Naasir Cunningham, the No. 1 basketball prospect in ESPN’s class in 2024, signs with Overtime Elite (OTE), he told ESPN on Monday.
“This is the best place for me to develop as a player, while getting the right education to fall back on,” Cunningham said. “Overtime built a relationship with my family and I, which was a big factor in trusting them with my future. I want to be the best basketball player I can, an NBA draft lottery and hopefully one of the best in overtime will put me in a position to be the best player I can be. “
Cunningham is the highest-ranked recruit who has signed with the upstart league and is considered a prospect with significant benefits for the NBA ranks. He is 6-foot-7 with a 6-11 wing catcher, impressive fluency and dynamic perimeter shooting ability.
Cunningham will be the first player to relinquish a salary paid by OTE, which should preserve his eligibility to play college basketball after graduating from high school. He will still be eligible to monetize his name, image and likeness in high school, giving him additional earning potential over the next two years without compromising his amateur status.
“Being able to retain my eligibility for college was important as it gives me more options when I finish high school and ready to decide my next move,” Cunningham said. “At Overtime you still get the same academics as a regular high school, but not all schools have the same equipment and facilities that they have that are top notch, as well as the best coaches, coaching staff and other elite players. Competing against the best and working with the best there is, that’s what will help me achieve my goals. “
Cunningham from West Orange, New Jersey, has spent his first two years in high school at Gill St. Bernard. He broke out as the No. 1 player in his class at last summer’s Nike EYBL 16U division, averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 28 minutes per game for NY Rens. He reaffirmed that at the prestigious Hoophall Classic in Springfield in January, he exploded for 23 points (5-to-7 from 3-point range), 11 rebounds and 3 assists in a win over 2022 No. 1 recruit Dereck Lively and Westtown School. Cunningham, 17, at 164 pounds, will have to add strength to his rickety body.
Overtime, a sports media company that lists Jeff Bezos, Kevin Durant and Trae Young among its investors, announced the OTE initiative as an alternative route for elite 16- to 18-year-olds to prepare for the NBA draft, just over a year ago . Its first season ended in Atlanta in March, where the expected top-10 election of 2023, Ausar Thompson, was named MVP in the final, over twin brother Amen, also an expected top-10 election.
The venture initially offered players six-figure salaries, an education component, advanced facilities and significant resources in the form of coaching, front-office and support staff as an incentive to relinquish their college eligibility. The organization will now also give players the option of a “scholarship” and the option to omit a salary for not closing the door on the NCAA route, which could be a game-changer for OTE’s recruiting efforts.
In 2024, Cunningham could choose to complete its NBA draft-eligible middle year after high school with OTE, similar to the expected first-round pick Jean Montero made this year, as well as the expected second-round Dominick Barlow. Or he may decide to enroll in college.
Cunningham said he has already received scholarships from people like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, LSU, Maryland, Texas Tech, Creighton, UConn, Rutgers, St. Louis and more. John’s and many others.
Tim Nevius, a lawyer and former NCAA compliance officer and investigator who has been publicly appointed as an advisor to Overtime, helped make the OTE scholarship to ensure it complies with NCAA compliance rules. The company said it has communicated with the NCAA to share its plans and ensure it follows amateur guidelines and will hire a full-time employee who will act as a liaison.
Overtime said it has previously signed NIL deals with high school and college players, such as UCLA’s Jada Williams, South Carolina’s Zia Cooke and Duke commit Jared McCain. And OTE scholarship players, like Cunningham, will also be eligible for NIL agreements, including other third-party companies. Overtime has a massive online following of 65 million followers on various social media platforms. Its main account has more followers on TikTok than the official NBA league account as well as all 30 NBA teams combined.
Cunningham said he has been in talks with OTE for the past three months, particularly with its director of scouting and recruiting Tim Fuller, who played a major role in getting his signature.
“Our model from the beginning has been to give players and families opportunities,” said Fuller, a former college assistant. “When we launched the program, it was about giving the opportunity to become professional and get high-level development. Our player development model is the best in the country for players aged 19 and under. When we first started recruiting Cunningham, we did it I “does not have the option of scholarships. Now it is up to each family to decide which way they want to go. Having options made it easier to pull the trigger at an earlier age.”
After a bit of back and forth, OTE was approved by the NBA last year as a permitted scouting platform for teams to send representatives to evaluate prospects. The league hosted several well-attended professional days, as well as a few dozen matches at OTE’s arena in Atlanta. In Year 2, OTE is targeting matches against junior high schools, European clubs, national teams and possibly the G League Ignite or NBA academies as potential planning opportunities, in addition to elite preparatory schools.
“Every NBA scout I’ve talked to says having so much talent under one roof in a city like Atlanta is a dream come true,” Fuller said. “They see the development we’ve made with players, our coaching staff and their commitment to expertise. The resources that are pouring in. Pro-scouts are overwhelmingly excited about it. People still want to see our players in the most competitive environments possible. ., and we’re attacking our schedule aggressively now, working to bring in the best talent we can adapt. “
OTE is slated to return 21 of the 26 players from its initial recruiting class, while the rest are enrolled in the professional ranks after a postgraduate year. The league plans to have about 30 players next season on its three teams and will begin unveiling the rest of its signatures in the near future.
“Signing a player of Naasir Cunningham’s caliber will continue to advance the narrative that OTE is the leading destination for future athletes looking to develop their skills and become professionals,” said Fuller. “I expect we will sign more future professionals in this class. We will be very selective. Starting it with Naas sets the tone for what we are trying to do. People who originally said no to us are starting to return. and ask for more information. “