An Audacious Dream Meets Itself in Reality: A Look Inside Overtime Elite’s Inaugural Season | Zagsblog
Recent Posts
About ZagsBlog
Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Follow Zags on Twitter
Couldn't connect with Twitter
Contact Zags
Connect with Zags:
Tuesday / December 5.
  • An Audacious Dream Meets Itself in Reality: A Look Inside Overtime Elite’s Inaugural Season

    Share Zagsblog Share Zagsblog

    ATLANTIC STATION, Ga. — In the heart of Atlanta, an audacious dream slowly meets itself in reality. 

    As 26 teenage athletes, four head coaches and hundreds of staff members make their way into the spacious Overtime Elite Arena on September 10, 2021, the inaugural class of OTE embarks on a never-before-seen journey into the unknown. 

    The league, which was founded in March 2021 by Overtime co-founders Dan Porter and Zack Weiner, offers elite youth basketball players, ranging from 16 to 20, the unique opportunity to earn a six-figure contract and equity in Overtime, while also profiting off Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and play in front of NBA Scouts on a near nightly basis. 

    With the help of investors which include Jeff Bezos, Drake and NBA stars such as Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, Overtime has raised more than $60 million in funding as the company uses a significant amount of that funding to fuel its first-of-a-kind basketball league. 

    “I really want us to be known as the best finishing school in the world,” Overtime Elite executive vice president and head of basketball operations Brandon Williams said. “If your goal is to be a professional basketball player, particularly an NBA player, you have to stop here. We want us to be that competitive in the marketplace.” 

    As the Overtime Elite inaugural season closes with Team Elite defeating Team OTE 52-45 on March 13 in Game 3 of the OTE Finals, there are still lingering questions about the league’s future as it looks to connect with the next generation of fans and carve out its own path as the premier destination for elite high school basketball players. 

    Head Coach Kevin Ollie coaches from the sidelines during a Team OTE game.
    If you take time to sit in the 103,000 square-foot state-of-the-art Overtime Elite Arena and watch as head coach Kevin Ollie speaks to the group of 26 young men looking to turn their dream of becoming professional basketball players, you’re guaranteed to hear two words: “Level Five.”

    These words have become a mantra of sorts for the OTE program headed by Ollie, the former UConn coach who led UConn to its fourth national championship in program history in 2014. Earlier this year, Ollie won an arbitration case against UConn after claiming he was wrongfully terminated from his role in 2018 and is due nearly $11.2 million.

    “I’ve never coached high school kids before, so it’s a great opportunity for me to be involved with them early on in their journey,” Ollie said. “I’m usually getting them in their freshman year or transfer year, so to make a mark, make an impact and to empower them on this journey early is a great opportunity for me. I’m taking full advantage of it and I’m just diving in. I just want to love, I just want to serve and I just want to care for them. Hopefully, they see that each and every day.”

    After three years away from basketball, Ollie joined Overtime Elite in April, becoming the head coach of the new professional basketball league which looks to provide teenage stars an alternative to college basketball in order to reach the NBA.

    “I just thought it was a great opportunity for me. It aligns with all my visions and what I believe in – empowering young men, impacting their lives early, giving them the opportunity to own their brand early on in life and then supporting them on this journey and giving them the tools,” he said. “When they leave us, they have the opportunity to go out there and challenge anything that comes their way and overcome it and be great young men in the society as a whole.”

    Ollie is the head coach of an Overtime Elite program split up into three teams – Team Elite, Team OTE and Team Overtime – each of which are led by highly experienced basketball minds such as former DePaul head coach Dave Leiato, former Maccabi Tel Aviv assistant coach Tim Fanning and eight-year NBA veteran and former Long Island Nets G League assistant coach Ryan Gomes.

    “I think the lesson that we’ve tried to teach these guys since they got here is that you’re in a special place, people are envious and they’re going to come after you as a result,” Leitao said. “You’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to be ready every single day of your life.”

    Overtime Elite executive vice president and head of basketball operations Brandon Williams during OTE Pro Week which took place April 13-14
    Leading the league in its first year was Brandon Williams and Commissioner and President Aaron Ryan, a pair of executives with years of NBA experience. 

