It’s not the traditional route, but for Tyler Smith, it’s the right one. The young phenom tells Boardroom why he chose Overtime Elite.
It’s safe to say that the NIL revolution in college sports has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of college basketball. For evidence, look no further than this year’s men’s Final Four, where Miami came out of the Midwest with the help of NIL superstars Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong.
One could also argue it’s played a major role in getting some players to college at all. That’s because there’s another route to the pros — one that pays participants a minimum of $100,000 — and a host of young basketball stars are taking advantage.
One of those players is Tyler Smith, a 6’10 5-star recruit in the class of 2023. Originally from Houston, TX, Smith and his mother decided that it would be more beneficial for him to spend more time honing his already considerable on-court talents than to spend the bulk of his days in a college classroom.
At 16, he left his high school and classmates to be a part of Overtime Elite, where he is receiving high-level training from professional coaches and trainers, while completing the required coursework to earn a high school degree.
“If I was still in high school, I’d be in school for eight hours a day,” Smith told Boardroom. “Here, I just get to work on my game more than the average student my age.”
Though the OTE program places a primary focus on player development, these are still student-athletes with academic responsibilities. They attend four small-setting classes per day to ensure that the players complete the requirements for their high school diplomas. The balance requires the players to develop elite time management skills — something that will serve them well in the future.
However, turning down offers from seemingly every major college program in the country isn’t a typical decision, particularly in the one-and-done era. In Smith’s case, he left his high school in Texas before his senior year started. Luckily, he had trusted individuals like his mother in his corner to guide him.
His mother stressed to him the importance of developing his game if, in fact, he wants to use basketball to make a living. She was the biggest influence in his decision, with some added advice from other family members.
As for the actual development, Smith has caught the eyes of NBA general managers. His long arms and increasing skill level fits well into the current NBA dynamic. Months away from being 19, Smith also holds tremendous potential in the eyes of teams across the league. Smith isn’t eligible to be drafted until 2024, which makes his growth all the more intriguing for scouts.
Of course, there are also intangibles that go into being a student-athlete on a high school campus. Letterman jackets. Midweek and weekend games. Being the big man on campus. Prom and graduation. Aside from the hoops, which Smith has shown to excel in from a young age, high school is high school. Many look fondly upon those years as vital to their upbringings and shaping who we become over the years — and the lasting friendships that go with it. But for Smith, the laser focus of being in the NBA supersedes any of that.
When asked if he had any regrets, Smith immediately responded, “No regrets.”
“I feel like I got way better here,” he added. “It helped me start being more mature, waking up early at 5:30 in the morning, going to the gym to put up shots.”
This is the first real generation of athletes that gets to beta test NIL in college or alternate routes like Overtime Elite. They will experience the pains, criticisms, and learning curves of the unwitting trailblazers. For Smith, however, his aim seems to be to get to the end goal as efficiently as possible, while building a brand and increasing his foundational skillset.
But it is a risk. It would be irresponsible to think otherwise. It happens regularly in other sports without much trepidation or even a second thought. If you’re good enough, go pro. That simple.
“It’s good to take risks,” Smith said. “I felt like it was right for me.”
Smith’s route — and that of his teammates. — begs the question of what, if anything, will become the norm. Will it be to chase NIL deals at high-majors? Or to skip traditional college all together?
There’s no one right way to NBA Draft night. We’ll see in a few years if Tyler Smith has his name called where he expects.
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