Top rookies Mikey Williams focus on marketing as NIL heats up

Malachi Palmer is atypical of most kids his age who regularly scroll through their social feeds, browsing like-minded meters to unconsciously gauge their worth among their peers.

Even at 17, Palmer is “too” engrossed in countless hours-long hardwood workouts and traveling across the country playing against elite competition while top college coaches watch intently. from the touchline.

“I love playing ball,” says Palmer, a rising junior shooting guard at Central Dauphin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’ve always been a more laid back guy so I don’t need 10,000 likes. That’s not really me. I let my game do the talking for me, not my tastes.

The irony is that ultimately his worth, at least financially, could absolutely be measured by how many of those annoying likes he racks up.

In the new world order of college athletics, where athletes collect seven-figure checks arranged by donors under the veil of endorsements and collectives rake in millions to nab highly productive players from the infamous transfer portal, branding and social media marketing seem like a small price to pay for the potential compromise.

“It’s just a different world now,” says 100-year-old shooter Jared McCain (Corona, Calif.).

From wallflowers to social butterflies, elite prospects, parents and coaches say that nearly a year into the name, image and likeness (NIL) era, marketing is a newly accepted part of the game that everyone adapts to in real time.

“It’s not like it used to be when social media was seen as a distraction,” Baylor associate head coach Alvin Brooks III said. “Now players need social media.”

To that end, for the first time in 19 years as Baylor head coach, Scott Drew has ended his policy of taking players’ cellphones at night during road games.

“When you have a more mature group, they’re less likely to get distracted,” says Brooks. “Also, now you have guys who have an obligation to post things and run their stuff. For a lot of guys, that piece of marketing just isn’t them, but for some guys, it’s second nature.

McCain is certainly part of the latter.

From looks to style to personality, McCain oozes marketability, as evidenced by his massive TikTok and Instagram following of over two million.

“If I wasn’t a basketball player, I’d probably be a YouTuber or just dance on TikTok somewhere,” McCain laughs. “I love social media. It’s just me being me.

McCain became one of the first high school athletes to cash in after the NCAA voted to allow college athletes to take advantage of NIL last July. More than half a dozen states, including California and New York, have expanded the policy to include high school athletes.

McCain’s fun and carefree aura has earned him “lucrative” deals with everyone from Kay Jewelers to Crocs.

“It’s always crazy that people want to pay me to be me, but that’s the nature of the sport now,” said McCain, a rising senior who signed with Duke in March. “Because of this, you need to promote your brand and grow your following. One of the first things companies mention when we talk is how impressed they are with all the followers I have. Even for guys who don’t don’t want to do any dances or skits you can just post highlights or pics or a daily type thing I gotta do something.

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Mikey Williams, a rising senior in San Ysidro, San Diego, is the nation’s most popular high school athlete with an Instagram following that eclipses 3.4 million and friends like Drake and Da Baby, as well as superstars of the NBA like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.

Last July, Williams signed a deal with Excel Sports Management, becoming the first high school basketball star to sign with a major sports agency to earn NIL endorsements.

Four months later, he signed a multi-year contract with Puma, making him the first American high school basketball player to sign a sneaker deal with a global footwear company.

Boogie Fland, point guard for up-and-coming junior Bishop Stepinac (White Plains, NY), has signed a sponsorship deal with Spreadshop, which allows him to build his brand on the organization’s platform.

The four-figure deal lasted six months and required Fland to post once a week promoting its brand and mentioning the company.

For McCain, Fland is almost as excited to grow his social media presence as he is to dominate the competition in the grueling Nike EYBL this summer.

“I’m really excited about my TikTok,” Fland says. “I have a great personality, but over the years it has been difficult for me to show it; TikTok really lets me show that side of me. People don’t know I have my name because I can really dance. I have a lot of fun with it. »

Yet the vast majority of elite players across the country argue that hyper-focused marketing requires intentionality.

“I wasn’t always thinking about posting all the time,” said Windermere (Florida) forward Sean Stewart. “It’s something I’m getting better at.”

Stewart’s interest was piqued last season, seeing his brother, Miles, a forward at Howard, pick up NIL money while dressing for the Bison.

This got Stewart, who signed up with Duke in December, to think about the possibilities, which sparked multiple brainstorming sessions with his family.

Part of the reason Stewart chose the Blue Devils was that “their NIL presentation was, hands down, the best”.

Several rookies tout Jon Scheyer’s NIL pitch at Duke as one of the best in the country.

“Duke has the biggest mark for sure,” Stewart says. “My family and I talk a lot about building my brand and my social media followers. We hope next year they open up NIL for high school players in Florida. I don’t think I should have bad with branding and showing my personality and things like that. I think I’m going to focus on engagement; just showing what I do outside of basketball. Posting and all that is something you have to do a routine.

As one of the best players in the Class of 2024, Liam McNeeley is on course for a big NIL payday when the time comes.

At 6′ 7″, McNeeley is one of the most versatile players in the country: an elite playmaker with three-tier scoring ability, consensus top-10 status in the class, a medal gold with USA Basketball and a state title.

It’s also equipped with all the spoils bestowed upon a top prospect, including all-court recruiting press by everyone from Kansas to Baylor to Duke, among many other schools.

Still, McNeeley’s mother, Ashley Elsey, who owns a communications company, says they prefer organic to overdose when it comes to marketing.

“We try to keep the basics, the essentials,” says Elsey. “Liam loves basketball; that’s what he likes to do. From a marketing perspective, we haven’t spent a lot of time on this; we just try to let things happen organically. Not being naive, I understand that’s a fact of the game’s evolution, but I still believe it’s his love of the game and the way he plays that will sustain him.

“He naturally does stuff on social media himself and the guys filming him do it anyway. Yet at the end of the day, we crave to keep basketball as the thing that matters most, it’s what will ultimately be the most fulfilling.

That was certainly Baylor Scheierman’s mindset when he entered the transfer portal last month.

As one of the best players in the bloated Portal, Scheierman knew that NIL could potentially stall the talks and told his agent and parents that he wanted to focus on the long game to get around that reality.

“It would be a blessing to make money off of what I worked for, of course,” says Scheierman, who signed up to Creighton. “But the most important thing is fit for me. Yeah, I could have a one-year contract with NIL, that’s big, but if I played 10 years in the NBA, I think it would work out a lot better for me.

The truth is, million dollar NIL deals are still the exception, not the rule.

That said, it’s in the nature of a teenager labeled as the “next big thing” to seize the potential for high-profile earning. That mindset makes the Anonymous Five-Star Football 2023 rookie’s $8 million NIL deal report noticeably achievable. Add marketing adoption as an acceptable part of the journey, and the adjusted success plan will center on balance.

“You always had guys who were distracted in one way or another,” Brooks says. “It’s just another thing that they’re going to have to learn to balance. The most successful players are going to understand and master time management. That’s key.

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