    Ryan, who spent the last 22 years working at the NBA in content and production, live events and consulting, was exposed to a secret project shortly before OTE’s launch and jumped at the opportunity to lead a new endeavor to promote the future of the game. 

    With Ryan in the fold, the league moved its efforts towards bringing in Williams, Ryan’s former colleague in the NBA office and the associate vice president of basketball operations at the NBA from 2005 to 2013. 

    “I was pretty confident that I understood enough of the noise and the challenges around the game. I certainly had seen it from an NBA perspective, what happens when young people aren’t quite ready for the discipline, the speed, the pace and the understanding,” Williams said. “Just being partners in such a big business, if we could do anything great, it would be to produce a better partner.” 

    The league, which is built like many discreet sports IP’s, generates the majority of its revenue through licensing and merchandising, including partnerships with Meta and Billionaire Boys Club. Moving forward, Ryan says the league will grow into the space of global media distribution, using its more than 65 million followers across social media to speak to its audience directly. 

    “The reality is that we’re in a high-growth stage,” Ryan said. “What we’re focused on right now is continuing to build on that growth, find momentum into year two – whether it be through new partners, increased talent in terms of players, increased competition amongst our competition because that’s what a nascent growth property has to do.” 

    The league was unable to disclose any figures related to its financial performance in its first year, but has brought on corporate partners which include State Farm and Gatorade, among others. 

    “When you come into a new space, you have to establish credibility, you have to establish a pace of growth, but also signal speed and innovation,” Ryan said. “I think that’s what we’re doing. That return is really in terms of how receptive both the public and the market of those who want to not only consume it, but also invest in it has shown.” 

    As far as growth, the league is currently focused on maximizing the current group of players in the program. With seven players set to depart for professional basketball after this season, the league is in recruitment-mode, looking to draw some of the top talent in high school basketball. However, with more options than ever for youth athletes due to the emergence of the G League Ignite, Australian NBL and NIL policies in the NCAA, the league is looking to stand out amongst the crowd. 

    “There’s been no youth program that’s been able to assemble this many high-level athletes and then the high-level support around them,” Williams said. “The differentiation I think is not only proximity, location, style of play that is most akin to what players want to play and that is NBA, but it’s also the density of talent and resources that really aren’t rivalved until you get to the elite levels in college and the NBA.” 

    Shortly after the conclusion of the league’s inaugural season, Ryan and the league agreed not to extend his contract past the 2021-22 season. The league does not expect to fill the position. Senior leadership is reporting to Overtime.

    Jean Montero (77) drives past Jahzare Jackson (34) at Overtime Elite Arena.
    Come June 23, three Overtime Elite prospects are expected to hear their names called in the 2022 NBA Draft – Jean Montero, Dominick Barlow and Kok Yat

    Montero, a 6-foot-2 guard out of the Dominican Republic, was perhaps the highest-profile player to join the OTE Program, averaging 18.4 points and 4.6 assists per game in his two seasons with CB Gran Canaria in Spain and leading the Dominican Republic to a bronze medal in the FIBA U16 Americas Championship in 2019 where he averaged 30.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. 

    For Montero, joining OTE was all about basketball and developing into a bonafide NBA phenom with a flair for scoring and is now projected as a first-round pick in this year’s draft with the chance to raise his draft stock at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland on April 8. 

    “It’s all about basketball. I wake up in the morning and go to class and think about practice in the afternoon,” Montero said. “I just came here to work, to work on my game, play basketball and get knowledge of the game.” 

    When Montero was inactive for Team Overtime’s Jan. 17 contest against Moravian Prep, he could still be seen in the practice gym postgame, sporting a star-filled sweater and a pair of jeans and putting up shots, continuously working on his game. 

    Meanwhile, Barlow, a 6-foot-9 power forward, has taken a much different path to the NBA Draft spotlight, as highlighted by ZAGSBLOG’s February feature on Dumont, New Jersey-native. 

    With a 7-1 wingspan and 10.5 inch hands, Barlow is projected as a second-round pick in this year’s draft, intriguing NBA scouts as a stretch-four with smooth touch and a high motor. 

