The concept of amateur athletes being paid has advanced greatly in the last calendar year. Last June, the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate athletics, adopted a policy suspending NCAA name, image and likeness rules for all incoming and current student-athletes in all sports. That’s music to the ears of college athletes, but let’s take it a step further. What about high school athletes? Social media has created a niche market where teenage superstars carve out a name for themselves before they’re even eligible for recruitment. Enter Overtime Elite – the brainchild of Overtime, a distributed sports network and brand founded in 2016 by Dan Porter and Zack Weiner. According to the company, it has nearly 50 million followers and receives 1.7 billion views a month across all its social media platforms.
In March of 2021, Overtime announced its new league to give elite basketball players an alternative to simply skipping college to train at home or internationally. Of those that took a more traditional route of attending a four-year university, several found themselves in the transfer portal when their initial school of choice didn’t quite work out. Therefore, 27 of the world’s best high school and post-graduate players are calling Atlanta home as they prepare their minds and bodies for a professional basketball career while competing amongst one another, against other prep schools in the United States that are not a part of a state association, and some international opponents. OTE Commissioner and President Aaron Ryan tells REVOLT, “About 18 months ago, Overtime – the next generation sports media company – embarked on this journey and exploration of how we might be able to service athletes and their future pursuit to becoming pros. It actually started, really, by way of, sort of recognizing that the system was not servicing athletes exactly the way it should.”
In May of 2019, the company threw an event in Brooklyn called The Takeover and it provided an opportunity for Overtime to engage with elite athletes and their families. It was during this time that Ryan says they discovered there was a chance to provide better access to skill development, a path to professional sports, and all of the things that go into that experience. One of those things included a scholastic aspect that can be sometimes overlooked – the need for a customized curriculum. Says Ryan, “In other forms of art and entertainment, where you have a prodigy oftentimes, there’s a customized approach; whether it be a tennis player, a violinist, a golfer, or even an international soccer player in Spain. But in this country, there hasn’t been a service that necessarily accounts for that.” That’s where the Academy portion factors in.
Dee Brown Jr.
Partnered with Xceed Prep, OTE Academy provides a comprehensive online learning platform that guides the players with resources developed specifically to enable them to meet grade level criteria. Personalized learning plans track the players to high school graduation at the end of their senior year. On-site learning facilitators lead 4:1 or 1:1 sessions for academic support and content specific tutoring. While traveling, the young men schedule remote learning session with their facilitators. Additionally, each player is assigned a mentor to meet with weekly to go over their progress and set goals for the week to come. Each day starts and ends with a “huddle” to “focus on our commitment to creating a strong brotherhood bond.” While the offering of an a la carte education while honing on-court skills against some of the best young basketballers of the world is certainly enticing and impressive, it’s the life skills coaching that Ryan takes a special delight in. “What’s exciting about this is the life skills curriculum, for sure. We talk about financial literacy, we talk about social activism, we talk about your personal brand, the business of basketball, social media content, and the ability to build a brand. So what’s exciting for us is that we’re preparing you for the next level in every way that’s through and beyond basketball.”
In addition to customized education, the players are paid a guaranteed salary of at least $100,000. They are also paid bonuses and shares of equity in Overtime. They receive full health and disability insurance and there is $100,000 per player set aside for tuition assistance should the decision be made not to pursue a professional basketball career. Earning six figures as a teenager certainly can be a road difficult to navigate and with several international players far from home, mental health is another area that OTE has been sure not to skimp on. A couple weeks after hosting its opening weekend, wellness guru Devi Brown was brought in to host a session with the players.
Although OTE employs 86 individuals who are highly accomplished and influential in their respective industries, they are not above supplementing their efforts with expertise outside of the organization. “Here is an example of us acknowledging the fact that expertise is going to have to come in the form of partnership outside of our 86 people who work for us on a daily basis,” says Ryan. “The reality of it is that what Devi’s doing is becoming more commonplace in NFL locker rooms, NBA locker rooms, and the like; the discussion around the system, the discussion on mindfulness, the discussion about your health.”
Brown, who was featured in the 2020 REVOLT Summit, led a meditation session and spoke with the guys about quick resets that they can employ as needed. When she got the call about what the organization wanted her to come in to do, she felt inspired. “I look at it as an amazing opportunity. You know, when I heard what Overtime was doing, I was just so inspired. I think that this is a really powerful moment in time – and not just young athletes, but all men; all men with the ability to learn about their feelings. Men, I think pretty much historically based on many different circumstances, have never really been allowed to feel. And there’s so much criticism aimed at men about what they don’t do, how they shut down and how they don’t share so many things. But it’s like, did we actually invest in the ability to give them those skills to really know what they’re feeling – being able to advocate for themselves, being able to meet their own needs, you know, and so that’s something I felt really passionate about. I serve a lot of different groups, but when I heard this – about what Overtime was doing – when I had the opportunity to come down here, I said, ‘Oh, it would be an honor.’ I said, ‘No brainer, no brainer to come serve in this way.’”
Despite the fact that they are elite athletes and breadwinners, they’re still teenage boys so Brown’s session was not absent of a few giggles here and there. However, the seed has been planted so subconsciously, they will have this foundation to draw upon as they journey through life and Ryan understands this. “That doesn’t mean every single one of these young men are going to run off and go to a yoga class right now. Right? Right. We plant seeds every day. And we feel very comfortable about the maturation of each of these young men through and through.” Ryan goes on, “We talked about just this notion of pro habits, oftentimes, in a basketball context. Today, we’re talking about drills and skills. But we’re also talking about pro habits, holistic, about the holistic athlete. It’s how you manage your time. It’s how you manage your brand. It’s how you manage your mindfulness and your health; and so, ‘pro habits’ is a broad, broad term that we use.” Brown echoed those sentiments. “It’s like, it doesn’t matter when the harvest comes, but the seed has to get planted, you know; and so, that’s my desire – especially with working with young men who are performing at such a high level in so many ways, spending time with them, away from their families. They’re competing at a high level at young ages, and their schedules are really intense; there’s so much on the line. But they were all so smart, and so kind and very interested, and even if they were giggling through it, it will still resonate.” Brown will continue to work with the OTE athletes, in person and remotely as she is based in Los Angeles.
The last weekend in October, OTE celebrated the grand opening of their 103,000 square foot campus in the Atlantic Station area of Atlanta, Georgia. The facility houses the academic wing, game and practice gyms, top-notch weight room and training areas, and dining quarters where a chef provides nutritional meals for the players daily. In addition to the NBA and professional influence in the day-to-day operations, there is a presence at the executive level as well. NBA player Carmelo Anthony sits on the Board of Directors and Overtime recently announced that the company had raised $80 million in Series C funding from top Venture Capitalists firms, Jeff Bezos, and athletes and entertainers including Drake, Trae Young, Devin Booker, and Pau Gasol. For those that bring up lack of exposure as a reason that blue chip college programs may seem more attractive to young hoopers, OTE’s new social media accounts have already garnered 3.1 million views since the opening weekend. A few years ago, this would have seemed like a crazy, far-fetched idea that would be shot down with skepticism before it could leave the ground. But it’s only crazy until you do it, right?