NIL education, resource platform launched to help navigate recruitment process

With variance in NIL rules state-by-state, Eccker Sports launched a platform to provide information and resources to recruits, families and coaches.

Regardless of stance on whether college athletes should be allowed to profit off name, image and likeness, one facet of the NIL debate is largely agreed upon from both sides: There’s uncertainty in the rules that govern athletes’ allowances, rules that lack structure and vary for high school recruits from state to state.

As it currently stands across the country, there’s widespread variability, with seven states permitting athletes to profit off their name and likeness, 17 states considering changing bylaws and 26 states prohibiting it. The inconsistency adds extra difficulties in recruiting because athletes must know how signing a deal that guarantees college money could affect their high school eligibility.

In Texas, for instance, NIL deals are not allowed for high school athletes. And that restriction — and potentially its lack of clarity in Texas — played a role in the No. 1 football recruit in the class of 2022, Quinn Ewers, skipping his senior year of high school in favor of enrolling at Ohio State early and signing an NIL deal reportedly worth $1.4 million.

“I do think that there’s going to be some lawmakers at some point that are probably talking about it, but it’s going to take years,” said Vandegrift (Texas) High School head coach Drew Sanders. “…Parents want to make sure that they’re not doing anything that would get them in trouble eligibility-wise … This is all brand-new for everybody, so I have really zero experience with this. As a coach, I’m not really sure where to steer them to.”

Uncertainty in the immediate wake of sports legislation is nothing new, whether league-specific like the NFL’s concussion protocol or broad, widespread changes like Title IX.

Ten months since the passage of the NIL policy, the aftermath perhaps most closely mirrors that of the NCAA’s mid-1980s adoption of Prop 48, which mandated a minimum for high school grades and college entrance exams scores. Today, it’s a standard model. But when it was passed, it was controversial.

“It threw the entire market into a tailspin because it really changed the way the NCAA ruled on eligibility,” said Randy Eccker, a longtime figure in the sports digital media and technology landscape. “It completely changed the dynamic, but nobody took the time to go in and educate the high school market on what it meant to them and how to do it.”

While the implementation of Prop 48 lacked the resources for affected athletes, Eccker hopes to lead the charge in this next wave of sports ecosystem education. His platform Eccker Sports announced on Monday the launch of an educational services platform that will target high school students, coaches, teachers and administrators with resources including video curriculum, state-by-state information, tools for coaches to educate their communities and a network of legal, financial and tax experts.

The website is the exclusive high school partner of Game Plan, a platform with partnerships at the collegiate and professional level that provides learning resources, career planning and other developmental programs to athletes.

Pricing for the Eccker Sports resource hub varies state to state, Eccker said.

“Fast-forward even 10 years and this will be a normal part of the athletic landscape and the athletic education landscape, but today, when we’ve gone in and talked to coaches and administrators at the high school level, there’s a lot of fear and trepidation because it’s so new,” Eccker said.

The need for education on NIL is more expansive than finding a deal without affecting high school eligibility. Chuck Schmidt, Vice President and Executive Director of High School for Playfly Sports and the former COO of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, said that high schoolers whose parents’ jobs take them to different states might be unexpectedly affected. Tax obligations must be outlined for athletes. Athletes and families who see a chance for an influx of money but don’t know the laws could be exploited, whether by signing with someone who isn’t qualified, agreeing to have large percentages of money taken by the agent, or accidentally signing a deal to grant likeness to a brand in perpetuity without realizing the long-term implications.

Athletes’ rights took an enormous step forward with the passage of NIL allowances. Still, the lack of structure at a national level is creating confusion and potential long-term, unforeseen consequences. Eccker and Tim Prukop, the Chief Commercial Officer of the Eccker Sports resource hub, hope the new platform can help athletes and families build effective NIL strategies.

“NIL is just thrown around how great it is for kids to be able to do that, but there’s always something else that starts developing after decisions are made,” Schmidt said. “It’s an environment where every state has its own traditions, law, state law and that culture. Education … is going to be very critical to the success of what’s about to come.”

