Two days after the 2020 NBA Draft on Nov. 20, I received a text
message from former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson, who I had
worked with at CBS Sports HQ:
Matt, I'm working with a group called Overtime. Can I
connect you with the co-founder to share our vision for a major
concept coming to market next year?
Of course, I said, “Yes.”
Shortly after, Overtime co-founder Zack Weiner connected with
me. He didn't share any details about the "major concept," but he
did say that he or a senior-level executive would call me in the
I was appreciative that Avery had thought of me for their
project, and I had every intention of hearing them out. However, I
wasn't familiar with the company Overtime, and I'm regularly
approached with new consulting opportunities, so nothing seemed to
be all that atypical for me.
A few days later, I received a call from Shea Dawson, Overtime’s
head of athlete relations. She shared some details about Overtime
as a company and explained that they had a new project in the works
that would "change the game." She continued to tell me that their
group felt that my background, experience and skill set would be
helpful to them. Unfortunately, she couldn't fill me in on the
project's specifics, as I needed to sign a non-disclosure agreement
After speaking with Shea, although I still wasn't clear about
it, I became more intrigued about the potential opportunity.
As I waited for the NDA to be emailed, I began doing my research
on Overtime. I learned that the company was founded in 2016 by Zack
Weiner and Dan Porter, who had worked together at WME, a leader in
the talent agency industry. They started by raising seed money.
Some early investors included former NBA commissioner David Stern
and NBA star Kevin Durant. I then found out Overtime was a media
company that creates unique content and targets a younger audience.
(By 2019, Overtime was generating over a billion video views per
So naturally, I became increasingly intrigued to learn about
this mysterious project.
I finally received the email from Shea that included the NDA. I
signed it and sent it back almost immediately.
Then, at last, the phone rang. It was Shea:
Matt, I'm so excited to share the details with you. We are
creating a new professional league for high school-aged players. We
want you to help us pull it together.
I had a lot of questions:
- Where would they play?
- Would they get paid, and how much?
- Would the players go to school and earn a degree?
- Would draft-eligible players be a part of the league?
- Most importantly, what would
happen to the players once they finished the league, and would they
be eligible to play in college?
Despite my questions, I agreed to explore ideas to get involved.
So for a couple of months, I had a handful of video conference
calls with Shea and Aaron Ryan, a former executive in the NBA’s
office who was working as a consultant for the newly proposed and
Everything finally began to take shape by mid-January 2021. They
named the league Overtime Elite (OTE). Aaron was hired as
commissioner, while former NBA player and executive Brandon
Williams was named head of basketball operations. In addition, I
agreed to a short-term consulting deal to become a scouting advisor
for the group.
On March 4, 2021, OTE was publicly announced, releasing some
project details. For starters, Overtime successfully raised $80
million. The newly raised money was allocated to build an arena in
Atlanta, Georgia, and provide the league's players with salaries of
a minimum of $100,000 per year among other things. The news spread
like wildfire, and the feedback was mixed.
On one hand, NBA commissioner Adam Silver seemed to be
optimistic, stating that he didn't have a problem with young
players being paid and thought optionality was good. But, on the
other hand, many of my friends in the industry were tearing the
idea apart — some publicly and many behind closed doors.
What was the big issue with OTE, you ask? Well, I'll get to that
in a minute.
As a scouting advisor, I assisted in setting up the scouting
department and evaluated prospective players. Our group worked
hard, and we did a good job. However, once OTE began recruiting,
negotiating and looking to sign players, our scouting department
shifted from evaluating players to recruiting them.
It was a necessary shift for the group, undoubtedly; however, I
felt it put me in a compromising situation considering my
involvement in so many different areas of basketball, including
running NBA Draft and scouting coverages for
BasketballNews.com. I enjoyed working for OTE, but I decided to
leave the group to avoid further conflicts of interest.
My last day working for OTE was May 14, which was a little over
two months from OTE's launch date, four months from my start date
with the company and six months since I first heard from Avery.
I may have left, but of course the show went on.
Our scouting department identified the right players. Williams
and Tim Fuller, the director of scouting and recruiting, did a
great job of recruiting them. Then, on May 21, one week after I
left the group, OTE announced that the league signed its first
players: Matt and Ryan Bewley, five-star prospects from the Class
of 2023. Then, Ausar and Amen Thompson after them. Then, Jean
Montero, a top-rated point guard from the Dominican Republic. After
that, there became a steady flow of new signings, one after
another. OTE was rolling!
