Overtime Elite, an upstart professional league founded in early 2021, announced on Monday a significant signing in Class of 2024 five-star small forward Naasir Cunningham, the No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings. However, Cunningham is joining the league not as a paid athlete, but as its first scholarship athlete in order to preserve potential future college eligibility.
While rejecting a salary from OTE allows Cunningham to preserve the opportunity to play in college down the road, he will still be able to profit off of his name, image and likeness thanks to rule changes at the NCAA level. That's of particular interest for Duke, Kansas and others who have already offered him college scholarships. And it should be distinctly possible for him to cash in at a place like OTE, a league with a wide reach on social media.
"To be elite, you have to want to compete against the best, and that is exactly why Naasir has chosen to join Overtime Elite," OTE coach Kevin Ollie said in a statement. "Naas is that rare athlete that is not only blessed with talent, but also innate leadership qualities, and a relentless desire to get better. We can't wait to welcome him to Atlanta and to get to work".
Cunningham, who played for Gill St. Bernard's in Gladstone, New Jersey, is the first athlete to sign and join OTE for its second season. It has already groomed an elite athlete after signing and developing Jean Montero -- a potential top-10 pick in this year's draft -- last year. He joins the league's 19 returning players, all of whom chose OTE as an alternate path to a pro playing career.
"Before I knew his name, rank, or background, Naasir was one of the first prospects I evaluated upon joining OTE," said Tim Fuller, VP of Recruiting and Player Personnel for OTE. "I saw his lightning speed in transition, ability to slash and score in tight spaces, and soft touch on his jump shot and knew he would be a great fit for Overtime Elite. His elite talent and his phenomenal support system in his father Erik and his mom Felicia will be great additions to our OTE family."
While Montero, Ausar Thompson and Amen Thompson were considered potential future lottery picks at the time of their signing with OTE, Cunningham takes the cake as the league's biggest commitment. At 17 years old, his development will be of distinct interest as he tries to build off his skills into a potential lottery pick.