Top shots from the McDonald’s All American Basketball Games

Dereck Lively II and others put on an incredible show at Wintrust Arena.

The top high school basketball players in the country took to the hardwood in Chicago for the 2022 McDonald’s All American Games, and as expected, with such talented rosters—in all the lineups—the highlights hit all night long.

When the final buzzer sounded, the East topped the West in both matchups—95-75 for the girls; 102-75 for boys—with Kiki Rice and Gabriela Jaquez earning Co-MVP’s of the girls game while Dariq Whitehead received the honor in the boys game.

It was high-flying and fun, and nice to see the game back after a two-year hiatus.

Here are some of the top shots captured from all the action at Wintrust Arena.

Related: See the latest USA TODAY Sports Super 25 high school basketball rankings

2022 GEICO High School Basketball Nationals: Boys and Girls brackets are set

Top programs and talent will compete at the prestigious basketball tournament.

College fan bases and teams aren’t the only ones getting excited this week over brackets—now that the fields have been set, much of the high school-hardwood buzz shifts focus to the 2022 GEICO Nationals.

Eight boys teams and five girls teams will compete in the bracket-style tournament, beginning March 31 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena (Fort Meyers, Fla.). And as expected, both fields are loaded with talent for the tip-off, which keeps up with the longstanding distinction the tourney has showcased since its inception in 2009.

Here’s a look at the seeds for both brackets.

Latest Boys Super 25:

USA TODAY Sports Super 25 high school basketball rankings

High School Sports Awards ‘Rapid Fire’ with Arizona basketball commit Maya Nnaji

Meet the 5-star prospect headed to Arizona in 2022.

Five-star basketball recruit Maya Nnaji sat down with USA TODAY High School Sports Awards‘ Randy Buffington to chat about her basketball journey, from prepping her next stop—the Arizona Wildcats—to her 1-on-1 games back in the day with her brother, current Denver Nuggets power forward Zeke Nnaji.

Check out the latest edition of “Rapid Fire” below:

Want to nominate an athlete for the 2022 High School Sports Awards?
Make sure to follow along on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2022 Naismith Trophy high school girls Player and Coach of the Year finalists announced

The finalists for the 2022 girls high school basketball Naismith Player of the Year and Coach of the Year were announced Tuesday.

The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced the five finalists for the Naismith high school girls basketball Player of the Year trophy and girls Coach of the Year honors Tuesday.

The finalists for player of the year are Grandview (Colo.) forward and Stanford commit Lauren Betts, Winton Woods (Ohio) point guard and Oregon commit Chance Gray, Homestead (Ind.) wing and UConn commit Ayanna Patterson, Sidwell Friends School (Washington D.C.) point guard and UCLA commit Kiki Rice, and Parkway (La.) junior guard Mikaylah Williams. Williams is the lone junior finalist.

Sidwell Friends School’s Tamika Dudley, Saint John Vianney’s (N.J.) Dawn Karpell, Etiwanda’s (Calif.) Stan Delus, DeSoto’s (Texas) Andrea Robinson and Hopkins High School’s Tara Stars round out the coach of the year finalists.

“These finalists represent the nation’s top high school girls players and coaches who have enjoyed remarkable success this season, through their play on the court or their leadership from the sidelines,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “The final few weeks of this season will be extremely competitive among the candidates as it always is, which makes narrowing this list down to one winner for each award an exciting challenge for our voters.” 

“Jersey Mike’s salutes the top five candidates for the Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Girls Trophy. We are proud to be associated with these incredibly talented high school basketball players,” said Rich Hope, chief marketing officer, Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, Inc. “We also congratulate the five coaches nominated for National High School Girls Coach of the Year for their extraordinary dedication.” 

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EXCLUSIVE: Klutch signs Sierra Canyon star Juju Watkins as first female athlete client

Sierra Canyon star Juju Watkins will be announced as Klutch Sports Group’s first high school girls basketball client on Friday.

Klutch Sports Group is venturing further in its clientele representation. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) star Juju Watkins has signed as the agency’s first female athlete client, a partnership that will be announced Friday.

