Teenage Ballers can cash sooner than ever. But at what cost ?


In February, Ramses Melendez, who goes by RJ, announced his college decision in a video posted on his social media accounts. 4-star winger of the 2021 promotion, Melendez followed a typical formula for the video: a highlight and then a jersey unveiling. He strayed from the script for a while, however, when he admitted in voiceover that “it was not easy to make that decision.”

A few months later, an unusual phone call made that decision even more difficult.

On the other end of the line was Timothy Fuller, a former college basketball coach and scouting director for a new league, Overtime Elite. Backed by investors ranging from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to Nets All-Star forward Kevin Durant, Overtime Elite aims to be an alternative to college as a gateway to the NBA for basketball players. high-level high school from 16 years old.

Fuller had seen Melendez play and he wanted to offer him a place in the fledgling league. Fuller told Melendez the overtime would help him prepare for the pros. Fuller also told Melendez that unlike college, the league could pay him.

A lot.

Melendez declined to reveal a dollar figure during a recent interview at Rucker Park in New York City, where he was preparing to play in the Omni Elite tournament. But he said it was in line with other deals announced by Overtime.

In May, overtime sign Matt and Ryan Bewley, twin brothers in Florida who are raising high school students, on two-year contracts worth at least $ 1 million each. The league has since sign another group of Florida basketball twins for an undisclosed sum, and its executives said it would eventually acquire 30 players who each earn a minimum annual salary of $ 100,000.

“The money was good, but it wasn’t the biggest factor in my decision,” Melendez said. “I want my next step to prepare me to play in the NBA. I asked myself: what is the best way to do this? “

This year’s NBA Draft, the order of which was announced last week with Detroit picking up the top pick, will likely not feature any players from the more recent alternate paths when it takes place on July 29. college to college players and coaches took note and took action.

For high-performance high school basketball players, recruiting has often been a hectic process with no great safety net. These teens need to discern the reliability of college coaches who text and call them relentlessly, promising them playing time and a safe path to the pros. And they should be wary of boosters and agents and other unscrupulous characters who often offer cash and perks that go against NCAA rules and the law.

Now, top male players must also decide whether it’s worth giving up their college eligibility by turning pro during or immediately after high school.

Due to the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule, American players must be 19 years old and one year out of their high school graduation class to be drafted. But there is no rule that says they have to attend college during that year. These new leagues hope to attract the best NCAA players with something colleges can’t match: a salary.

In addition to Overtime Elite, there’s also the NBA’s own elite development team, the G League Ignite, which pays top players well above the salaries of regular G League teams. There is the Professional college league, which is backed by former Obama administration officials and aims to place 96 players on eight teams this fall. These players will be compensated up to $ 150,000 each and will receive a lifetime college scholarship.

And there are also professional leagues overseas, from Australia to Europe to China, chasing American high school stars.

“Before it was just, ‘What university am I going to go to?’”, Said Samson johnson, a New Jersey center who has pledged to play for Connecticut in 2021-22. “Now there are a lot of leagues and it’s hard to keep up with all this new information. How can you be sure of what is real? It’s risky.

Among the top prospects, the G League Ignite team has emerged as the most attractive alternative to college. The G League enjoys the backing of the NBA and has also proven that it can develop NBA draft prospects.

Last year the Ignite team ink 5-star goalie Jalen Green has a $ 500,000 contract. Despite a season cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, Green is still considered a choice among the top five for this year’s NBA Draft in July.

Seeing other players succeed in the G League was one of the reasons Scoot Henderson decided to finish high school earlier and sign a two-year, $ 1 million contract with Ignite.

Henderson had sparked interest from a professional league in China, overtime, and just about every college basketball powerhouse in the country.

His decision came to college or the Ignite team, which offered money, competition, and the ability to sign endorsements. Under pressure from laws from several states, a key NCAA panel on Monday put forward a proposal to allow athletes to make deals with sponsors.

Despite some scattered progress on name, image and likeness reforms, it remains unclear whether NCAA athletes will be able to sign sponsorship deals this year.

“I wanted to be myself and I wanted to own myself,” Henderson said. “With the G League, I play at a high level every night. I can also organize camps, sign autographs and sponsor products.

Henderson had an added advantage while weighing his options. His AAU coach Parrish Johnson is a longtime friend of coach Ignite Brian Shaw.

But not all elite high school players are so lucky. The NCAA doesn’t allow high school players to have contact with agents, so they must rely on the advice of coaches and family members who are often unfamiliar with the nuances of professional sports contracts.

Darrell Miller’s son, Brandon, is a Top 15 prospects in the class of 2022. Whenever Darrell finds out about a new league, he pulls out his laptop and starts searching on Google. Sometimes he ends up with a dozen tabs open as they wait at the airport for a flight to another AAU tournament.

“The scary part is: you just don’t know,” he said. “They are start-ups. They look really nice. They have the coaches. They have the board members. But then you get this feeling: What if? what if this check is not erased? what if my son’s shares are going down? If you are a professional athlete, you are not allowed to make the same mistakes that you can as a student. If you choose the wrong college, you can transfer. If you choose the wrong professional league, what’s your backup plan? “

Some high school and AAU coaches, who are often players’ closest confidants, are also uncomfortable with their roles.

“Your biggest nightmare as a coach is pushing a kid in a certain direction and it doesn’t work,” said Vonzell Thomas, who coaches the AAU team. South Assault. “Then for the rest of that kid’s life, every time he thinks of you, he’ll think: this is the guy who screwed my life up.” You never want your name to appear when a child is asked why they haven’t been successful.

Melendez discussed the overtime offer with his parents and coaches. They looked at the contract together. In the end, he decided to turn the league down and stick with his decision to play Illinois. It was, so far, the safest decision.

“I said no because I heard NBA players say they regretted not playing in college,” he said. “I don’t want to find myself in this situation. I didn’t want to wake up next year and feel like I made a big mistake. These leagues can turn out to be great opportunities, but first I want to be able to see a little history. I want to make sure it works. These decisions change your whole life.

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