On Oct. 24, they hosted their first Pro Day. Following the
event, NBA personnel and media members raved about the facilities
and the talent level. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it due
to scheduling conflicts. I planned to attend a couple of days of
their games in December, but out of an abundance of caution and
rising numbers of COVID and flu cases around sports, the games were
A few weeks ago, I finally made my way out to Atlanta to see
OTE's finished product. In addition to seeing all of the players
that our scouting group evaluated and discussed for months, I was
able to see the OTE Arena with my own eyes.
While working for OTE, I was on semi-regular video conference
calls hosted by Tim Katt, who spearheaded the arena's development.
I expected it to be impressive, but my expectations were far
exceeded. I was blown away by the building as soon as I walked
The bright lights, advanced technology, music and cameras were
the first things that jumped out. There was no denying that it was
a unique place. Keep in mind, I've spent my entire life in and
around basketball, and I have seen the game from just about every
angle possible, all over the world. So I wouldn't consider myself
someone easily impressed with basketball facilities — and I was
My former co-workers, Louis Lehman and Matt Verden, gave me a
tour throughout the facility. The more I saw, the more impressed I
became. It wasn't the glitz and glam of it that impressed me as
much as the resources I saw for young players to develop. For
example, the players are given access to a personal chef for three
meals per day, an incredible practice facility and high-level
strength-and-conditioning spaces. Additionally, OTE has a
well-built (and deep) coaching and support staff led by former NBA
player and college head coach Kevin Ollie. Nowhere else in the
world provides comparable levels of resources to players ranging
between 16-18 years old.
Once the games started, the talent popped. Montero is the
main prospect for this year's
upcoming draft. He is likely to be the first draft pick to come
out of the Overtime Elite program. The Thompson Twins look like
lottery picks in the making for 2023. And then, guys like Alexandre
Sarr and Tyler Smith look like they have promising NBA careers in
their future too. And that's just naming a few; there’s a ton of
talent currently under contract.
I spent three days in Atlanta spending time with the OTE staff
and becoming more familiar with the setup and evaluating their
young prospects. On my flight home, I gathered my thoughts. I
couldn’t help but feel that OTE is generally misunderstood. I think
many people only see "fluff." However, I see it differently.
The cameras, the bright lights, loud music and the content the
league creates are the vehicles to generate the money (via
sponsorship and advertising) to be able to provide such an
incredible infrastructure to develop players’ marketability — but
more importantly, to help them grow as basketball players and young
Considering my role and background, I tend to become
hyperfocused on young prospects' development as basketball players
but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the education element of OTE
as well. On the league's website, it states, "OTE offers a
direct-instruction model led by individual instructors who teach
both 1:1 and in small group sessions featuring a 4:1
student-teacher ratio. OTE supplements a traditional course
offering with a focus on life skills including financial literacy,
media training, and advocacy and sports, and business of
That all sounds great, but what it doesn't mention is that the
owner and co-founder of Overtime, Porter, served as the first
president of Teach for America. Since education is a vital part of
Porter's background, education has been a focal point since the
idea's inception. So although they provide a non-traditional
education, I can assure you that OTE’s education program is well
Overtime Elite is a special place and a terrific option for top
teenage basketball players. I am proud to have played a small part
in helping it go from being an ambitious idea into a successful
But I'm going to address the elephant in the room now...
What's the catch with OTE? (Yes, there is one.)
For prospects to join the league, they have to sacrifice their
college eligibility and instead, commit to a professional path.
This alone has made the league controversial and subsequently
labeled a disruptor in the basketball industry.
However, recently, it was announced that the NCAA had approved
OTE players to participate in NCAA-certified AAU events this spring
Is this the first step towards players being able to sign with
OTE while retaining their college eligibility? I'm not certain, but
I sure hope so.
With all of that said, I'm going to leave you by posing a few
- What is the difference between a high school or college player
receiving NIL deals and signing with OTE?
- Who would be getting hurt by letting OTE players retain
complete optionality and allowing them to play in college if they
- Is there any good reason that OTE players are not eligible to
play in college other than arbitrary NCAA bylaws?
The questions are intended to be rhetorical, of course. However,
I believe that they are essential.
So let's keep asking those questions!