Klutch Sports Group CEO and Founder Rich Paul said the agency now has the foundation to broaden its client base and provide the support needed for female athletes.

“We’ve never been someone who’s just wanted to jump in something from a perspective of monetarily, but it’s important as you’re representing each individual and athletes as a whole, that you have the proper infrastructure to represent them at a level in which there’s not a dip,” Paul said. “If we’re going to represent the men a certain way, the women have to be represented the exact same way.”

The agency is aligning itself with a young, high-profile client who can be a face of women’s basketball. Watkins, currently in her junior season, is a FIBA U16 Gold Medalist and MVP with Team USA, Los Angeles Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year and 2020 Sports Illustrated Sports Kid of the Year.

It is also a partnership between a pair of like-minded parties looking to maximize not only the on-court talents of the star guard but also achieve her off-court goals of community building.

“Community was kind of our first conversation,” Watkins said. “That’s what we shared in common, just pushing my narrative and how I want to impact not only the basketball side but my community and things outside of basketball.”

For as lofty as Watkins’ ambitions are, for as many medals as she has on the mantle, the junior’s basketball story revolves around the community of Watts. The 2.5-square-mile, predominately minority Los Angeles neighborhood consists of a population with more than a quarter below the poverty line and only slightly more than half holding a high school diploma. Generations of her family have been dedicated to the advancement of the community, from her great-grandfather Ted Watkins establishing the Watts Labor Community Action Committee to her own parents instilling supportive and cooperative values in Watkins from a young age.

Watkins wants to help the community gain financial literacy and education opportunities. She wants to inspire other young girls to persevere through diversity. She wants to bring Fortune 500 companies into the area. Watkins isn’t waiting until she graduates to get to work, slyly saying to “stay tuned” for what’s next.

“My angle is to inspire my community and become a frontier for women’s basketball,” she said. “We don’t have as many resources as others, so just speaking up and being a part of that story of women’s basketball.”

Her voice shined with excitement when talking about working with youth basketball camps each summer.

“It’s so dope to just be around younger players and see how much passion they already have. It’s amazing,” she said. “It inspires me to become greater.”

Her tone lit up more when thinking about those moments than when speaking on her own accomplishments. More so than her goals of winning high school championships and awards such as the Gatorade and MaxPreps players of the year. She rattled off her long-term ambitions in the opposite of chronological order — Hall of Fame, WNBA player, College Player of the Year, All-American, championships. She hasn’t started narrowing down colleges yet, and her long list of college offers is essentially a who’s-who of top programs. Name a team, and it probably has an interest in the five-star athlete.

“To summarize that, just being the best version of me I can be on and off the court,” she said. Watkins paused, gave a small laugh, took another beat to try to find the right words so as to not sound immodest, and then added, “Becoming an icon, I guess.”

“Her ability to be someone that young women and young men look up to as a player … She just has that it,” Paul said. “She approaches things the right way, she’s very astute and very understanding of her surroundings at a very young age. I’ve been around that before, so I know what that looks like. I’m excited for what’s up ahead.”

Watkins joins Klutch at a pivotal time for collegiate sports and women’s basketball. The WNBA has started to blossom, the most recent evidence being a $75 million capital raise. College athletes are beginning to cash in on NIL offers, and Watkins is in a position to become the icon she aspires to be as she drives the sport forward.

“She’s always working on enhancing her basketball IQ and skills, so she’s always evolving in that space. She’s always working on being a good person and understanding what it is to have morals and values and purpose in life, so she’s going to evolve in that space as well,” said her mother, Sari Watkins. “She knows how to put her goals in perspective and go after them. I think that it’s kind of already been written by God, to be honest, and all she has to do is continue to stay the course and work her tail off and everything that she works so hard for, she’s gonna get.”

“Juju is always thinking out the box, so she’s never trying to do something that’s within norm. She’s always gonna take a different approach,” said her father, Robert Watkins. “She’s always going to be thinking, how can I do this to change the game on a different level? I think that’s what it’s gong to take to evolve the women’s game and I think that’s why she’s impacting and she gets so much love on the NBA and the WNBA.”

