The Oklahoma City Thunder took a flyer on Darius Bazley, a 6-foot-9 forward selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Notably, the 19-year-old Bazley, who skipped a quick trip to the NCAA, planned to play in the G League immediately upon leaving high school but ultimately decided against it and interned with New Balance instead (and was paid $1 million, too).

It paid off in more ways than one for Bazley, per Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman:

“I feel like without me going through that internship,” Darius Bazley told The Oklahoman, “without me having to live on my own, without me having to balance that crazy schedule, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. And I wouldn’t be ready for the position that I’m in now, that I’m about to step into.”

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Bazley has an uphill climb ahead of him as the NBA leaves no room for slouches. The former New Balance intern and five-star recruit enters a Thunder team devoid of star talent at the moment, with the losses of point guard Russell Westbrook and forward Paul George. In the meantime, the rookie will learn to play with guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, acquired in the George trade and a former Los Angeles Clippers lottery selection.

So far, Bazley has a mentor in Chris Paul, the 34-year-old point guard exchanged for Westbrook in the Houston Rockets deal. Paul has served as the NBPA’s union president for the players since 2013.

Additionally, Bazley explained how his time with the athletic brand went in the year between high school and the NBA, detailing how his practices would field information for product testing and how he brought input for New Balance’s marketing team.