about high school basketball and AAU comparatively to overseas basketball is just the team ball and the movement of everybody. Everybody knows how to make great cuts. Everybody knows the different defensive actions off of the action. In AAU and high school ball, especially for me, I had the ball 99.9 percent of the time when I played. Going over there and learning how to play off the ball and play with other great guys is a skill that other players are going to have to learn at some point in their career if they want to be successful.

4:06 Playing against LaMelo Ball and thoughts on his game 

I think LaMelo’s a great player with just his combination of size and vision is unmatched. When we played over there, I think we won both of the games, so it was definitely a good matchup, high intensity, and we both competed. He was in kind of a different situation than I was in, so the outcomes varied throughout the games, but it was fun competing.

5:00 How Ball and Hampton bonded as fellow Americans overseas 

We were friends before we went overseas. I’ve known Melo for about five years now. Even when we were over there, we saw each other all the time, we’ve talked pretty much every day, or every other day now, so that’s been one of my good friends besides basketball and going overseas.

6:00 Did Ball and Hampton continue to open the door for high school recruits to play overseas or go to the G League? 

I think we did for sure, especially me and LaMelo. Me being the one or two rated point guard in our class last year and LaMelo being one of the biggest names in high school basketball history, college would’ve liked to have us a lot last year. Once guys see that RJ and LaMelo didn’t go to college and are making money and being successful, I think that kind of opened some guys’ eyes to other options. The G League was presented to them, and I think that’s a great fit for them as long as they’re going in there and working hard.

7:30 Did you feel like you had a bullseye on your back playing as a high-profile American player out of high school playing overseas? 

I think there were definitely certain times where certain guys keyed in on me the whole game, or some guys might’ve taken a little cheap shot here and there, but that’s what comes with the game. I definitely think me and LaMelo had the biggest bullseyes on our back in the NBL, and I think going through that on our first year in the NBL will definitely help us through our first two or three years in the NBA.

8:20 Hampton on his messages to his new NBL teammates when he arrived 

I think the biggest thing coming in as a high-profile guy was letting those guys know that I was there to win. I wanted to make the team better at all costs. I wanted to not bring in an ego or anything else but a winning attitude and to better the team. Once my teammates figured that out about me, everything went so much smoother.

9:10 What Hampton and his agent Dan Frank have done to prepare for the unique draft process 

I think the biggest thing for us is being mentally prepared for my rookie season even without playing basketball. If I have a Zoom call, I’m treating that like a scout. I’m treating that like I’m scouting a road or home game for my team, my rookie year. If I have workouts back-to-back, or if I’m driving down to Memphis, I train my mind to think if I’m going down to Memphis for a week and then get back home for a week, I just had a one-week road stretch and a one-week home stretch. It’s about training your mind at all costs to get ready for whatever battles are going to be thrown at you in your rookie year.

10:00 Do you remember any weird Zoom interview questions? 

I think there was one that asked if I was a paperclip in a blender, how would I get myself out? I said since I’m a paperclip, I have a wiry frame. I’m going to find some type of whole in the machine and try to wiggle my way out.

MORE: Executives share worst interview answers from NBA draft prospects

11:30 Who Hampton compares himself to now and is modeling his game after long-term 

I think the person I’ve watched the most probably over the past two or three years would be Zach LaVine because I think we’re both 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6 guards that are athletic, can get downhill, can create for our teammates, and we’re fast. That’s definitely somebody that I kind of try to model my game after now. Then, long-term, I’d say, maybe not long-term, but one of my favorite players is Derrick Rose. If I could be like him one day that would be worth my while. 

12:47 On working with Mike Miller and Penny Hardaway 

I think the biggest thing with Mike, it kind of speaks for itself, in my opinion, he’s a Top 20 or Top 25 shooter of all-time to ever play the game of basketball. The biggest thing I’m working on with him is trying to be that high 30s or low 40s percent three-point shooter to go along with my athleticism and speed. We’re in the gym every other week with thousands of reps trying to get it down, so when I do come to the NBA, I make an impact right away.

For Penny, the biggest thing we work on is IQ. If I’m going to play the lead guard position, I want to be the smartest person on the court at all times. I definitely think that with his athleticism and his flare, he was definitely one of the smartest people on the court in the league at all times. That’s the biggest thing we work on, IQ and feel for the game.

14:00 Hampton on working with Miller on his shooting technique and Hardaway in pick-and-roll action and their relationship dating back to recruiting him out of high school

15:25 Playing against Ja Morant 

16:25 Morant’s advice to Hampton

I think the biggest piece of advice he gave me over the summer was like, ‘RJ, you’re pretty much one of the fastest guards I’ve ever seen in person, so take that to your advantage and learn to play with pace.’

17:20 Hampton’s thoughts on what experts are saying about the draft class 

18:03 Hampton evaluates his own strengths and weaknesses 

I think a lot of my weaknesses are just defensive schemes and learning where to be at all times on defense, locking in full-time on the defensive end. I feel like I’m athletic enough to be a great defender, so just locking in on that. I think a weakness was shooting, but I’ve been in the gym the past seven months with one of the best shooters all-time, so I’m getting that down pact. I think probably my biggest strengths are attacking downhill, making plays for other guys, getting to the basket. I think I’m the most athletic guard in the draft, but I think I’m the fastest person in maybe the NBA when I get there next year.

19:00 Hampton’s preference on playing point guard or off the ball at the two-guard position 

I definitely think I can be more successful on the ball being an elite guard, but honestly, I’ve just got to be put out on the floor for things to happen. I feel like I run lanes good, I do things in transition well, and I’m a good off-ball cutter. Whatever the team really needs is what I’m going to do.

19:40 Why should a team select Hampton in the draft? 

I’d say because I think I’m the most prepared player in this draft. I feel like I’m the most versatile player in this draft. Nobody can really pinpoint what I can do super great, and nobody can pinpoint what I can do super bad. I can guard one through three (positions) with my size and athleticism. I can make plays for my teammates. When my shot starts to fall, that just opens it up for me and everybody else. I think you get the best of both worlds with a young guy who’s very athletic and who competes at a high level.

20:20 Keeping tabs on his draft stock 

20:50 Hampton’s long-term goals 

I think the biggest long-term goal is to win an NBA championship. I think I want to be an NBA All-Star, MVP. I’m sure every single person interviewed has said this, but just to be a good guy in the locker room, a guy people respect, a guy people can lean on. I want to be a part of the NBPA and a lot of different things outside of basketball as well. The main thing for sure is MVP, All-Star, championship, and a Hall of Famer.

21:30 Would Hampton change anything about his journey leading up to this point?

I don’t think I’d change anything. I think the way I did it was my way. I think I’m going to continue to do things in that order and just play as hard as I can for whatever team that chooses to draft me on draft night.

22:16 What Hampton learned about the business of basketball playing overseas as a young pro 

I think I just learned my willingness to work. I feel like I learned how competitive I was and how much of a team player I was. I think in high school, I definitely was a team player, but I had the responsibility of scoring the ball pretty much every time I touched it. Just finding out different roles I can be in one day or different situations I might have to play. I feel like I’m prepared for any situation the NBA throws at me.

22:55 What’s next for Hampton heading into the draft 

23:40 Thoughts on the virtual draft this year

You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto


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