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5-star Naasir Cunningham on growing up a Duke fan, OTE & NIL

joe tipton headshot updatedby:Joe Tipton06/21/22


Class of 2024 five-star Naasir Cunningham shocked the high school basketball landscape in April when he announced his intentions to sign with the Overtime Elite league (OTE). The news came as a surprise to most, but something very noteworthy came along with this announcement. Cunningham, the No. 1 overall prospect in the class, would remain college eligible. How is this possible you ask? Cunningham did not take on a salary from OTE, therefore, allowing him to maintain his amateur status. Instead, the 6-foot-7 wing from New Jersey accepted OTE’s new secondary option of a scholarship to play, train, and participate in their league. This option will allow Cunningham to profit off of his name, image, and likeness.

On3 caught up with Cunningham and the USA Basketball U17 tryouts in Colorado Springs to discuss his decision to join OTE, as well as his college recruitment.

Cunningham talks Overtime Elite league

Here’s my exclusive conversation with Cunningham in a Q&A format.

Q: How did this OTE option come about for you?

A: “Really, at the first, I had to find a new place for my development. We were looking at a bunch of high schools, and OTE reached out. It’s obviously a great opportunity there but I wanted to explore other options.

“If my college eligibility is done, then I have to go to the league or I’m fighting for a spot somewhere else.”

*Cunningham is referring to the salary option at OTE that would cause him to lose his college eligibility.*

“My parents, the staff at OTE, and I talked to the NCAA and they figured something out. We came out with that deal, which was ultimately the best decision for me.”

*The ‘deal’ Cunningham is referring to is the scholarship option that OTE now offers players, as previously mentioned. Since Cunningham is not taking on a salary from Overtime, he will be able to keep his college eligibility intact. A plus of joining OTE? Name, image, and likeness opportunities, only sweetening the pot for Cunningham. He says “a couple” NIL deals are in the works, but nothing is official yet.*

Q: How difficult was the decision to join OTE when you knew practically every powerhouse prep school in the country wanted you?

A: “It was difficult because I didn’t know much about OTE, and I already had my mind set on a couple of high schools. Then my parents brought it to me and they were like ‘I really think you should consider this and they started explaining it to me. I started thinking about it and I was like ‘wow, that’s really big. That’s huge for me.’ So we did it, and I’m pretty proud of my decision.”

Cunningham talks college recruitment, potential visits, and Duke being his dream school growing up

Beginning on June 15th, college coaches were able to make direct contact for the first time with their class of 2024 recruits. Like other top prospects, Cunningham’s phone was constantly buzzing. 

Q: Which schools have been contacting you the most since the direct contact period began?

A: “Texas has been reaching out a lot. Arkansas, Oregon, Kansas, Kansas State, Duke, Kentucky reached out, and a couple other schools. I can’t really remember off the top of my head. But they’ve been keeping in contact with me, making sure I’m good. It’s really good that they’re building a relationship with me early. It’ll help with my decision later.”

Q: Have you set up any college visits?

A: “Not yet. I think any visit I take will be after summer since I’ve been so busy. But I think I’m going to try to get Duke in, for sure.”

*Naasir Cunningham has already taken five unofficial visits — Rutgers, St. John’s, UConn, UCLA, and Duke.*

Q: Did you have a dream school growing up?

A: “Growing up, my dream school was Duke. I was a big Duke fan.”

Q: Why was Duke your dream school?

A: “It was always a big-named school and everybody was talking about Duke. Really, one of my friends in kindergarten, put me on to college basketball, because I didn’t even know what it was. And he used to come in with the Duke jerseys and I would be like ‘what’s that?’ So I started watching college basketball and started watching Duke. I didn’t know who was on the team or anything, I was just watching because I love basketball so that’s really what stuck with me so I was always a Duke fan.”

Q: What have the early conversations been like with the Duke staff?

A: “I’ve spoken to at least six coaches from Duke. They always reach out, and they constantly remind me that I’m their guy, they love me, and they want me at their school. It feels great knowing my dream school growing up is heavy on me.”

Q: Has Mackenzie (Mgbako) been recruiting you to Duke?

*Naasir Cunningham’s former high school teammate at Gill St. Bernard’s, fellow five-star Mackenzie Mgbako, a Duke commit, has been playfully recruiting him to be a Blue Devil.*

A: “Yeah, he always jokes around, saying ‘come to Duke’, ‘come to Duke’.

NIL and who he’d like to team up with in college

Q: How much of a role will NIL make in your college decision, if at all?

A: “I think NIL has helped a lot with that because no matter where I go, I’m going to make some type of money. But really, it’s not about the money at this point. It’s about the game I love, which is basketball. I’m going to do what I do, and whatever I do with it, is a benefit for me.”

Q: Do you have an idea as to who’d you like to team up with at the college level?

A: “A lot of my Jersey guys. Elliot (Cadeau), Tahaad (Pettiford), Dylan (Harper), a lot of those guys. When the time comes, that’s definitely something that will weigh in, who’s at the school, who’s going to be there when I’m playing there. That’s all important to me.”

Naasir Cunningham Scouting Summary

Naasir Cunningham is a long, rangy, and athletic wing prospect. You first notice the frame, he looks like a basketball player. Offensively, Cunningham is an adept shot-making, extending out to three, off the catch. He will need to continue putting on weight and getting stronger. He is an explosive athlete, which he shows in transition. His length, positional size, and quick-twitch athleticism give the belief he can become a good team defender in time. Would like to see him attack the basket more, not settle for jump shots, but his ability to create space and knock down shots has him trending at the top of the 2024 class. – Jamie Shaw, On3’s National Recruiting Analyst