Current Jayhawks share NIL experiences with KU alums at recent happy hour hosted by the Mass Street Collective
photo by: Matt Tait
Last week, in a room full of dozens of former Kansas basketball players from several different eras, current KU forward Jalen Wilson grabbed the microphone and expressed his gratitude for their contributions to the program.
“One thing that coach has always talked about is making this place better than when you found it,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to do when you all won so much, but, with the support and love that we get every single night from people like you all, it makes it a little bit easier.”
Wilson’s words came during a happy hour hosted by the Mass Street Collective, which manages many of KU’s name, image and likeness opportunities, and the event also gave the current Jayhawks an opportunity to educate the older Jayhawks on what NIL is all about.
Wilson was happy to do so, sharing that the dozens of NIL opportunities given to the Jayhawks so far have been as much about them giving back to the community and various charities as filling their own wallets.
“NIL’s been a huge blessing,” Wilson said at the event that kicked off Kansas basketball’s 125-year anniversary celebration. “The city of Lawrence has given me so much and changed my life for the best. It’s very important because it teaches us not only how to use the money and build from that but also how to put it in the right place and the right direction to not only help ourselves and our families but also the people who support us.”
Hearing that made former KU center Sean Alvarado smile and gave him a slightly better understanding of the current landscape of college athletics.
“We came to KU because this program was tops in the universe,” said Alvarado, who played at KU from 1986-89. “That’s what drew me here. But hearing him say all that makes me feel good. It’s a game changer for these kids.”
Former KU guard Ron Kellogg, who played at KU from 1982-86, did not hide his initial feelings on NIL.
“I only wish that that could’ve happened to my class,” he said.
But he also said he did not begrudge the current crop of Jayhawks for benefitting from it.
“I think it’s great; it’s nothing but positive for these kids,” Kellogg said. “It gives them every reason to work hard. Performance pays. It’s truly a job now, like a professional job, and every day you have to be at your best. There’s competition out there, and you can’t take it lightly.”
There’s another element of responsibility and seriousness that NBA scout and former KU assistant coach Alvin Gentry thinks is important with NIL.
Gentry said he was a big fan of college athletes getting paid in the first place and he believes it should have happened long ago. But he also hopes that the NIL opportunities can be met with some perspective, both in how fortunate these athletes are to get them and how to react when they’re gone. Gentry, who has coached at three universities and with nine NBA franchises, said he will be interested to see how certain athletes go from making big money in college to less money in the NBA’s G League, overseas or when they’re out of basketball altogether.
“If they’re going to do this, I would hope that there’s some way that they could be educated more on money management,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a really important part of the whole thing.”
Mass Street Collective CEO Dan Beckler said events like the one his group hosted last week can help with that. Not only does he see it as the collective’s responsibility to aid current KU athletes in getting endorsement opportunities while they’re in school, but he also believes in the collective’s role in mentoring today’s young athletes and helping the older generations embrace the new era of college athletics.
“People have questions about NIL — how does this help the current student-athletes,” Beckler explained. “And we get to help answer those questions. The former players who played here could have benefited from it if it was always around in their day. They’ve been in those shoes so they understand the need of how it can help today’s student-athletes and why it’s such a critical part of college athletics and Kansas basketball, the future of it, specifically.”
Few people understand that quite as well as KU coach Bill Self, who not only has to continue to coach and recruit at a high level to keep Kansas in the national title picture year in and year out but also has to do his part in making sure Kansas Athletics, and specifically KU basketball, remains at the forefront of NIL, as well.
Self shared some of that with the group of former KU greats who were in town last week, and he started it all off with a classic Bill Self quip.
“I’m not asking anybody for any money,” Self jokingly told the room. “I’m not asking, OK? I’m beggggging you.”
Nearly everyone in attendance laughed. But the message they heard next really brought home the reality of the current situation in college athletics.
“It’s a different world in college basketball these days,” Self said. “The team that won the national championship last year will be the last team in the history of time that won a national championship (with) players (who) weren’t paid to go to their respective schools. It’s the last one. And it’s never going to happen again. In any sport.
He continued: “Every player that was recruited to Kansas (on last year’s team) and probably to (North) Carolina and probably to Duke and probably to Villanova was recruited there with the idea that if you go to school there we’ll put you in position to get the best job and the best degree you can when you get out. There wasn’t incentive to go to school there because of NIL. It’s all different now. Every team that will ever win a championship moving forward will have the influence of name, image and likeness.”
Self said the goals won’t change nor will the work that goes into trying to win a title. But he expressed to the former players in the room that the journey along the way suddenly looks very different than what they remember.
“The pride that you have in watching what happened last April is something that everyone holds dear to their heart,” he told them. “But for us to have that pride again, to have that opportunity to experience that type of success on the national stage, it’s a different game. So, we’ve got to do at least what everybody else is doing and that is support our athletes, in all sports, in a way that they can benefit from their name, image and likeness while they’re here.”