Leonard Miller skipped college to go pro — now he's heading to NBA all-star weekend

Leonard Miller is taking another step in an unorthodox route toward his pro basketball career as he prepares to participate in NBA all-star weekend despite not yet playing in the league. The Ontario player is part of a new program that lets players sidestep college on their way to being a pro.

19-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., will compete in the Rising Stars challenge

A man in a black jersey holds a basketball while surrounded by two defending players in white jerseys.
Leonard Miller hopes playing for the G League Ignite will help him develop his game and prepare him for life as a professional basketball player. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Leonard Miller is taking another step in an unorthodox route toward his pro basketball career as he prepares to participate in NBA all-star weekend despite not yet playing in the league.

"I'm going to have fun, I'm going to cherish the moments, but I'm going to go and compete," said the Scarborough, Ont., native, who will be playing in the Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 17. "I'm going to showcase who Leonard Miller is."

The Rising Stars Challenge is an event that pits the NBA's best first- and second-year players against each other — Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes is also set to participate.

Miller, 19, won't be the only Canadian on the court for the event. Canadian rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, both of the Indiana Pacers, will also compete.

But Miller's journey to all-star weekend in Utah is much different than his Canadian compatriots. He's part of a new program that gives players a chance to sidestep college on their way to becoming a professional basketball player. 

A male basketball player in  a black jersey goes for a layup with defending players looking on.
Miller, seen driving to the basket during a G League game, says choosing to play for the Ignite was a 'no-brainer.' (David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Miller had his choice of U.S. schools, including top programs like Kentucky and Gonzaga.

But Miller opted for a different path. In 2020, the NBA launched a program called the G League Ignite — creating a new team that would join and play in the NBA's already established G League development program.

While most teams in the G League are made up of fringe NBA talent or young players who can't earn minutes on their respective teams, the Ignite's roster would feature top prospects trying to make the NBA. 

Instead of going to college, players were offered $500,000 US per year to play for the Ignite, and take part in a program designed to prepare them for life as a pro basketball player.

Head coach Jason Hart, who played in the NBA from 2000 to 2010, leads the team and helps mentor its young players. 

A basketball coach talks to a player on the bench.
G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart, left, talks with Miller during a game against the Stockton Kings. (David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

"The goal was for them to get NBA ready by playing in the NBA setting … and to put them in a position where they can play through mistakes and grow their games while allowing them to go through the growing pains of the development," Hart said. 

He says if a player struggles in college they may get stuck on the bench as the team is trying to win games. With the Ignite, Hart says the focus is on improvement.

"It's a development program, but also putting them in a position [so] when they do get to the NBA they understand the rules, they understand the lifestyle," he said.

But Hart says the program is much more than just a place for players to improve.

Athletes participate in academic courses online through Arizona State University. They also take courses on media training, financial literacy, and how to handle the family pressures that come with big-league success.

G League Ignite a 'no-brainer' for Miller

After playing at Fort Erie International Academy — a private Ontario boarding school — in 2022, Miller chose the G League Ignite over going to university in the United States.

He felt the team believed in him, that he would fit with the other players there, and that it would be the best opportunity for him to showcase his skills while preparing to play in the NBA. 

"It was a no-brainer," Miller said. "Coming out of high school, I was far above everybody else. Like it was too easy. I felt like going to the pro route was what I needed, and I was ready."

G League Ignite games follow the same rules as the NBA, as opposed to college where game length and some rules are different.

Scott Morrison, who coaches the Utah Jazz's G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, says the league also offers the opportunity for players to compete against more experienced and tougher talent on a nightly basis. 

A coach poses for a photo with his right arm extended, leaning against a guard rail.
Scott Morrison used to be an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics and is now head coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, and an assistant for Canada Basketball. (Submitted by Joseph Drost)

Morrison was also an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics from 2017 to 2021, and knows what kind of players NBA teams look for. 

"I think every G League game has eyes on it in terms of [NBA] front offices. But I feel like whenever we're scheduled to play the Ignite, everyone knows who we're playing," Morrison said. 

An eye on the NBA draft

Miller has enjoyed success with the Ignite so far. The six-foot-ten forward is averaging over 15 points and eight rebounds per game for the squad.

As it stands, Leonard Miller is expected to make the next step of his journey to the pros during the NBA draft on June 22.

Morrison coached Miller with the Canadian national team during the summer at the GLOBAL JAM tournament in Toronto. He says Miller's speed, length and athleticism, combined with his passing and finishing ability, set him up well to get a good look from NBA teams.

Morrison's team has played the Ignite a few times already this season, and he's been impressed with Miller's development.

"I really see a lot of improvement and development in him, both as a player and just as a man," Morrison said.

A player smiles during a basketball game.
Miller, seen during the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, hopes to be drafted in the NBA and start his big-league career in June. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

ESPN's mock draft by Jonathan Givoney projects Miller will be drafted 25th overall by the Brooklyn Nets, though that could change ahead of draft day. But Miller has higher expectations for himself.

"My goal is far deeper than that. I want to have multiple contracts. I want to establish myself as one of the best to play the game and I feel like my game is capable of that. I don't want to just make the NBA," Miller said.

Three other members of Miller's G League Ignite will also play in the Rising Stars Challenge — Sidy Cissoko, Scoot Henderson, Mojave King.

Miller will also get the chance to showcase his skills on home soil next month.

The Ignite will take on the Toronto Raptors affiliate, Raptors 905, in Mississauga, Ont., on March 6.


Philip Drost is a journalist with the CBC. You can reach him by email at