There are essentially two paths for young international players to enter the NBA.
They can stay overseas and play pro ball there until their number is called, or they can come over to the U.S. and hone their skills here before entering the draft.
Jonah Bolden kind of did both.
The 21-year-old Australian-born forward went to prep school in Las Vegas and New Hampshire before landing at UCLA. After not playing his freshman year for academic reasons, Bolden left the program midway through his second season to go play in Serbia.
"Coming from UCLA going to my first year professionally was a big difference," Bolden said at the Sixers' practice facility Friday. "Coming from the American style of play to the European style was also a big difference — the physicality, the speed of the game kind of slowed down. IQ level was a lot higher. There was an adjustment phase. Once I got through that, it was kind of a smooth ride."
Bolden shined last season with Beograd. He averaged 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game on his way to receiving the Adriatic League's Top Prospect Award. That award has gone to the likes of Denver Nuggets budding star Nikola Jokic and, of course, one of the Sixers' Rookie of the Year candidates, Dario Saric.
Bolden's time with Beograd was almost as rocky as his time with UCLA. The team changed coaches three times during the course of last season.
The Adriatic League is already difficult enough for a young player, making Bolden's season all the more impressive.
"That's a man's league," CSNPhilly Sixers analyst Mark Jackson said on draft night. "The NBA is a tough, physical league but we're talking about when you go to the hole, you better be praying while you're in the air.
"For him to be that young and play 28 minutes a game … first of all young players in EuroCup, in Serbia, don't play. They play them maybe 10-15 minutes max. This guy's playing 28 minutes and averaging 12 points on a major team in Serbia. He must've really impressed his coaches to play him because they don't do that."
Other than the 6-foot-10 forward's athleticism, 7-foot-3 wingspan and ability to stretch the floor (he shot 42 percent from three last season), Bolden's tough style of play is part of what drew the Sixers to him.
His father, Bruce Bolden, spent 17 years playing professionally in Australia. Brett Brown may have been anonymous in Philadelphia before becoming the Sixers' coach, but if you grow up in Australia playing basketball, you know the name.
During a brief conversation when Bolden arrived in Philly on Friday, Brown told him why the Sixers drafted him.
"Coming from Australia you hear about Brett Brown all the time," Bolden said. "I had about a 45-minute meeting with him and my dad and my agent were here. It felt comfortable. Like we were just back at home in Australia.
"He just knows that I have that gritty, grindy Australian demeanor. He loves that. That's kind of what he's about."
Bolden is also familiar with another Aussie native: Ben Simmons. Bolden and Simmons are close in age and grew up playing against each other. Simmons left for America before Bolden, but the two spoke whenever Simmons came back.
Simmons was pretty happy when the team took Bolden No. 36 overall. It only added to Simmons' excitement level for the future, something he communicated when the old friends caught up.
"He said 'I fell in love after my second day [here],'" Bolden said. "He said, 'When you get here you'll see how it is. The fans, they fall in love with you. Just work hard and it'll happen for you.'"
Bolden may not have a ton to prove back in Serbia, but he's still under contract. The Sixers also have a crowded roster at the moment. And that's before free agency even starts.
Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo made it clear that all of the international prospects drafted last Thursday would likely be returning back to their respective leagues. He didn't completely close the door, saying "everything's up for discussion and debate" when it comes to how the Sixers will build their roster.
Bolden would love to be in Philly next season but will respect the team's decision.
"I could start today," Bolden said of when he'd like to play for the Sixers. "But there's uncertainty with that. The organization drafted me with a plan and I'm going to stick to the plan. I'm subject to a European contract at the moment but whatever the organization wants and they say is what'll happen."