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Dylan Harper is Blazing His Own Trail with Rutgers & Fanatics

Last Updated: December 11, 2023
The top high school basketball prospect discussed with Boardroom his surprise commitment to Rutgers, signing with Fanatics, and his pioneering mindset.

In front of his family, friends, and Don Bosco high school teammates, top high school basketball prospect Dylan Harper committed to Rutgers University on Wednesday at Fanatics‘ office in Manhattan’s West Village. He also announced a NIL deal with Fanatics, the brand’s first with a high school athlete.

Ranked No. 2 in ESPN’s Class of 2024 rankings, the 6-foot-5 point guard joins third-ranked prospect Ace Bailey in forming the greatest recruiting class in Scarlet Knights history. The buzz at Fanatics’ office was palpable even after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski scooped the announcement, with Overtime livestreaming the moment and Jalen Rose on hand to conduct a Q&A with Harper.

Dylan is the son of five-time NBA champion Ron Harper and brother of current Toronto Raptor Ron Jr. It was important not only for Dylan to stay close to his parents and grandparents in New Jersey but to feel wanted and believed in by a Rutgers coaching staff led by Steve Pikiell.

Harper not only called Pikiell the most energetic coach he’d ever talked to, but the coach saw something in young Dylan when others didn’t. That sense of loyalty is important to this down-to-earth teenager seemingly well mature beyond his years. And it’s not just family, hard work, dedication, and humility; Harper is also driven by doing and trying things that haven’t been done before, like going to Rutgers instead of established programs on his final list, like Duke and Indiana.

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“All my life, I’ve been a trailblazer,” Harper told Boardroom. “Most people like me — quote unquote five-star [prospect] — they go to Montverde, La Lumiere, Oak Hill. But for me, just showing the youth that if I could come here as one of the best players in the country and do what I have to do to be successful, why can’t you?”

Following the announcement, Harper FaceTimed Bailey on stage at Fanatics’ offices with shouts of excitement and encouragement, both players calling the other “big dawg” multiple times. When Rutgers offered Bailey a scholarship, Harper said he got a text telling him to link up at the school. At first, Harper didn’t think Bailey was serious, he said. But he’s always admired Bailey’s work ethic, and the two have risen in the recruiting rankings together throughout their high school careers, and that doesn’t even get into his prodigious on-court abilities.

“Our willingness to put the work in and grinding was really special to me,” Harper said of Bailey. “Just knowing that he’s a great kid, he’s going to take criticism, and he’s just a great human being all around.”

@slamhs Best friends. Dylan and Ace were definitely meant to be on the same team 😂🔥 #dylanharper #acebailey #micdup #rutgers #slamhs #hshoops ♬ Laugh Now Cry Later – Drake

When Omar Wilkes left Klutch Sports to join Fanatics Collectibles as its head of athlete relations in February, he was tasked with identifying transcendent talent to form partnerships. He said Harper jumped out to him, not just for his athletic abilities, but because of the type of people he and his family are.

The multiyear deal Harper and Fanatics struck with the help of Roc Nation Sports’ Drew Gross will include trading cards, memorabilia, and game-worn items. Fanatics will also feature the high school phenom across social media channels to elevate his profile and get him closer to collectors and fans.

“We’re excited to do a lot more with him,” Wilkes told Boardroom.

That will include mentorship from Fanatics execs like Wilkes and CEO Michael Rubin, who will be there to guide and help Harper through important, formative years in his life.

“This is important for me to be the first to do something,” Harper said, “but the biggest thing for me is that the people at Fanatics know what it takes to get to the top. Obviously, I’m going to get the cards and the money, but also teaching me the game and being role models who will show me what to do and not do.”

In meeting and speaking with Rose throughout the day on Wednesday, the Fab Five legend at Michigan, who knows all about being a heralded recruit, advised Harper to keep the main thing the main thing. Simply put, Rose told Harper not to overthink what’s required to be successful.

“If you continue to hone your craft, improve your game, win, and ball like you’re capable of, everything else is going to happen,” Rose told Boardroom. “Now you get a chance to come in and do something unique, special, and build your own thing at Rutgers.”

Harper acknowledged that he’s a 17-year-old kid with a lot more maturing to do. He’s trying to be a sponge at this stage and soak in all the knowledge on and off the court from his family, coaches, teammates, agent, and advisors. That includes being able to determine great NIL deals he’ll benefit from in the long run from merely good ones.

Like many his age, the prized prospect admits he likes clothes and jewelry. But a deal like the one with Fanatics is made with a long-term lens, as Harper knows he has much to learn about managing his money and long-term finances.

“Just real-world problems that I’m going to face in the next one, two years. Because once I’m out of college, I’m a grown man,” Harper said. “So just being able to learn from such great people who have my back no matter what is amazing. I know they’re never going to steer me the wrong way.”

Signing someone like Harper, someone Wilkes believes kids will soon look up to, is a big way Fanatics becomes an aspirational brand future sports superstars will want to be associated with.

“Right now, the goal is for kids growing up to have Fanatics be in the same conversation as the Nikes of the world,” Wilkes said. “This is how we get there.”

If all goes according to plan, Harper will be among the top five picks in the 2025 NBA Draft in just over 18 months. That’s going to come with a tremendous amount of hype and opportunities off the court, things the hooper would dream of as a kid — his own trading cards and endorsement deals with the biggest brands.

But Harper is grounded enough to realize everything would only be coming his way because of the hard work he’s put in. The late nights at the gym, the 4 a.m. wake-up calls to work out and get shots up. It’s the hard work that gives Harper the staying power mindset that, as a trailblazer, future generations will want to emulate meaning and purpose.

“So, when all the things do come,” Harper added, “they don’t ever go away.”

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