The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is always ripe for a new cult hero, and this year is no exception. Here’s how the newest household names like Doug Edert can capitalize in the NIL era.
One of the best parts of March Madness is the breakout stars. The players who you had never heard of before Selection Sunday, but burst onto the scene to lead their team to a big upset or hit a memorable shot. Or both.
They’ve always made for great stories — heck, we still talk about Harold “The Show” Arceneaux beating North Carolina and TJ Sorrentine hitting his famous three “from the parking lot.” Now, those players can also cash in.
The first weekend of the first NCAA Tournament in the NIL era has come and gone, and on the men’s and women’s sides, a handful of players have emerged who can capitalize on their newfound stardom if they return to school next year.
Let’s celebrate a few players that have set themselves up nicely for next year and beyond.
(And in the case of St. Peters’ Doug Edert, let’s celebrate that mustache, too.)
Doug Edert, St. Peter’s
It’s not just that Edert came off the bench to score 20 in a shocking St. Peter’s win over Kentucky in the First Round. Or that he scored 13 more as the Peacocks became just the third No. 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. It’s everything about this guy, right down to the ‘stache.
College sports are about the personalities and pageantry just as much as the actual gameplay, and Edert delivers on that front like few others. His mustache has become legendary seemingly overnight. It was the talk of Twitter during the Kentucky game and earned its own sideline report from Jamie Erdahl in the Round of 32. The Athletic even wrote about the damn thing.
Edert says the ‘stache might be lucky, and given this run, he might be correct. Either way, the posts are going to keep coming and his star will keep growing. According to Yahoo! he had fewer than 3,000 followers on Instagram prior to the tournament; as of this writing, he’s closing in on 20,000.
His influence and facial hair naturally open the door for a bunch of NIL deals in the men’s grooming space. Or, locally, pretty much any business in Jersey City that wants to associate itself with this guy:
Lauren Jensen, Creighton
It all came together perfectly for Lauren Jensen to become the breakout star of the women’s NCAA Tournament. Creighton and Iowa squared off Sunday afternoon in a standalone game on ABC, meant to give Hawkeye superstar Caitlin Clark center stage. The only men’s game happening at that time was between Houston and Illinois, and that game failed to deliver on its potential. This one, however, was close all game, as the Bluejays hit big shots throughout and stifled Clark with some of the toughest defense she’s seen all year.
It all set Jensen up to be the hero. With Creighton trailing by two and a raucous crowd trying to will Iowa to victory, the sophomore (who transferred from Iowa) uncorked one from deep to give her current team the upset over her old team.
Jensen, the Big East’s Co-Most Improved Player this year, has been quiet on the NIL front. Her Instagram, often a hub of sponsored posts for athletes, isn’t even public, and her Twitter has fewer than 1,000 followers.
Expect that to change.
Creighton has invested heavily in women’s basketball and started to see an increase in home attendance down the stretch this year. The school’s first Sweet 16 run is bound to help, making Jensen increasingly visible in Omaha, a city of nearly half a million people with no major professional sports team.
Teddy Allen, New Mexico State
Class: Redshirt junior
If you put up 37 points in a patented 12-5 upset, you pretty much have to be on a list like this. Teddy Allen, the reigning WAC Player of the Year, reminded fans that, even at his fifth school, his “Teddy Buckets” nickname remains apt. He led the Aggies to a 70-63 win over UConn, holding off a late Huskies comeback thanks to 13-13 shooting from the line and a couple of timely threes.
What happens next for Allen, however, is unclear. He has another year of eligibility and if he uses it, can certainly earn money in the NIL market — even if he stays in Las Cruces. Allen has been active already, signing with Elite Athlete Management earlier in the season and selling branded merch via The Players Trunk.
It’s only fair, however, to mention that Allen’s history might give brands some pause. Not only could he potentially play for a sixth college next year, but part of that is because he was dismissed from the team at Wichita State after a domestic violence arrest. His attempt to reinvent himself is something to keep an eye on.
Tuti Jones, Belmont
The first weekend of the 2022 women’s NCAA Tournament will be remembered as the time the mid-majors went mad. Florida Gulf Coast, Princeton, South Dakota, and Belmont all won at least one game, sending some of the biggest brands in the sport home early.
Tuti Jones was the hero for the Bruins. The 5-foot-7 guard hit two huge threes in the fourth quarter to draw Belmont even with Oregon in a game that took two overtimes to decide. Jones played 44 minutes, scored 22 points, and made all four of her 3-point attempts to lead the way.
While Jones doesn’t have any high-profile endorsements yet, Belmont is signed with INFLCR to help student-athletes capitalize on their NIL potential. The Bruins are known as a basketball school in a state with plenty of basketball tradition. They play Tennessee on Monday in an in-state rivalry game that, if the Bruins win, will be remembered in Nashville for years to come.
And if Tuti has another big game, she’ll return to campus in the fall with full-on rock star status.