ATLANTA – There are many paths to the NBA outside of the traditional college route.
LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton elected to play overseas in Australia’s National Basketball League before entering the NBA draft. Luka Doncic, an international player, elected to stay in Europe and develop his game by him in the EuroLeague.
For 2022 NBA draft prospect Jean Montero, his path started in the small village of Villa Juana in the Dominican Republic.
At 7 years old, Montero walked by a TV that caught his eye. He’d never seen this sport before. It was Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers playing the Boston Celtics. He stood there for 45 minutes, mesmerized by the game of basketball and particularly Bryant.
“At that moment, Kobe inspired me a lot to play basketball,” Montero told Yahoo Sports. “What I took from him as a player was just to not be afraid of anybody and just go get them. That Mamba mentality.”
Montero continued to work on his game, and others quickly realized he was good. Very good.
At just 13, he played up three divisions in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. Two years later, he was averaging 15 points at the FIBA U17 World Cup. Since then, he’s played in the most competitive league in grassroots basketball, Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League and professionally in Spain for two years.
Last spring, he became the first international prospect to sign with the inaugural league, Overtime Elite.
“After playing professional overseas for the last two years, I knew that joining OTE was the best option for me as a player and my development for the next level,” Montero said.
Montero has been one of the best players on the court all season. He led all players in scoring with 368 points and has great vision in the open court, having two games with 10-plus assists. When Montero is in the game, the pace shifts and his teammates play at a higher level.
“We have a lot of young talent here from the United States, and I’ve really worked on being a leader on the court. I’ve been learning a lot from my teammates, and it’s really helped prepare me for the next level in the NBA, “Montero said.
After Bryant retired, Montero watched a lot of Paul George and Chris Paul. At 6-foot-3, Montero understands he’ll have to be a shifty, smart point guard who can create for others at the next level – something Paul has perfected during his 16-year career in the NBA.
Yahoo Sports’ latest mock draft has Montero projected as a first-round pick. During the last two regular season games, there were more than 25 scouts watching Montero and other potential draft picks.
“Having NBA scouts in the building inspires me a lot because I want to show them what I’m about,” Montero said.
The Dominican Republic is mostly known for its baseball prospects and not necessarily basketball, but Montero is hoping to change that and give young kids in Villa Juana someone to look up to.
“Not a lot of people know that the DR has some great basketball talent. It would mean a lot to me to represent the DR in the NBA,” Montero said with a smile.
Last year, Dominican-born Chris Duarte was 13th overall by the Indiana Pacers and became the first Dominican player to be taken in the lottery since Al Horford. On June 23, Montero is hoping to make it two years in a row a player from the Dominican Republic is taken in the first round, blazing a trail for all young basketball players from his home country.