    Montero and Barlow combined to form a tenacious duo for Team Overtime, averaging a combined for nearly 32 points per game as Montero claimed the league first-ever scoring title with 394 total points on the season, something that came down to the wire.  

    As Team Overtime prepared to face The Skill Factory (GA) in the team’s final regular season game on February 26, Montero trailed Ausar Thompson by 17 points for the most points on the season. With nearly three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Montero needed two more points to break the record when assistant coach Corey Frazier told him that after his next bucket, he was subbing out of the contest. 

    With his final basket of the game sealing the scoring title, in-game announcers Bria Janelle and Jaden Edwards congratulated Montero on the loudspeakers in the arena, but it wasn’t until postgame that Montero learned of his accomplishment. 

    “I thought they wanted to rest my legs or something like that,” Montero said. “I didn’t know about the scoring title.” 

    Yat, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t have the same amount of draft buzz throughout the season, largely due to a stress reaction in his foot he suffered in November that kept him out for more than three months. However, Yat was able to return for the close of the season, marking his return on February 26 in a prep series contest with Phhoenix (AZ) Prep National, going for six points, four rebounds, one steal and two turnovers in seven minutes of playing time, looking timid and hesitant in a 72-53 win. 

    “I haven’t gotten up and down as much lately, so in the open court my handles are a little loose,” Yat said after the game. “I’ve got to tighten that up a little bit and I could still gain some more weight.” 

    Come Yat’s second game back with OTE, the rust and jitters had to be thrown to the side as Team OTE faced Team Elite in Game 1 of the Overtime Elite Finals on March 9.  With several NBA scouts in attendance, Yat scored 10 first half points, en route to a 17-point game, including shooting 2-for-6 from three-point range in just 16 minutes of play due to a minutes restriction. 

    “I showed off a little bit of everything,” Yat said after the win. “With the time I took off, I just needed a game to get ready, get back. I feel like myself after that second game. It feels great to be back.” 

    Although Montero, Barlow and Yat are all projected to be selected in this June’s draft, none of them will be the first OTE player to sign a professional deal outside of Overtime Elite. That honor goes to 6-foot-2 guard Emmanuel Maldonado out of Orlando, Florida.

    Maldonado was a bonafide scorer at the high school level with Central Pointe Christian in Orlando, Florida, even dropping 50 points in a game versus Hillcrest Prep (AZ) his senior year. 

    However, when he joined a star-studded OTE roster featuring future NBA lottery picks, Maldonado excelled at doing everything he could to contribute to winning as a member of Team Elite. 

    “My role here is to bring team energy, get everybody right, shoot the ball when I’m open and find my teammates,” he said following a win on Jan. 20. 

    Like Maldonado, Team OTE guard Johned Walker joined Overtime Elite after a successful high school campaign in Florida. Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Walker is listed at a generous 5-foot-11, but showed his ability to maneuver past larger defenders, earning a reputation as a lethal late-game scorer. 

    In joining OTE, Walker reunited with Montero, his former opponent from their times with their respective national teams – Walker with Puerto Rico and Montero with the Dominican Republic. 

    “It’s a big move,” Walker said. “Because of COVID, I was stuck back in Puerto Rico. This was a great opportunity for me to show that we’ve got talent back on the island. My motivation is getting to the big league and putting my city on the top of the world.” 

    Then there’s Davion Mace, a 6-foot-5 forward out of Cincinnati, Ohio, who left his hometown where he was taking care of his grandmother, for the chance to become a professional basketball player. 

    “I didn’t know if I wanted to qualify for college. I was iffy about that,” Mace said. “I got in touch with Tim (Fanning), a good person I’ve known for a long time, and he told me about OTE. I just thought it was a great opportunity and I can fit in here perfectly.”

    Mace’s toughness was evident throughout this season, playing through a broken finger for a large part of the season and becoming a lockdown defender.

    While his impact may not always show up on the stat sheet, Mace does everything he can to impact the game, whether it be on the offensive or defensive ends of the court.

    “It doesn’t matter where my coach puts me. I believe I can do it all,” he said.

