There was little known about Overtime Elite in the basketball world until a few months ago, when the basketball program designed to train and prepare players for college and the pros produced two lottery draft picks, the Thompson Twins.
Amen and Ausar Thompson became overnight sensations as the draft approached, prospects who emerged from an unconventional route. The road to the NBA has changed dramatically the past decade. Players are no longer required to play in high school and then at least one year of college.
The NBA has developed the G League Ignite for players who want to prepare for the NBA without attending college. Overtime Elite is a similar program, prepping players in its Atlanta-based facility with the option of bouncing to a college program or the NBA. The Thompson Twins were Fort Lauderdale-based players before signing a two-year contract with Overtime Elite, bypassing their senior seasons in high school.
The duo played for the City Reapers against five other clubs in the Overtime Elite system and won the championship, finishing with a 14-1 record. The 20-year-olds catapulted themselves in the NBA Draft, with Amen selected fourth overall by the Houston Rockets and Ausar drafted one pick later by the Detroit Pistons.
The general manager of Overtime Elite is a familiar name for NBA fans. Damien Wilkins is the nephew of Dominique and son of Gerald and played 10 years in the NBA. He has been with the Overtime Elite program since it began in 2021 and has provided NBA prospects another avenue to reach the league without the one-and-done route that has wasted the time of many college coaches and players.
“It’s been a lot of what I suspected it would be and it’s been a lot of things I had no idea it would be,” Wilkins said after two seasons. “There’s so many places and people that we touch and there’s so many things we just have our hands in. I didn’t know it would be this granular. We have come in, disrupted, done things differently, and fought criticism. It’s constant education, but it’s been amazing for me.”
Wilkins was a prospect from Orlando before playing two years at North Carolina State, then transferring to Georgia before an NBA career as an undrafted free agent. Overtime Elite offers another path, placing prospects in state-of-the-art training facilities, as well as academic assistance. It’s more than just a basketball academy.
“The biggest difference is just options. We were limited when I was coming up. We didn’t have anything like this,” Wilkins said. “We certainly didn’t have NIL. We didn’t even have social media. It was one thing and no matter how good we were or how hard we played, we weren’t profiting off of that at all. We might get a couple of pairs of shoes here and there but for the most part, anything more than that was an extra benefit that could take away your eligibility, now you see guys driving cars that people dreamed of having, going places, making tons of money in this space legally, appearing on platforms that just weren’t around or didn’t exist.”
With name, image, likeness opportunities and other financial streams, the players are affected differently. Sometimes, the money they earn as high school and college prospects are enough, but they don’t get better. Some do get better despite the financial windfalls.
“With those things, there’s a difference in hunger and you can see that a lot like some guys, they literally at 16, 17, 18 years old making life-changing money,” Wilkins said. “How do you stay hungry when that happens? The special ones do it and they continue working hard. We played hard because we were playing for self, that was all we had to play for and scholarships. Nowadays these guys are playing for a ton of different things and it’s amazing to see.”
Wilkins said that the success of the Thompson Twins has brought a flood of other parents bringing their kids to Overtime Elite. But Wilkins said the program’s job is not to tell them what they want to hear. The Thompson Twins’ rise is not normal. Not every Overtime Elite kid is going to become a lottery pick, let alone make an NBA roster.
“A lot of what we do here is showing them and being honest with them and not just validating what they think they are but actually being honest with them,” he said. " We don’t promise them a pro path. What we promise is we are going to help them be better every single day. If you lean into the program that we’re giving you, you’re going to leave here a successful person. Now what that looks like now for you, it may not involve professional basketball.
“We’d be lying if we told them that we promise that they’re going to be a pro when they leave here. And many of them want that but then they also ask us to be honest with them, so we’ve got to be honest.”
Wilkins said the future of Overtime Elite was definitely enhanced by the success of the Thompson Twins. But that simply raises expectations.
“It can be a gift and a curse, depending on your perspective,” he said. “We did a lot to help them but they did a lot to help themselves while they were here, too. It takes a special kind of buy-in and discipline despite whatever program we give you.
“They were poster children for that. They worked their butts off every single day. They knew what they’re goal was and they went after it every day and it takes a special type of talent for that to happen. It also takes some grit, it takes some discipline.
“They were great for themselves and they were great for business, to be honest. After the draft, business got really good and expectations went through the roof and families were calling and more families were willing to listen.”
But Overtime Elite will be expected to produce more NBA players. That’s why many parents are taking this unconventional route with their children. Wilkins said the staff understands the increased expectations, especially with a documentary debuting soon on Amazon about the program and the rise of the Thompsons. He said Overtime Elite is ready for the next step.
“And then criticism came with that because it always does. ‘Aww, those guys were going to be pros regardless,’’ Wilkins said. “Let’s see them do it again. Our staff hears that and our people here are super competitive in that regard, so we are going to hope people are saying that because if we were on the outside looking in, I would say the same thing. Let’s see if they can produce another one.
