Teens making money to play high school basketball

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Bryson Warren is probably one of the few teenagers you’ll come across whose high school job comes with a guaranteed six-figure income.

Warren, 17, is one of the first class of high school athletes to join Overtime Elite, a New York-based company that recruits — and pays — some of the best high school and teen basketball players from around the world to play Academy in Atlanta.

Athletes at Overtime attend classes and study for a diploma. They compete against each other and other high school basketball teams from across the country. They also offer a minimum annual base salary of $100,000 for each student-athlete, with on-court performance bonuses potentially pushing that figure to over $1 million.

Bryson Warren, a 17-year-old high school pro athlete, dribbles a basketball at Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta.

Source: Overtime Elite

For Warren, who grew up near Little Rock, Arkansas and was ranked by ESPN as the fourteenth-best US high school basketball player in his age group, the appeal was obvious. He and the 26 others Student-athletes at Overtime took advantage of a rare opportunity to make big bucks as high school athletes while working toward hopefully making an even bigger leap into the NBA.

“Not too many 17, 18, 19 year olds can say they made at least $100,000,” Warren tells CNBC Make It. “We just get a real head start in life just by playing the game that we love.”

What is Overtime Elite?

Founded in 2016 by Hollywood talent agency WMA graduates Dan Porter and Zack Weiner, Overtime is an experiment in sports and entertainment.

The league, which kicked off its first competitive season last year, is streaming games live and posting player highlights for Overtime’s millions of followers on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. According to Overtime, the content he creates featuring youth athletes like Warren is viewed online more than 18 billion times a year.

Overtime has also raised more than $100 million from investors including Jeff Bezos’ investment firm, rapper Drake, a host of NBA stars — including Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony — and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The league declined to share revenue information with CNBC Make It, but noted the company also makes money from streaming content, merchandise sales, and sponsorships — including State Farm, Gatorade, and trading card company Topps.

Aaron Ryan, the company’s president and commissioner and former NBA chief marketing officer, says the league reinvests some of that money into its players.

“We pay primarily for food, accommodation, transportation and all costs associated with participating in the program,” he says. “But also a performance bonus and equity in our company that corresponds to what every other employee at Overtime receives.”

According to Ryan, the league is offering each player $100,000 towards college tuition should they decide not to pursue the sport as a full-time career. The scholarship is purely academic: Overtime players are not eligible to play college basketball because their salary makes them “professional” athletes.

Because of this, Overtime also spent money on a basketball operations team, led by former Sacramento Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, that rivaled most major college programs. The coaching staff is led by former NBA player and University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie and includes former NBA player Ryan Gomes and former University of Virginia coach David Leitao.

These names help Overtime attract top teenage talent from around the world: Overtime’s current roster of 27 players includes at least eight athletes who were previously five-star college recruits, according to The Athletic.

Warren was one such recruit. Signing with Overtime meant turning down offers from sports programs like Kansas, Maryland, Auburn, Georgetown and Oklahoma.

“Almost every offer you can imagine,” he says with a smile.

A day in the life of a high school pro athlete

Warren spends most of his time at Overtime’s 100,000-square-foot Atlanta facility, which is an all-in-one arena, training facility, dorm and boarding school.

He is picked up by an overtime physical trainer almost every morning at 6:15 a.m. to spend about 90 minutes at the gym before heading out on the court with his teammates for a three-hour basketball practice session. After lunch, Warren says, players head to the overtime classrooms until about 4 p.m

The Overtime Academy is an accredited institution with certified teachers that enables student-athletes to earn high school diplomas — rather than GEDs — and take college-level courses. Warren says it’s a typical high school curriculum with “math, English, science or biology with social studies [and] Story.”

Warren says he particularly enjoys the Financial Literacy course, which teaches student-athletes the intricacies of signing professional contracts, questions to ask their agents and advisors, and how to practice responsible spending.

“You teach us who to have in your circle [of friends and family] and so, just keep your circle small,” says Warren.[Six-time NBA All-Star] Tony Parker came in and spoke to us [and] He told us it’s not about who you say ‘yes’ to, but who you say ‘no’ to.”

After class, student-athletes typically return to either the gym or basketball court to continue training, “and then the rest of the day is yours,” Warren says.

Chasing his NBA dream

Without overtime, Warren would currently be finishing his junior year of high school and likely receiving intense recruiting offers from prominent college basketball programs. But if Warren feels he’s missing out by choosing overtime over college, he doesn’t show it.

Right now, he says his focus is on getting to the NBA. His good grades on ranking sites like ESPN suggest he has a good chance of getting there. “My goal is definitely to just get drafted after the program ends [in the NBA]”, he says. “That’s the goal of everyone here.”

Warren also says he dreams of using his success in basketball to positively impact his community. He looks up to LeBron James, he says, for what James has done outside of court — including opening a public elementary school in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio, where students have an opportunity to earn free tuition at Akron University .

“Not everyone does that, only those who are willing to give back and start a school for free,” says Warren.

Warren already invests a portion of his overtime pay into a local AAU co-educational basketball team in his hometown of Arkansas and helps support children from 2nd through 6th grade. Still, he says, with his new income, he couldn’t resist at least one splashy purchase — and he’d always dreamed of owning a Dodge Charger.

“That actually came true. So I was just blessed that that happened,” he says.

Warren says he’s aware that taking such an unconventional path to pursue a lifelong dream can be incredibly risky. There’s no guarantee that Overtime will give him a better chance of impressing NBA scouts than playing in college or in the NBA’s evolving G League.

“You can see overtime as a risk or as an opportunity,” he says. “This is the opportunity I chose and it is the one I will live with and I am at peace now.”

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