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Development on & off court top priority for Ignite

G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart addresses the reporters during media day at The Dollar Loan Center. Photo Credit: Terrel Emerson

According to head coach Jason Hart, this upcoming step is the last chance for holding hands before turning professional for the 15 men selected for the G League Ignite roster ahead of a monumental season for the developmental group.

The Ignite was created in 2020, built for elite NBA prospects placed in an atmosphere based around “high-level competition and accelerated on-court development.”

“Team Ignite is basically a developmental team [that’s] trying to get guys drafted as high as possible,” Hart said. “We want to win each game – me as a competitor, me as a coach, me being a former player.

“But [...] there will never be a game where I just have all the young guys on the bench and the veterans in the game to try and win the game.”

The program also includes off-court programs including financial literacy training, physical and mental wellness programming as well as media and brand building.

“When we go into these young mens’ homes they’re 17 years old,” Hart said. “So when you’re taking them out of their home – a comfortable environment and bringing them into a professional setting, it’s our job to kind of groom them into the men we know they can become.”

As a bonus, the entire roster lives together at Life Time Living in Green Valley, Nevada. Los Angeles native Shareef O’Neal has two different college experiences to use as reference points for this arrangement.

Ignite forward Shareef O'Neal talks to the media ahead of opening night for his first season with the NBA developmental group. Photo Credit: Terrel Emerson

“It’s way better,” he said. “I’ve been in college for a few years and I’ve lived in dorms [but] living at Life Time is way better. It kind of reminds me of college, having all of my teammates in the same building as me but it’s a lot nicer than the dorm.”

Since its inception two years ago, the Ignite has produced three Top-10 NBA Draft picks – the most by any program (collegiate, draft prep or professional) during that time.

Eight alumni Ignite members were on rosters at the start of the NBA regular season a little over a week ago. Those eight include former No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets and NBA champion Jonathan Kuminga of the Golden State Warriors.

This year’s roster includes a projected No. 2 overall pick in guard Scoot Henderson.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “I have social media and I see it pop up on my phone sometimes but I scroll right past it and I come to the gym and work. I feel like you can never go wrong with working out and getting those thoughts out of your head.”

Henderson is an 18-year old prospect from Marietta, Georgia, who starred for Kell High School before making this jump. A jump that was obvious according to him.

“It was really a no-brainer to come here,” he said. “To play against pros and get the pro experience at 17 years old, it was definitely a no-brainer.”

To assist in the transition, Henderson has veteran teammates on the roster such as 16-year pro Pooh Jeter. According to the 38-year old, Henderson has already made the adjustment from full-time student to part-time teacher.

“Now the roles are reversed,” Jeter said. “I’ll come to him and be like, ‘Okay, so what do you see?’ So now, he’s telling me because it’s all about learning. So even if you’re watching or doing it on your own, you still have to continue to build that repora.” Henderson has relished the opportunity to build a relationship with someone who has played in seven different countries.

“It’s definitely been a journey for sure,” Henderson said. “Just learning from him and seeing the game in a different way other than just scoring. I feel like I’ve always been impactful in many ways on the game whether that’s cheering from the bench or [putting] an idea in my teammate’s head.”

According to Jeter, NBA scouts and executives are going to be looking for one particular thing this season when watching Henderson on the floor.

“Scoot’s main thing is, ‘Can he run a team?’” he said. “That’s it. I told him, ‘Bro, that’s all people want to know.’ He’s already amazing at everything else.”

For the first time ever, this season’s Ignite roster will embark on a 50-game regular season schedule.

“When you’re on the road you have to make sure you’re getting your proper rest,” Hart said. “We’re not an NBA team so we’re not flying charter so you have to get proper rest. Teaching some of the things we’ve been teaching like eating right, sleeping right but then also for me I want them to enjoy this experience.

“You’re never going to have a time like this again in your career. Me as a coach, I call it ‘the last time we can hold your hand through the process.’ Because when you go to the NBA, it’ll be no more holding hands.”

In addition to the new schedule, this year also marks the first season for the team with The Dollar Loan Center as its permanent home. Previously, the team was based in Walnut Creek, California, where it also trained. Home games, however, were played at the Michelob Ultra Arena.

The Dollar Loan Center listens to the National Anthem ahead of its exhibition game against the Bolougne-Levaillos Metropolitans 92. Photo Credit: Terrel Emerson

“It’s great finally having a home base,” a smiling Henderson said. “It’s actually my first time being out of home and then to come down here, it’s like a second home in Henderson. Same last name so you know, it’s God.”

The Ignite opens its season Friday, Nov. 4 from The DLC against the Oklahoma City Blue. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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