“We had to lace up our boots after the draft. Can we do this again? Do we have enough [players] in the [program] to keep people coming back to us? We believe now that we do and we believe we can. Twelve pros in two years, that’s not bad so far. We understand we have a lot of work to do ahead of us but I love where we’re trending.”
THE HARD TRUTH
Perkins tells his story of a difficult upbringing
Kendrick Perkins told the Globe he had to be brutally honest telling his own story, so the former Celtic had to reveal a troubled relationship with his father Kenneth, a former player at Lamar University in the 1980s, who also played in New Zealand while Kendrick was being raised in Texas by his grandparents. The elder Perkins was not a factor in his son’s early life, and Kendrick had to depend on others for life’s necessities.
“It was hard because when you’re writing and you’re telling your story, you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. But you also want to tell the truth,” he said. “The truth is I don’t have to live with it, he do. And eventually the story was going to come out. He as a man is the one that has to own up to that, not me. I had to let people know that side of it because there were so many times that I cried myself to sleep at night because I was wondering what would life be like if my mom was here, that comfort. Grandparents give you a different type of comfort but parents give you a different type of security. My mom, with the tragic death of her, it was like I was in need for him to be there and he wasn’t there.
“And it wasn’t like he was in jail or on drugs. He’s overseas playing basketball and he knows about this situation and just like, ‘forget everything, I’m not even going to support financially’ where my grandmother was making $40 or $60 per week. My grandfather making $350 a month cleaning the church. We’re trying to survive and they’re trying to raise a child that’s growing at a rapid pace in a country town when all of a sudden my feet are getting too big and it’s becoming expensive.
“It was hard because you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but then again, I didn’t make that bed, he made it. And at some point he was going to have to face it. He knew I was going to tell the story.”
Perkins said he has allowed his father to become part of his children’s lives and harbors no ill will. But it was fatherhood that changed Kendrick.
“And still to this day, I’m not upset with him at all,” Perkins said. “I don’t have a grudge with him or dislike him, it was just part of the story. I haven’t spoken to my dad in 2½ years. My wife that I’ve been with forever, she actually surprised me and he actually came [to an NBA Finals game] in 2008. He actually witnessed me winning the championship. With me, there’s no hate in my heart. But then again, our conversations when we get by ourselves is ‘what do you really want to talk about?’ It’s too late for an apology, you already missed about 24 years of my life but I’m not mad at you.
“I got four kids and here are your grandbabies and you can have contact and call them at any time. When it comes down to these kids, I don’t have nothing that’s going to be in the way and I let him know that. But I think it’s just to the point, it’s not about fixing a relationship because I’m not mad.”
Perkins said he also wanted to be honest in his book about NBA life.
“In the NBA, because they have this narrative that when you land on the road it’s 50 or 100 women waiting in the hotel,” he said. “That [expletive] not true. That’s so far from the truth and I just had to address stuff like that. Half the time, for security purposes, they don’t even want you to know the hotel you’re pulling up to. You’re not even allowed in the lobby.
“I talked about playing with 11 Hall of Famers and I talked about my experience in each organization. You know how I feel about Boston. I talked about my time in Oklahoma because I spent 4½ years there and it was another great situation.”
Perkins also revealed he attended anger management courses while he was in Oklahoma City after he felt like he was losing control of his emotions.
“I went to anger management in Kansas City for two months that [OKC general manager] Sam Presti requested me to go to.
“I was in classes from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Nobody ever knew that but it was good for me when I was in there with high-powered, big-time doctors that had got sent down there because they were abusing their power in their work field. I talked about how that changed me as well. When I came out of there, I started handling situations different, I started thinking before I put myself in certain situations.”
Perkins said he wanted to relay the important message that those who are having trouble with mental health should seek help. Historically, those in underrepresented communities have been shamed when admitting mental issues.
“That’s why I say the Education of Kendrick Perkins because I also let people know it’s OK to get [expletive] help,” he said. “In the African-American community when I was growing up, if you say you were going to get help or get counseling, you were frowned upon. People were laughing at you. Now it’s OK, if you’re going through a problem to go get help. We need to start making to the young people that it’s OK because you see so many children going through adversity and the first thing they think of is let me take myself out.
“They have these breakdowns and it could be stopped by just having a conversation. It don’t have to be a counselor. It could be somebody you trust. Over time I started to manage and figure out how to do both because I was always a cool, laidback dude, especially with the people that I knew.”
Perkins said fatherhood changed his life, turned him into a gentler man.
“The No. 1 thing that gets you straight is having a kid, once you start having children,” he said. “It makes you view life differently because you’re not living and doing it for yourself anymore. You’re doing it for your kid. It was everything. It’s a process and it instantly changed me for the better. Having a family actually added another five or six years to my career because it slows you down. When you’re single in the league, you’ve got to have a certain type of discipline on a day-to-day basis, but when you have a family it slows you down because you don’t have free time.”
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