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NBA AM: Ferguson’s Unconventional Path to NBA

Terrance Ferguson passed on the NCAA for fortune in Australia, but finds himself in the NBA, anyway.

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The McDonald’s All-American Game is a coming-out party for the nation’s most highly-touted high school hoops prospects, which is exactly why Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson was part of it as a 17-year-old back in the spring of 2016.

Unlike most of his fellow All-Americans, however, Ferguson came into the event without having selected a university, which means he spent the entirety of his week in Chicago answering the same question over and over and over again: “So, what college you gonna go to?”

At the time, Ferguson had not made an official decision after having decommitted from Alabama just a few weeks prior, but by the time the McDonald’s exhibition rolled around, he had a pretty strong sense of where he was going to end up.

“At the McDonald’s game I was originally going to commit to Arizona,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I ended up waiting and pushing back that decision, but honestly, going overseas wasn’t even an option at that time. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was headed to college, and it was going to be Arizona.”

Ferguson actually committed to Arizona in April of 2016, once again without signing a letter of intent. By the summer, though, there were rumblings that Arizona might not be getting the #11 overall college prospect after all.

“The Adelaide 36ers came to watch me at the Nike Hoops Summit, and that was it,” he said. “We talked afterwards and I remember telling them at the time, ‘I’m dead set on Arizona.’ I said it over and over again, but after a couple of weeks talking with my family, I started to realize that it really didn’t sound like a bad idea. So I went with it.”

On the first of July, 2016, Ferguson signed a contract to play professionally in Australia instead of attending college in the U.S. In March, he was planning on attending Alabama, and in April it was going to be Arizona. Just a couple of months later he was halfway across the world.

“It comes at you fast,” Ferguson admitted. “You’re just playing basketball and doing what you love, and then the opportunities start coming in. There were so many colleges making those opportunities for me, but then a new opportunity came for me to make some money instead of going to school. I just couldn’t turn it down. When you get the opportunity to make some real money at that point in your life, you just have to take it.”

It’s easy to wonder whether Ferguson regrets his decision. He didn’t play a ton in Adelaide, averaging only 15 minutes per night, and he knew he was giving up an experience he spent his whole life believing he’d have. Despite all of that, Ferguson looked at both college and Australia as a means to end. Either way it was just going to be one year of his life, and then he’d make a go at the NBA.

In that respect, Ferguson really doesn’t have a good reason to regret his decision to skip college.

“I’m living the dream right now, right?” Ferguson said. “I must have done the right thing. Who cares about a little bit of fun for one year at college? I was able to help my family a little bit, and in the end I got here, so that path helped my dreams come true.”

Plus, getting a practice year in international professional hoops prepared him for the NBA in some ways that the NCAA flat-out couldn’t have.

“I learned how to be a professional there,” he said. “I learned how to take care of my body, how to be more aware of the foods I was eating, taking care of my money. It was small things that up-and-coming kids don’t always realize are going to come up for professional athletes. I guess I learned those lessons a little sooner.”

Now, Ferguson gets to play professional basketball in the state where he was born. He’s come a long way from that McDonald’s All-American Game.

“This has been amazing. There are so many future Hall of Famers in this locker room, from Westbrook to Carmelo to PG. I get to pick these guys’ brains, learn the small things from them, both on the court and off the court. It already has gone such a long way. I can’t explain how happy I am to be here.”

He hasn’t been given the opportunity to play much in Oklahoma City yet, but he’s still just a kid, and he’s happy to be wearing an NBA jersey no matter how much he plays. He has learned that basketball comes at you fast, and his experiences in life thus far have shown him just how quickly things can change for a player in this sport.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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