    On the star-studded Team Overtime, forward Jai Smith proved to be a steadying force, providing a simple, yet effective rim-running game that featured him catching lobs at the basket and using his 6-foot-7 frame to make high-flying plays at the rim. 

    “Fourth quarter, when people get tired, I worked for this,” Smith said. “When we get to the fourth quarter, everybody else is tired. If you’re not tired, that opens up more plays and things for you.” 

    Coming out of Word of God Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, Smith was a four-star recruit in high school with high-major schools on his trail. When Smith made the decision to take a chance on the upstart league in June, he was being recruited by schools such as Maryland, Arizona, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, UConn, Syracuse and more, but ultimately made the choice to head to Atlanta. 

    Off the court, Smith’s gregarious nature endears him with teammates, coaches and scouts alike, bringing a unique sense of enthusiasm to each day. That attitude has translated into a selfless approach to the game, 

    Nicknamed “The Ice Man” after former nine-time NBA All Star George Gervin, Smith was a jovial face on Team Overtime, building up strength to stymie smaller opponents while using his speed to blow past larger ones. 

    “I’ve definitely turned into an NBA player,” Smith said. “I’m definitely ready for that next level.” 

    Ausar Thompson (0) faces off with his twin Amen Thompson (1) in the OTE Finals.
    While the 2022 class is sure to see some future pros, it’s the 2023 Overtime Elite class that really has NBA Scouts buzzing, highlighted by the crown jewel of the program – twins Ausar and Amen Thompson.  

    The 6-foot-7 wing prospects have transformed into the face of OTE with absurd athletic feats and potential that has them projected as Top-10 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. 

    The identical twins are able to cover incredible ground on defense with under three-second marks in the reaction shuttle, but it’s their freakish jumping ability that puts them on highlight reels all across the internet. 

    Amen finished the season averaging 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in 27 games. He turned heads with explosive dunks and insane burst, but it was Ausar that got the last laugh. 

    After averaging 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, Ausar turned things up a notch in the playoffs, outdueling his twin in a thrilling three-game OTE Finals series. 

    “I would’ve been cool if he…actually I wouldn’t have been happy if he won, but I would’ve acted the same way because it’s all love with him,” Ausar said after taking home Finals MVP honors following Game 3. “Everybody thought we were going to lose, so it felt good to win.” 

    Before their time at Overtime Elite, seeing the twins face off was an incredibly rare event, last battling in a competitive game against one another in the third grade at the Florida Boys and Girls Club. 

    “He was on the Heat. I was on the Clippers,” Ausar said. “The Clippers played the Heat in the championship and we came out victorious.” 

    A few years after their contest as third-graders, their parents Maya Wilson and Troy Thompson made the crucial decision to homeschool Ausar and Amen in sixth and seventh grade, honing in on their basketball development and emerging as some of the top athletes in the nation. 

    “It was something that I also did with my eldest son (Troy Jr.), so I wanted to give them the same attention,” Troy Sr. said. “I believe that spending that time focusing on really understanding school curriculum as well as spending quality time hiking, going on field trips, working out and getting spiritually and culturally grounded were very important to their development.” 

    The family imitated a “Rites of Passage” program with one-on-one adult guidance in a mentorship and learning experience, involving their grandfather Claude Wilson.

    Similar to their time being homeschooled, the twins used Overtime Elite to spend countless hours in the gym and hone in on their games.

    “I wanted to be in a pro-like environment, faster, and get prepared for the next step, my real goal, the NBA,” Amen said. “ That’s really what led me and my brother to coming here.” 

    While Amen might have the slight edge over his twin in explosiveness and leaping ability, Ausar has the clear edge in shooting, an area of improvement for both. 

    The twins highlight a star-studded 2023 draft class at Overtime Elite that is likely to see a bevy of NBA Draft picks. 

    A couple of the players likely to hear their name called in the 2023 NBA Draft are a pair of high-intensity guards Jazian Gortman and Bryce Griggs

    Griggs, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Houston, Texas, is a lethal scorer with perhaps the league’s biggest clutch gene. Griggs made waves in Overtime Elite’s opening night on October 30, sinking a deep three pointer with under a minute remaining to send Team Elite to overtime against the Mikey Williams-led Vertical Academy and dishing out the game-winning assist in the extra period. 

