Between classes, athletics, and now NIL, the stars of March Madness are busier than ever — and UConn’s Caroline Ducharme is one of several dealing with a full plate.
As the second March Madness in the NIL era picks up, athletes and brands are still trying to strike a perfect balance. The NCAA Tournament provides the biggest stage for college basketball players, giving them more publicity than ever before and providing the perfect opportunity for a major brand activation. It’s also the most important time of year for athletes on the court, meaning their focus needs to be almost entirely dedicated to their craft.
Squaring the two isn’t easy.
Caroline Ducharme, a former No. 5 recruit in her class, is doing her best to figure it out. As a guard for the No. 2 seed UConn Huskies, she’s had more than her share of name, image, and likeness monetization opportunities. She’s inked endorsement deals already with Bumble, Moolah Kicks, and Degree, and recently signed on to Great Clips’ Mach Madness campaign.
“My focus in March is March Madness, and so is theirs right now,” Ducharme told Boardroom of working with the salon franchise. “I like when I can post stuff about things that matter to me and it’s not just what I was doing over the weekend.”
Ducharme’s Huskies captured the 2023 Big East Tournament title on March 6, giving the team a 12-day layoff before their NCAA Tournament opener against Vermont. It was a much-needed rest for an injury-riddled team.
It also gave Ducharme a chance to stay active in the NIL space.
“There’s a time and place for everything. Today is an off day, so it’s a great opportunity to do stuff like this,” she said of her Great Clips campaign. “But then once the tournament starts, that’s my complete focus, and I think people are understanding of that.”
She said that last Wednesday. Come Thursday afternoon, the Huskies entered tournament mode as the other three teams in their pod descended on Storrs. While UConn isn’t the favorite to win the national championship (that distinction belongs overwhelmingly to South Carolina), the Huskies might have more pressure on them than anyone else.
Every rotation player for Geno Auriemma’s squad but two missed time to injury this year, including star Paige Bueckers and freshman Ice Brady, who both suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason. As a result, UConn had to postpone a game because it didn’t have enough active players to suit up. The team also dropped consecutive contests for the first time in 30 years and lost multiple conference games for the first time in a decade.
Today, however, the Huskies are as healthy as they’ll get as they put their 14-year Final Four streak on the line, with their latest test arriving March 20 in the form of a second-round meeting with seventh-seeded Baylor. To Ducharme, it all means this team is uniquely prepared for what’s to come.
“It does make it easier knowing that you’re not alone and there are four or five other people who are trying to do the same thing you’re doing,” she said. “Everyone’s staying mentally tough and locked in on what we’re doing, and knowing that everyone’s going through something, and everyone’s having a hard time and everyone’s dealing with something outside of basketball. Just [staying] focused on us and [helping] each other through it, I think has been huge.”
Ducharme herself missed six weeks in the heart of the season while in concussion protocol. The 2022-23 Huskies’ top star, Azzi Fudd, is working her way back from a right knee injury. As she leads UConn through the bracket, fans can catch her in a Buick commercial airing throughout the tournament — Fudd posted the ad to her Instagram on Thursday afternoon, around the same time Ducharme posted her Great Clips video.
Don’t expect much more from them on social in the coming days. The Huskies have games to win.
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