N.J. basketball star turns down big money to stay in high school
Published: Aug. 18, 2021, 10:00 a.m.
Roselle Catholic's Simeon Wilcher (4) looks to get past Elizabeth's Evan Perez (2) during the boys basketball game at Roselle Catholic High School on 2/26/21.Tom Horak | For NJ Advance Media
By Adam Zagoria | For NJ Advance Media
Simeon Wilcher, a Plainfield native and rising junior guard at Roselle Catholic, is only 17 years old, but he already has turned down a high-six-figure offer to play professional basketball for the next two years with the fledgling Overtime Elite League based in Atlanta, his father said.
“The Overtime Elite thing, it sounds amazing,” Wilcher said Monday by phone. “It sounds like some stuff where if you take it serious, you could become whatever you were looking forward to being.”
Wilcher — 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds — is ranked the No. 2 combo guard nationally in the Class of 2023 by 247Sports.com, and holds scholarship offers from Kansas, Syracuse, UConn, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Illinois, Oregon, UCLA, Iowa and Auburn, among others. Last month, he helped lead his NY Rens to the semifinals of the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., with a slew of high-major coaches watching.
Wilcher ultimately looks forward to playing in the NBA. But for now, he and his family have decided that college is his best path toward that goal — and so they said thanks, but no thanks, to Brandon Williams, Overtime Elite’s executive vice president and head of basketball operations.
“I told them no. They’re still going to try to get me to say yeah, but I’m not changing my mind,” said Sergio Wilcher, who has four sons, including, C.J. Wilcher, a 6-5 freshman guard at Nebraska, and Simeon.
He added of Simeon: “He’s still a child, a 17-year-old junior, and you’re still learning how to navigate life in itself, all the way around. Last year, we weren’t having dating conversations, now it’s a topic of conversation. ... Yes, I do believe my kids are going to play basketball for money, so you have to have a different type of sense of who you are before you go in the world. You have to learn how to say no because you can’t spread yourself too thin. You have people who are trying to professionally get at you and take what you have and take advantage of that situation.”
WHAT IS OVERTIME ELITE?
Announced in March, Overtime Elite initially raised $140 million in funding from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Canadian hip hop star Drake and more than 25 current and former NBA players, including Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
The pro league — aimed at 16- to 18-year-olds — was an outgrowth of Overtime, which was founded in 2016 and distributes original sports content to an audience of nearly 50 million followers across its social media platforms. The company, which has more than 125 employees, said in April its programming is viewed more than 14 billion times a year.
After a slow start, Overtime Elite has signed 15 players from the U.S. and overseas for its inaugural season in 2021-22, most recently including Bryce Griggs, a a 6-foot-2 Class of 2022 point guard from Missouri City, Texas.
In April, the league hired former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as its head coach and in May, Overtime announced it is constructing a 103,000-square-foot complex in Atlanta, where prep players will train, study and compete. Overtime is building a school that it says will have a 4-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio and will focus on professional skill training, like financial literacy and social media education.
“The platform is great, I’m about everything they’re doing,” Sergio Wilcher said. “The reason they’re doing it, it makes sense. They’re talking about giving kids development and making them ready [for the pros].”
The league says in its releases that “every Overtime player will earn a six-figure salary, with a guaranteed minimum salary of at least $100,000 per year, plus bonuses and shares of equity in Overtime. In addition, players will participate in revenue from use of their name, image and likeness, including through sales of custom jerseys, trading cards, video games and NFTs.”
The offer to Wilcher was originally in the mid-six-figures before Overtime upped it to the high-six-figures, excluding the bonuses and equity, his father said.
The NBA G League, which is separate from Overtime and has not yet offered Wilcher, also has made waves in the last year or so by signing several top high school stars to six-figure deals for its NBA pathway. For instance, former Patrick School star Jonathan Kuminga, who became the No. 7 pick in last month’s NBA Draft, has been excelling for the Golden State Warriors in NBA Summer League.
“With the G League stuff, I feel like that’s very beneficial for guys,” Simeon Wilcher said. “With Jonathan, you can see he changed from where he was playing against us junior year of high school [during the 2019-20 season] and now what he’s doing in the Summer League.”
‘I NEED A LITTLE BIT MORE TIME’
Simeon Wilcher said his family turned down Overtime for several reasons.
First, Simeon wants to enjoy the remainder of his high school experience, which will include going to the prom (he picked out his suit in the sixth grade) and potentially playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2023.
“Stuff like that matters. I know my family wants to see me walk across that stage in senior year when I graduate,” Simeon said. “Just doing regular high-school teenage things, those experiences matter and you can never get them back.”
He added that he’s not quite ready to leave home and live the life of a professional — no matter the money involved.
“I feel like I would do well in the [Overtime] situation, I just feel like I need a little bit more time before I can really put myself out there like that,” he said. “When you sign things like that, it goes straight from childhood to you’re a man. Now you’ve got to deal with all different aspects that come with dealing with that type of money and not only being away from home because you’re going to have to be away from home sooner or later. But you still have things you have to learn and grow before you can make a step like that.”
Second, due to the new name, image and likeness rules that will allow high school and college athletes to profit off themselves, Wilcher can earn money without going the pro route as a teenager.
PREP SCHOOLS ARE CALLING, TOO
Overtime isn’t the only one blowing up Sergio Wilcher’s phone, either. The top national prep schools text him on a regular basis, trying to get Simeon to transfer out of Roselle Catholic to play a national schedule and focus even more on basketball.
“I get a call every day from every prep school, just name them,” Sergio said.
But even though Roselle Catholic doesn’t play a national schedule, the three-time Tournament of Champions winners play in some of the top national events, and this year will play in the Metro Classic in New Jersey and the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
“I understand everywhere else they play super-high major schedules but I just feel like why can’t I do that here?” Simeon said of Roselle Catholic. “Why can’t I stay here and play against everybody?”
With his teammate Corey Floyd Jr. reclassifying and heading to UConn for the upcoming season, Wilcher will be counted on even more to be a leader and he’s looking forward to that.
“With this being my full high school season, I feel like this is the perfect chance for me to really become that leader I always thought I could be and help lead my team to the TOC, to help give coach Boff his fourth one,” he said.
Sergio keeps in touch with Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff and Andy Borman, the coach of the Rens, about Simeon’s options. Boff, of course, is glad Wilcher is staying put.
“We are obviously thrilled that Simeon and his family see the value in Roselle Catholic and our basketball program and continue trust us with his development,” he said. “Simeon is a unique talent with unlimited potential and together with his family we will work tirelessly to help him become the best player he can be. The job we do to prepare kids both in the classroom and on the court is something we take great pride in and we work hard at every day for Simeon and the other kids in our program.”
Still, Simeon is not ruling out the chance that in a year from now he might reevaluate his options if the pro offers are still there.
“Yes, I’ll reevaluate it because who knows what the future holds?” he said. “It might be a better situation at that time. But not for right now.”
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Adam Zagoria is a freelance reporter who covers Seton Hall and NJ college basketball for NJ Advance Media.