    “I love game-winners and I love getting up last shots because you step to the plate and never fold,” Griggs said. “I won’t let my teammates down and they won’t let me down.” 

    Gortman, meanwhile, has used his time with Overtime Elite to play alongside Montero and form into a leader for Team Overtime with lightning-fast speed to blow past defenders. 

    “Being here, playing against top talent everyday, it’s fun,” Gortman said. 

    Outside of the Thompson twins, 6-foot-4 Team OTE wing De’Vontes Cobbs can lay claim to be one of the highest leapers in the program with a 42-inch max vertical and jaw-dropping highlight plays. 

    Coming out of Milwaukee, Cobbs was one of the lesser-known prospects in the program, but raised eyebrows as a key complementary piece for the top regular season Overtime Elite team, averaging 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals in 26 games. 

    “This basketball game involves more than just shooting and dribbling the basketball,” Cobbs said. “It involves being able to mentally lock in and physically lock in every day.” 

    For Cobbs, the motivation to join Overtime Elite was driven by the loss of his aunt and grandmother, who both passed away five months apart in 2021, inspiring him to take his talents to the pros. 

    “They’re my two angels right now,” Cobbs said. “They’re the main reason why I came here to be a professional and be the best person I can be.” 

    Then there’s the hometown kid, TJ Clark, who passed on the opportunity to compete for a state championship with his Newton High School teammates in Covington, Georgia, to join Overtime Elite.

    “Just to come out and have the chance to come here, it was hard,” Clark said. “But at the end of the day, my dream is to become a pro, so whatever it takes to go pro, that’s what I’m doing.”

    The 6-foot-3 Clark has energized his team with his intensity on the defensive end, while also showcasing his improved shooting sense.

    “I’m someone that’s going to change the game, but not on offense, that’s on the defensive end – dapping up teammates, picking their head up when they’re down, picking the team up and bringing us up when we’re down,” Clark said. 

    And despite missing out on the chance to win a state championship, he’s earned something much more valuable – an opportunity to play professionally in his home city. 

    “The perfect word I would use to describe it is electric,” Clark said. “I’m coming out and feeling the love and it makes me go harder. That’s what I do it for. I do it for the A.” 

    Jaylen Martin, another player out of the southeast, bypassed college to join Overtime Elite with the desire to play as part of a professional roster and get pro training. 

    The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 steals per game in 28 games and had his shining moment on his birthday, January 28, with his family in attendance. 

    In the game’s final moments, Martin headed to the free throw line amid the crowd singing ‘Happy Birthday’’. 

    “I knew I had to make my free throws,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure, but it was very fun.”

    Lewis Duarte, the younger cousin of Indiana Pacers rookie guard Chris Duarte, emerged as a trendy name early in the season with a standout opening weekend performance. 

    The 6-foot-4 guard out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, dropped 29 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-7 from deep in Team Overtime’s 86-71 opening night victory over Dr. Phillips (FL) High School. 

    “I felt anxious, going out there and proving myself,” Duarte said following his opening night performance. “Now they’ve seen that I can play. Just to prove myself and show what I can do.” 

    Largely billed as a three-and-D type wing, Duarte took a reserved role alongside Montero, Gortman and Barlow, but still made his mark with a mature guard role. 

    “I consider myself a pro,” Duarte said. “By the time I would’ve gone to college I would’ve been 20. That was one of the reasons I went pro earlier.” 

    Coming from Brussels, Belgium, Nathan Missia-Dio joined the Overtime Elite program with plenty of overseas experience, playing for Espoirs Limoges in France and being a member of the 2019 Belgium U16 National Team that finished fifth in the U16 Euro. 

    For Missia-Dio, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, the opportunity to learn from veteran coaches and prepare for the next level has resulted in a drastic improvement in his game.

    “I have good confidence because the last two months I’ve worked on my shot every night, every practice,” Missia-Dio said. “It’s just confidence.” 

    Playing as a stretch-four behind Barlow, Missia-Dio averaged 4.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game in 28 games played. 

    “I think it’s the best for me,” Missia-Dio said. “I think it’s the best organization for the young people and the young players. You have everything.” 

