Bronny James recruiting: Breaking down college options with 5 new favorites

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There’s been immense interest around Bronny James since he first entered the public eye as a potential future NBA prospect. James’ game has grown over the last three years while playing for Los Angeles prep powerhouse Sierra Canyon during the high school season and on the Nike EYBL circuit in the summer. As he enters his senior year, James is currently rated as the No. 43 overall prospect in the class of 2023, according to the 247 Sports composite rankings.

James is at a fascinating inflection point in his young career for multiple reasons. After mostly being a role player on Sierra Canyon teams loaded with current and future NBA talent — Ziaire Williams, Brandon Boston Jr., and Amari Bailey, to name a few — James is set to be the leading man for his school as a senior. He also needs to figure out his plan after graduation. With his famous father repeatedly stating he wants to play with his oldest son before he retires, Bronny’s next step is going to be critical to help him get to the NBA.

On Friday, ESPN’s Paul Biancardi gave the first informed update in months on James’ next step. According to ESPN, “there is a strong feeling he will take the college route,” with UCLA, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon mentioned as the leaders. Biancardi notes that other schools could still get into the mix. College of course won’t be James’ only potential route to the 2024 NBA Draft: he could go to the G League Ignite, turn pro in Australia like LaMelo Ball, or pick an alternate option like Overtime Elite.

What should Bronny do after high school? Here’s a look at his reported leaders.

The local options: UCLA and USC

LeBron James can become a free agent in the summer of 2023, but most believe his preferred scenario to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers as long as they can reassert themselves as a legitimate contender. With the entire James family in LA, it means sense that Bronny would have an eye on both local schools, UCLA and USC.

The Bruins are coming off a Final Four and Sweet 16 appearance in Mick Cronin’s first two seasons as head coach. They’re considered a top-10 team coming into this season, but it’s possible they could lose four starters once the year is over if incoming freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona live up to the hype. Add in that UCLA doesn’t have any commits for the 2023 class yet, and it’s really hard to project what their roster could look like a year from now. How Bailey’s freshman year goes could be a big influence on Bronny as his former high school teammate. It’s worth noting that last season’s stud recruit, Peyton Watson, couldn’t crack the rotation on a veteran team in 2021-22 (and was still a first round draft pick anyway). If Bronny signs on, Cronin has to be willing to give him a real role.

USC is also a decent option. The Trojans have made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and could make it again this year as a fringe top-25 team to start the season. There’s another Sierra Canyon connection here with Bronny’s former teammate Kijani Wright set to debut for the Trojans this season as a former top-50 recruit. USC has a really good incoming class, but also doesn’t have any commits for 2023 yet. It’s easy to see Bronny starting on either of these teams if he commits.

The Big Ten powerhouses with family connections: Ohio State and Michigan

LeBron once said he would have gone to Ohio State had he not entered the NBA Draft out of high school. He’s still a big Buckeyes fan, and would likely endorse his son moving back to Ohio to star for Chris Holtmann. The Buckeyes helped turn Malaki Branham into a surprise one-and-done last season after entering the program with a similar recruiting ranking to the one Bronny currently owns (four-star, top-50 overall recruit). Ohio State has four top-100 recruits coming in this season, and four more top-100 recruits committed for the following season. The Buckeyes’ 2023 class is only missing a point guard, and that’s a role Bronny could potentially fill.

Michigan would also make sense because of LeBron’s connection to head coach Juwan Howard. Howard and LeBron were teammates on the Miami Heat at the end of Howard’s career and won two rings together (Howard barely played on those teams). There were even some rumors about Howard potentially getting the Lakers job in the offseason. Instead, Howard will coach his own sons Jett and Jace with the Wolverines next season. LeBron and Bronny will certainly notice if it goes well. Michigan also feels like a good on-court fit for Bronny: the Wolverines can potentially put a lot of shooting on the floor, and Bronny could have a role as a defense-first glue guy in the backcourt.

The ultimate Nike school: Oregon

Nike founder Phil Knight went to Oregon, and has pumped money into the athletic department to the point that the Ducks have become synonymous with the brand. Oregon is used to landing big-time recruits: incoming freshman center Kel’el Ware is already getting top-10 NBA Draft hype, and they have Kwame Evans, the No. 2 overall prospect in 2023, committed for the following year. The Ducks have consistently made the NCAA tournament before last season, and would be another place that could possibly offer Bronny a headline role as a freshman.

Bronny James recruiting: Could anyone else get involved?

I’d be surprised if Bronny commits early given the pace of his recruitment so far. There seems to be plenty of time for other options outside of the five schools mentioned above to emerge. Duke watched Bronny at Peach Jam, and already has four five-star recruits committed for 2023. Two of those players are guards from LA in Jared McCain and Caleb Foster, but it would be foolish to completely rule out the Blue Devils at this point. Memphis has also reportedly been checking in on James, and a fit could make sense there with head coach Penny Hardaway leading the program.

The G League Ignite could also be an fun option. The Ignite have proven they can produce NBA talent with three top-10 picks in the last two drafts (Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, and Dyson Daniels), and Bronny would add an incredible jolt of excitement to the G League. I’m not buying the Australian NBL or Overtime Elite as serious options at this point.

The college route feels like the safest bet for Bronny at this point. The California schools should have an edge as long as his dad stays with the Lakers. Wherever Bronny goes, he’s going to be a huge star from the moment he steps on campus.

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