What’s the Value of a High-Level Prep Athlete?
By Tyre Pinder
It is long been a fact that professional athletes are very influential, and with that influence, their likeness is worth a substantial amount because of it.
Obvious notable names are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, and the late Kobe Bryant (R.I.P.). While it is blatantly obvious that professionals have had an immeasurable influence on sports culture, the sphere of influence has stretched to lower and lower levels of sports, but for now, I’ll focus on basketball.
Going back to the fab five with their iconic baggy shorts and long socks, this, in my opinion, is the first notable occurrence of nonprofessional athletes influencing the sport. However, the year is now 2020 and it seems that now high school players are major players and significant drivers/taste marketers for the sport, their likeness being worth more than they ever have. The most iconic basketball player of all time may still be LeBron James, but the gap seems to be getting smaller and smaller every year, at least at first glance. Let us examine the explosion of the significance of the high school athlete.
The new era of the high school athlete and contributions from media outlets
Thanks in large part to the internet media juggernaut YouTube, athletes can be seen by the masses at earlier and earlier stages, a process I have personally seen and monitored over the years. ESPN now has a platform for high teams with a full season of games on this network. From Andrew Wiggins to Emoni Bates, and Bronny James, the visibility of players who have not even completed high school has grown exponentially. One of the most notable movements originating from the high school hardwood is the Jelly Fam movement out of NYC. The flashy handle and innovative layup sporting group made waves just a couple years ago on the internet racking up millions of views and imitators. Members such as Isaiah Washington, currently of the Iona University basketball and formerly Minnesota, Javhon Quinerly currently at Alabama, and Naz Reid currently of the Minnesota Timberwolves. With cameras following them across the country, their entertaining play style, magnetic personalities, coupled with their high profile at the prep level, a massive fanbase has emerged in a short period of time.
The power of branding for scholastic athletes’ impact at the professional level
To this day players at all levels can be seen doing their signature “jelly” layup. Their influence was much larger than the prep level, and this can be seen with their obscure and short dispute with Nike. In 2017 Nike released a shoe in kids' sizes only, which of course is not the issue, the problem comes with the design. A pair of the Nike PG1, signature shoe of NBA superstar Paul George, was released with the title of “grape”. However, the shoe sports a design and color scheme eerily like the logo the Jelly Fam had previously made famous. Nike has since done a great job of explaining the situation, stating that simply Paul George loves grapes, (which is hilarious although Paul George does indeed love grapes) the fact that the two can even be on the same level for comparison speaks volumes for their level of popularity at the time. High school players clearly have monetary value, so now what? thought for another day.
Potential earnings for elite scholastic athletes
Athletic Director U recently estimated the amount some high school players could make given the ability to profit off their likeness. The highest among them being Bronny James at $4 million, Zaire Wade at $1.5 million, and Mikey Williams at $1.4 million. None of these players have yet to graduate high school, but two of them are just one year removed from their middle school graduation. With this begs the question, should they be allowed to profit from their likeness. According to Athletic Director U these young players still in the infant stages of their careers are worth more than most non-NBA pros. At the ages of 15 and 18 respectively these players could potentially earn more than a 10-year vet on a minimum contract. Why shouldn’t they be able to reap the benefits of an opportunity they may, unfortunately, never get again? For most players, high school is the pinnacle of an elite player's career. Never again may they score 50 points, win various accolades, or be considered the best of the best as they climb the levels of the basketball totem pole.
So now what?
With the potential mass exodus of players going straight to the G-League or overseas, Jalen Green, Isiah Todd, LaMelo Ball, and RJ Hampton, we may see more power given to the players. After all the likeness and value scholastic athletes have demonstrated, someone will capitalize on the opportunity where grassroots basketball is governed by professional sports organization and the NBA going into three-tier farm system like baseball, but that is a thought for another day.