    Matt Bewley (3) celebrates after a made basket.
    Still more than two years from the 2024 NBA Draft, Overtime Elite’s youngest class boasts perhaps its deepest talent pool with 10 talented prospects looking to hone their talents for the next two years. 

    When Florida twins Matt Bewley and Ryan Bewley took the leap and became the first players to sign with Overtime Elite back in May of 2021, they launched Overtime Elite into the national spotlight. Touted as five-star recruits in the 2023 high school recruiting class, both twins stand at 6-foot-8 with lottery potential. 

    “I was really skeptical,” Ryan said. “I had never heard of Overtime. I didn’t know it was going to happen like this. I just prayed to God and asked him what I should do. He told me this was the best opportunity.” 

    Ryan, who averaged 7.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game, played his best basketball in the second half of the season. Despite not having as polished a game as his twin, Ryan’s improvement throughout the year was drastic, developing into a versatile four that can handle the ball and finish near the basket. 

    Matt, who models his game after NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, was arguably the most dominant physical force in the entire OTE program, averaging 12.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in 27 games, while leading the league in double-doubles. 

    “When you have a twin, you have a workout buddy,” Matt said. “You go out there and play one-on-one against him. You always have someone to play against and to guard you. When you have a twin, it’s pretty fun.” 

    Meanwhile, for 6-foot-7 forward Malik Bowman, the choice to join Overtime Elite was a product of the league’s world-class facilities, trainers, nutritionists and chefs, while also being given the opportunity to prepare for the next level, not only on the court, but off the court. 

    “To be somewhere that will prepare me for the next level, prepare me for the NBA, I feel like this is it,” Bowman said. “The media attention, the crowds, everything – I feel like everything is getting you ready for the pro level.” 

    A former four-star recruit out of Washington, D.C., Bowman only averaged 3.6 points per game, but proved to be a lanky defender that could defend against wings and post players alike. Teaming up alongside players like Montero, Barlow, Gortman and others, Bowman wasn’t a very ball-heavy player, but made the most of his time on the floor. 

    “I feel like I’ve learned how to move without the ball more,” he said. “On my old team, I played with the ball in my hands all the time, but now, being around other good players, you’ve got to move around. You’re forced to do that.” 

    Tyler Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Houston, Texas, entered Overtime Elite with sky-high expectations as a five-star recruit and a MaxPreps 2020-21 Sophomore All-American. However, as a 2024 draft candidate, there were times when Smith had to take a backseat to older and more experienced players in order to develop his game. 

    When entering OTE, Smith’s goal was to workout in front of NBA Scouts and boost his draft profile, a task that has largely been fulfilled in the first year. 

    “It’s better than what I thought it was going to be,” Smith said. “I didn’t think it would be as good as what it has been. They’ve been doing what they need to.” 

    Modeling his game after players like Jayson Tatum and Scottie Barnes, Smith is a tall forward that found a bread-and-butter with his corner three-point shot, molding into a hybrid forward with guard-like skills. 

    “I’ve gotten more confident shooting the ball and trying to score the ball,” he said. “I’ve gotten stronger all around like in the post. Last year, I wasn’t able to post up like that because I was really skinny. Now, I feel more confident scoring in the post.” 

    When it comes to the 2024 NBA Draft, scouts all have their eyes on French center Alex Sarr, the younger brother of former Wake Forest and Kentucky star Olivier Sarr

    Alex, the 7-foot, 207-pound center out of Toulouse, France, has shown to be a uniquely skilled rim protector that can space the floor and hit from deep. 

    “I’ve been here for months and I feel like I’ve improved my game a lot,” Sarr said. “I’ve improved physically all around. I feel like I have more strength. Those are the reasons I’ve joined OTE.” 

    Among the 2024 draft prospects, Bryson Warren draws more intrigue than almost anyone else with a 6-foot-2 frame and a sense of maturity rarely seen from a 16-year-old. 

    Warren, a combo guard with a smooth shooting stroke, has had the opportunity to play alongside two older guards with Team Overtime in Jean Montero and Jazian Gortman, truly transforming into a pro. 

