The Denver Pioneers might be the only college basketball team in the nation with their own in-house NIL agent. Denver guard Carlos Fuentes, a native of Spain, can't make money from most NIL deals due to his status as an international player, but he is making the best out of the situation by acting as an agent for his teammates and getting valuable work experience along the way.
Earlier this week, Fuentes closed a deal for three of his teammates with Saucy's Southern BBQ, a restaurant just across the street from the University of Denver's sprawling campus. Fuentes recruited Pioneers redshirt freshman guard Ben Bowen, junior guard Tommy Bruner and sophomore guard Tevin Smith to represent the restaurant through the academic year because they know how to use social media, and also because of their personalities. In addition to being the best player on the team, Smith, Fuentes said, is definitely the funniest and never fails to make people laugh. Meanwhile, Bruner has a big appetite, which is perfect for a restaurant deal.
Fuentes is not making any money negotiating deals for his teammates, but he said this is a perfect opportunity for him to build his resume and help his team succeed along the way.
"I cannot get any endorsements, I can't get any money, but I can be the guy who gets the deals for other teammates," Fuentes said. "I'm really excited. I'm very passionate about this and this is just the beginning. It just motivates me more to keep going, get more players, more deals, more local places."
Some international college athletes have found ways to get around federal NIL restrictions. Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe – born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – . However, Fuentes is not as well known as Tshiebwe. He grew up wanting to be a professional basketball player, but even his path to playing Division I college basketball hasn't been a traditional one.
Fuentes attended Menaul High School, a small international school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He graduated in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said his basketball recruitment didn't go too well and he began college in Denver as just a student, not involved with the basketball team. He was able to get his foot in the door as a team manager during his sophomore year.
During his first two years of college, Fuentes stayed in shape and worked on his game by himself. This season he earned an opportunity to join the roster as a walk-on.
He's been climbing up the ladder, but he knows he might not be getting a lot of playing time this upcoming season. Fuentes is still going to put in effort on the court, but he decided that it was important to start building a resume for a career off the court too.
"Realistically, I know that being a professional basketball player is very hard to achieve," Fuentes said. "I know my academics will always be with me, nobody can take that away from me, so I wanted to get myself out there. I want to work in the basketball world."
Less than two weeks ago, Fuentes reached out to professionals on LinkedIn hoping to learn more about being an agent. One of the people he reached out to was Josh Mason, who manages business deals for athletes at the college and professional levels.
Mason said he doesn't see that kind of initiative from many people, so he was impressed with Fuentes right away.
"My first impression was that he's very resourceful and smart. He's got everything," Mason said. "All it takes is one name, one big talent. He's doing this in low mid-major basketball. Imagine if he was at Duke or Kansas. I think he is going to go far because the right person will want to align themselves with him."
Mason encouraged him to use his international background as a benefit instead of a disadvantage, because technically his network is already worldwide because he has family and friends in Europe. Fuentes speaks Spanish, English, French and Italian. He is also good with numbers, as he is pursuing a double major in marketing and information systems and analytics.
The main message Mason had for Fuentes was a simple one: "You're more valuable than you know."
"He gave me great advice," Fuentes said. "I expressed to him that I feel blessed to have the opportunity to speak with him. After talking about several things that we could do, I started researching right away and speaking with people around the area."
Just a few days after getting in touch with Mason, Fuentes began reaching out to local businesses and secured a meeting with Khristian Matthews, one of the Saucy's Southern BBQ owners. Fuentes contacted Mason right away to tell him the news and to ask for advice on how to proceed.
That was a success, but it was just the first step of what Fuentes is trying to accomplish. He already has ongoing negotiations with a different company for another one of his teammates.
"I'm just trying to grow in every way, as a player this year, as a person and also grow in this industry of sports," Fuentes said. "I think it's a good opportunity for myself to create a network and hopefully have more players reach out to me to be the guy that handles their deals. I've been working really hard for so many years and I believe that the key to success is effort, trusting yourself and consistency."