basketball

Overtime Elite Makes a Less Than Elite Choice to be its First Coach

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

Ask any first-year Poli-Sci major why the incumbent in an election almost always has the advantage and he or she will say that people don’t like change. Even good change.

The path of how a young man gets to the NBA has been pretty set for decades. A young man goes to college, polishes his game, and upon completing his eligibility is drafted.

Then came one-and-done. Then came high school players going overseas to meet the NBA’s age minimum of 19. Then came the G-League. Most recently the NBA gave us Ignite, a team of prospects that are paid by the NBA to bypass college, work on their game for a year, and try to go directly to the league.

Several of the Ignite players, such as Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green, are going to be chosen early in the next NBA Draft. You can no longer count on March Madness to be introduced to your team’s next draft pick.

Your father and/or grandfather might be shaking his head. You might be shaking yours. More than a couple of college coaches are shaking vigorously, period.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin talked about Ignite “recruiting” a player he had signed. It didn’t get a ton of traffic because it his comments came in the midst of the NCAA Tournament.

Now comes another alternative, with a capital “A.” Overtime Elite, a new basketball league for top prospects between the ages of 16 and 18 is a real mind buster. We’re talking about high school-aged prospects foregoing their high school and college careers.

This is like mail meets email. And it’s about time.

There are prospects in that 16-to-18-year-old range that either failed themselves or were failed by the system and would not thrive in a college environment. Or, they clearly show a talent that should be cultivated early, like attending a trade school.

It’s about time those young men get paid to develop their craft (OTE reportedly will pay each player $100,000), learn the tools they will need to succeed such as financial literacy and media training. It’s about time they get health insurance and disability insurance.

It’s about time players can make money off their own likeness, which OTE reportedly will allow for. The NCAA is wrestling with this issue and knows it will lose big if a solution isn’t found.

OTE reportedly claims that it will provide all that and provide an educational experience tailored to life as a pro athlete. If a prospect opts to go college, there will be $100,000 in tuition money available.

It’s about time these young men have chance to make their dream come true, earn a great living and don’t become a statistic.

The NCAA isn’t quaking in its unsponsored sneakers yet, nor are most high school coaches because we’re talking about a handful of prospects. But if this endeavor takes off, as it should, then there’s not enough Tylenol in midtown to alleviate the headaches.

The OTE presents a paradigm shift in thinking. Which means this probably is going to be a really tough sell.

So why in the world did Overtime Elite (OTE) choose former Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie as its head coach and director of player development? Ollie disgraced the coaching profession and all but deep-sixed his credibility when he violated numerous NCAA rules and was fired.

When you’re trying to convince the masses that change is good, you shouldn’t make the rock heavier to push up the mountaintop.

Ollie was found to have committed a Level One infraction (the most egregious) for providing false and misleading information to NCAA investigators that were looking into multiple violations under his watch. Level Two and Three violations also were found.

Translation: Ollie provided false and misleading information. In other words, he lied.

In Monday’s announcement that Ollie had been hired by OTE, he said:

“I’m ready to get back to what I was born to do: empowering and encouraging and supporting young people, and helping them grow.”

Ollie is still under a three-year, show-cause order, stemming from the violations he committed, meaning he can’t be employed by an NCAA member until July. So this opportunity comes at an opportune time for Ollie, who is remains enmeshed in legal warfare with UConn over the more than $10 million he believes he’s owed on his contract. The university sees it differently, which delights no one except attorneys.

To boil it down, UConn claims Ollie violated NCAA rules (the NCAA ruled he did – twice) and does not deserve to be paid the remainder of his contract. Ollie claims, well, he wants his money. The case has been dragging and the unexpected death in January of the presiding judge will delay it further and keep both parties in the light.

Yet OTE, which has some very accomplished, intelligent and forward-thinking people on the ground floor, chose Ollie to basically be the face of the new endeavor. The man who is supposed to empower and encourage and support prospects, some of whom aren’t old enough to get their driver’s license, has proven to treat rules like a worthless lottery ticket.

If OTE lives up to its end of the bargain, this is the kind of forward thinking needed to solve a lot of the same-old, same-old problems. The young men it chooses to be in its care had better learn more than the Euro Step because not all of them will go on to play professional ball.

OTE will continue to make news. It hasn’t named the headquarter city for its venture. It has yet to sign one of the 30 players that will live, train and play away from home. Competition will be against prep teams and international teams.

There will be lots of questions going forward. Sure hope Ollie gives us honest answers, especially young men of OTE.

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