    “It’s really just my pace,” Warren said. “My pace is way better. I’m not rushing anymore. I’m letting it flow. My shot keeps improving. I’m just getting faster.” 

    While some Overtime Elite players are considering playing AAU this summer, Warren has already started his own AAU Program based in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas – Bryson Warren United. 

    “It’s always fun to interact with them and see the smile on their face,” Warren said. “Now they’re really going to hit it heavy. They’re going to just go out there, have fun and compete. Arkansas is going to have some talent.” 

    Jahzare Jackson, a 6-foot-11, 300-pound center out of San Diego, was a late-bloomer on the Overtime Elite scene after missing the first few months of the season, preparing for the season. However, in his opening game on January 17, Jackson returned to action and established himself quickly. 

    “I would describe myself as a dominant big,” Jackson said. “I’m dominant on the floor, especially in the paint.” 

    Jackson says he’s enjoyed the routine at Overtime Elite, working on his game and getting his schoolwork completed. 

    “We wake up in the morning, practice and then we have school right after that,” he said. “Then, I’ll go back home, get some rest and then we have late night workouts. Then, repeat. It’s a lifestyle at this point.” 

    Tudor Somacescu, the youngest player in the OTE program, battled with injuries during the league’s inaugural season, but came back strong to close the season. 

    The 6-foot-3 guard out of Cluj, Napoca, Romania, is well known overseas after averaging double digit scoring at 14-years-old on the Romania U16 team. A pass-first guard, Somacescu has leaned into the basketball-heavy environment at OTE. 

    “I had to be here. I had to be here with the best players in the world,” Somacescu said. “It’s just eat, sleep and basketball pretty much.” 

    Much like Somacescu, Izan Almansa, a 6-foot-10 forward out of Murcia, Spain, has had to adapt to a different game overseas after playing for Real Madrid the past two seasons as a cadet in the EBA League. 

    “In Europe, it’s a different game,” Almansa said. “Here, it’s a lot more physical and more side-to-side. It was difficult for me.” 

    The decision to join OTE was one of the most difficult decisions in Almansa’s life, but after talking to his mom and agent, he ultimately decided to take the chance.

    “As the months have gone by, I’ve seen that it’s a good path to take because here we work a lot individually and I need that,” Almansa said. “Now I see it’s been a good decision.” 

    Although the league was set to begin with 27 players, Francis Lopez, a 6-foot-6 forward out of Manila, Philippines, has been unable to join the program due to immigration issues. 

    The league remains in active conversations with Lopez, sources tell ZAGSBLOG. The league declined to comment on his current immigration status. 

    Overtime Elite head coach Kevin Ollie (left) shares a laugh with Ausar Thompson (right) ahead of a game.
    Ahead of the league’s playoff tournament, the entire Overtime Elite program made the trip to Miami to enjoy a spring break, a highlight for Williams. 

    “It can be overwhelming,” WIlliams said. “You get drafted and all these fancy things start happening. You’re flying on jets. It doesn’t change the size of the ball, the size of the hoop or the height of the basket, but everything feels larger, it feels faster and you can’t slow it down because it’s the first time for you.” 

    The Miami trip was a microcosm for the entire Overtime Elite program, exposing a group of elite teenagers to the glory and perils of professional basketball. 

    “When you lead an operation and you hope it’s just a reflection of your founder’s vision and we’re delivering a promise that this was an independent objective,” Williams said. “In theory, you deserve to be critical and that was a moment where we kind of pulled it together.” 

    With the first season in the rearview, the league looks towards expansion in year two, looking to move faster than the market and break the established norms of youth basketball.

    “Speed is in our DNA,” Williams said, pointing towards expanding the league’s international competition in year two. “We want to start to leverage the success of our existing players to really create a dialogue and engagement with an international fan that we know already loves what Overtime is about and what OTE is about, but start to connect more directly and in a live setting hopefully.”

    Special thank you to Ben Sosenko, Joseph Feldman and Whitney Bell in the Overtime Elite media relations department for their help in coordinating the numerous interviews throughout the season in order to complete this story.

    Follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter

    Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter

    Follow ZAGSBLOGHoops on Instagram

    And Like ZAGS on Facebook

  • } });