Naasir Cunningham, the No. 1 basketball prospect in ESPN’s Class of 2024, is signing with Extra time Elite (OTE), he advised ESPN on Monday.
“That is greatest place for me to develop as a participant, whereas getting the correct schooling to fall again on on the identical time,” Cunningham mentioned. “Extra time constructed a relationship with my household and I, which was an enormous think about trusting them with my future. I wish to be the most effective basketball participant I can, a NBA draft lottery choose and hopefully top-of-the-line within the league. Extra time goes to place me in place to grow to be the most effective participant I can.”
Cunningham is the highest-ranked recruit to signal with the upstart league and is taken into account a prospect with important upside for the NBA ranks. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 6-11 wingspan, spectacular fluidity and dynamic perimeter taking pictures capability.
Cunningham would be the first participant to forgo being paid a wage by OTE, which ought to protect his eligibility to play school basketball after graduating from highschool. He’ll nonetheless be eligible to earn a living off his identify, picture and likeness in highschool, offering him with extra incomes potential over the following two years with out jeopardizing his beginner standing.
“Having the ability to maintain my eligibility for faculty was necessary as that offers me extra choices once I’m accomplished with highschool and able to resolve my subsequent transfer,” Cunningham mentioned. “At Extra time you continue to get the identical teachers as an everyday highschool, however not each college has the identical tools and services they do, that are prime of the road, in addition to the most effective trainers, teaching employees and different elite gamers. Competing towards the most effective and dealing with the most effective there’s, that’s what’s going to assist me attain my targets.”
Cunningham, from West Orange, New Jersey, has spent his first two years of highschool at Gill St. Bernard. He broke out because the No. 1 participant in his class eventually summer season’s Nike EYBL 16U division, the place he averaged 15.4 factors and 5.8 rebounds in 28 minutes per sport for the NY Rens. He reconfirmed that on the prestigious Hoophall Basic in Springfield in January, exploding for 23 factors (5-for-7 from 3-point vary), 11 rebounds and three assists in a win over 2022 No. 1 recruit Dereck Energetic and Westtown College. Cunningham, 17, at 164 kilos, should add energy to his lanky body.
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Extra time, a sports activities media firm which lists Jeff Bezos, Kevin Durant and Trae Younger amongst its buyers, introduced the OTE initiative as an academy-style different pathway for elite 16- to 18-year-old prospects to arrange for the NBA draft, simply over a 12 months in the past. Its first season concluded in Atlanta in March, with projected 2023 top-10 choose Ausar Thompson being named MVP of its finals, over twin brother Amen, additionally a projected top-10 choose.
The enterprise initially provided gamers six-figure salaries, an academic element, state-of-the-art services and appreciable assets by way of teaching, front-office and assist staffs as incentive to forgo their school eligibility. The group will now additionally permit gamers a “scholarship” choice and the flexibility to eschew a wage with a purpose to not shut the door on the NCAA route, which may very well be a game-changer for OTE’s recruiting efforts.
In 2024, Cunningham may elect to conduct his NBA draft-eligible hole 12 months following highschool with OTE, just like what projected first-round choose Jean Montero did this 12 months, in addition to projected second-rounder Dominick Barlow. Or he could resolve to enroll in school.
Cunningham mentioned he has already acquired scholarship affords from the likes of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, LSU, Maryland, Texas Tech, Creighton, UConn, Rutgers, St. John’s and lots of others.
Tim Nevius, an lawyer and former NCAA compliance officer and investigator who has been publicly named as an adviser of Extra time, helped craft the OTE scholarship to make sure it meets NCAA compliance guidelines. The corporate mentioned it has communicated with the NCAA to share its plans and guarantee it’s following amateurism pointers and can rent a full-time compliance employees member who will act as a liaison.
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Extra time mentioned it has beforehand signed NIL offers with highschool and school gamers, similar to UCLA’s Jada Williams, South Carolina’s Zia Cooke, and Duke commit Jared McCain. And OTE scholarship gamers, like Cunningham, might be eligible for NIL offers as effectively, together with different third-party corporations. Extra time has a large on-line following of 65 million followers on completely different social media platforms. Its foremost account has extra followers on TikTok than the official NBA league account in addition to all 30 NBA groups mixed.
Cunningham mentioned he has been in dialog with OTE for the previous three months, particularly lead recruiter Tim Fuller, who performed a significant position in touchdown his signature.
“Our mannequin from the start has been to empower gamers and households with choices,” Fuller, a former school assistant, mentioned. “Once we launched this system, it was by offering the chance to show professional and get high-level improvement. Our participant improvement mannequin is the most effective within the nation for gamers 19 years outdated and underneath. Once we first began recruiting Cunningham, we didn’t have the scholarship choice. Now it’s as much as every household to judge what path they wish to take. Having choices made it simpler to tug the set off at an earlier age.”
After some backwards and forwards, OTE was permitted by the NBA final 12 months as a permitted scouting platform for groups to ship representatives to judge professional prospects. The league hosted a number of professional days, which had been effectively attended, in addition to a number of dozen video games at OTE’s enviornment in Atlanta. In 12 months 2, OTE is focusing on video games towards junior faculties, European golf equipment, nationwide groups and probably the G League Ignite or NBA academies as potential scheduling alternatives, along with elite prep colleges.
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“Each NBA scout I’ve talked to says having this a lot expertise underneath one roof, in a metropolis like Atlanta, is a dream come true,” Fuller mentioned. “They see the event we’ve accomplished with gamers, our teaching employees and their dedication to excellence. The assets which might be poured in. Professional scouts are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about that. Individuals wish to proceed to see our gamers in essentially the most aggressive environments potential, and we’re attacking our schedule aggressively now, working to herald the most effective expertise that we are able to align with.”
OTE is slated to return 21 of the 26 gamers from its inaugural recruiting class, with the remainder matriculating out to the professional ranks after a postgraduate 12 months. The league plans on having round 30 gamers subsequent season on its three groups and can start to unveil the remainder of its signings within the close to future.
“Signing a participant of Naasir Cunningham’s caliber will proceed to additional the narrative that OTE is the premier vacation spot for upcoming athletes that wish to develop their ability set and grow to be professionals,” Fuller mentioned. “I anticipate us signing a number of future professionals on this class. We’re going to be very selective. Beginning it off with Naas units the tone for what we’re making an attempt to do. People who initially advised us no are beginning to come again round and ask for extra data.”