High School Sports Awards ‘Rapid Fire’ with Oregon basketball recruit Chance Gray

Get to know more about the Oregon Ducks basketball recruit.

Five-star point guard Chance Gray sat down with USA TODAY High School Sports Awards‘ Randy Buffington in the latest edition of “Rapid Fire.”

The Winton Woods High School (Cincinnati, Ohio) standout has been putting on a display this season, something she credits to her father—which brings up a cool tidbit about Chance, as Randy explains: “… her father Carlton Gray is her head coach alongside Chance’s sister Amber who is one of the assistants. Carlton is also a former NFL defensive back and coaches the football team won a state championship this past year.”

Watch the full conversation below:

Want to nominate an athlete for the 2022 High School Sports Awards? Make sure to follow along on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Chance Gray: On the Court/Off the Court:

Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year Semifinalists Announced

The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced the semifinalists for the Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year Award on Tuesday afternoon.

The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced the semifinalists for the Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year Award on Tuesday afternoon.

The list of semifinalists features:

  • Homestead (Ind.) W Ayanna Patterson
  • Winton Woods (Ohio) PG Chance Gray
  • Montverde Academy (Fla.) F Janiah Barker
  • Sierra Canyon (Calif.) G Judea Watkins
  • Sidwell Friends (Washington D.C.) PG Kiki Rice
  • Hopkins (Minn.) F Maya Nnaji
  • Parkway (La.) G Mikaylah Williams
  • Valor Christian (Colo.) Raegen Beers
  • Fremont (Utah) Timea Gardiner

Raven Johnson was last year’s Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year.

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WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury hires high school coach to lead franchise

One of California’s best girls high school basketball coaches is making the jump to the professional ranks.

One of California’s best girls high school basketball coaches is making the jump to the professional ranks.

The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury announced Monday that it is hiring Windward High School’s Vanessa Nygaard as its next head coach. Nygaard won two state championships and five sectional titles during her stint at Windward.

A professional team plucking a high school head coach to lead the way might seem like a bit of a reach, but Nygaard isn’t the average high school head coach. Nygaard starred at Stanford and helped the Cardinal reach three Final Fours. She also spent six years playing in the WNBA and has worked as an assistant coach at the college level, in the WNBA and with USA Basketball since her playing days ended.

Nygaard started her high school head coaching at Windward with a 32-1 record in 2012-13 and won 20 or more games in seven of her first eight seasons. The Wildcats won consecutive state championships under Nygaard’s watch in 2017 and 2018.

Nygaard will now step into one of the most attractive jobs in the WNBA. Phoenix reached the finals last season and has a roster littered with star power from Diana Taurasi to Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

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Maine radio broadcasters fired for body shaming HS girls basketball players

Two radio announcers from Maine were fired after comments about weight about two girls basketball players were picked up on the hot mic.

A pair of radio announcers in Maine were fired after making disparaging comments about the weight of two girls playing in the high school basketball game being livestreamed, according to the Press Herald.

During the game between Central Aroostook (Mars Hill, Maine) and Easton (Maine) High School on Thursday, the WHOU-FM broadcasters were caught on the hot mic.

“Extremely overweight. Awful,” said one of them, and the other responded by saying that uniforms need to be found “that fit the girls.” There was laughter heard following that comment.

The video clip was posted to Twitter, and some users started commenting and posting to the station’s Facebook page. WHOU owner Fred Grant posted a statement the next morning that said the broadcasters, Steve Shaw and Jim Carter, had been terminated.

Easton Superintendent Mark Stanley told News Center Maine that the girls were offered support services on Friday and that he spoke with their parents.

“We’re a small school up here, we know all our kids really well, we’re lucky in that regard, and so we know every single player that was on that team being talked about,” he said to the outlet.

Easton head coach Emily Hill also joined News Center Maine on a Zoom interview.

“It is frustrating and upsetting to hear those things being said, especially in regard to young girls,” she said. “To hear that from those men was very upsetting.”

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