How NC State star DJ Burns has capitalized on March Madness

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos04/03/24

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Nba Or Nfl? Evaluating The Potential Future For Nc State Star Dj Burns | 04.02.24

The legend of DJ Burns Jr. continues to grow.

On Tuesday night at an Applebee’s in Raleigh, the NC State superstar took an hour to meet with Wolfpack fans. Videos from the event showed a packed restaurant with a line stretching out the door. Dubbed “Meet the DJs,” NC State guard DJ Horne was also in attendance.

Nothing can overshadow what Burns has accomplished over these past 22 days. The Wolfpack entered the ACC conference tournament with a 17-14 overall record and a losing record in the league. They needed to win the whole thing to even make March Madness, forget an at-large berth. Coach Kevin Keatts was on the proverbial hot seat. Burns’ college career, after previous stops at Tennessee and Winthrop, was approaching a halt.

Those moments are the birth of Burns’ growing folk hero status. The senior averaged 15.2 points across five games in the ACC tourney, capturing the title over rival North Carolina. The Wolfpack have now won nine straight games entering this weekend’s Final Four. Burns was named the Most Outstanding Player of the South Region after dismantling Duke. He’s averaging 18.3 points through four tournament games.

In the age of social media and college athletes profiting from name, image and likeness, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward has become the star of the tournament he was never supposed to make.

“Man, the last three weeks?” said Ken Caldwell, who has worked as Burns’ agent for the last two years. “It’s probably been the most nerve-wracking three weeks you could ever have because you go into a must-not-lose situation to now you’re just getting used to it. Beating people. For me, it’s been a thrilling ride, man, to watch them lock in like this. It’s a beautiful thing to watch when you see a team lock in – Oh my God. And they keep it going? It’s become swag at that point.”

DJ Burns reliability paying off in NIL deals

What has made DJ Burns a fan favorite in recent weeks is his relatability. His toothy smile lights up the court. Speaking to The Athletic recently, he was honest that his weight has probably played a role in his likeability.

“It gave me an avenue,” he said. “It gave me a platform that most people don’t have, just because I’m unique.”

Those traits that have made him a recognizable name in March have paid off away from the court through endorsement deals. Caldwell and Mike Naiditch, who rep Burns together, have seen up close how the NC State player has embraced the fame. He recently told Barstool Sports that he operates a couple of vending machines to turn a small profit on the side.

That entrepreneurship mentality is not new to Caldwell and Naiditch. Since the start of the ACC Tournament, Burns’ Instagram following has spiked by more than 180,000 followers, now sitting at roughly 203,000 followers. His agents said they’ve been fielding calls and deal offers nonstop, with the influx in followers alluring to top brands.

“With DJ being such a natural, he just feels good behind the camera and making people happy and that smile,” Caldwell said. “So with DJ and all these deals coming in, it’s been actually a joy to do more so than most people would think it’d be hectic, but it’s not. It’s more of a joy.”

As of Wednesday morning, Burns has inked agreements with adidasBarstool SportsCVS PharmacyDaps, ManscapedRaising Cane’s and Intuit TurboTax. Caldwell did not disclose a specific number but told On3 that in the last three weeks, Burns has made well over six figures in endorsement dollars yet under $500,000.

NIL tactics will change in Final Four for DJ Burns

A year ago, for the first time since 1970, three teams made their first Final Four appearance in this tournament. This year’s field in Phoenix is starkly different.

UConn is looking to become the first program to repeat since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Purdue is playing its best ball at the right time, back in the Final Four for the first time since 1980. Zach Edey scored a career-high 40 points against Tennessee on Sunday. Alabama looks primed to climb into blue blood status with this year’s Final Four as the stepping stone.

And then there’s the Wolfpack, which stole a tournament bid and is still dancing in the final weekend. They’ll have to beat the Boilermakers to keep the streak going. NC State’s current win probably is 18%, according to KenPom.

But Burns and his teammates already defined probabilities in March. It’s why they’ll play for a chance to play for the national title on Saturday night. Burns will be in charge of guarding Edey in the semifinals. The Purdue big man has not been able to capitalize on NIL at the same level as Burns because current F-1 visas do not allow athletes to engage in employment outside of “on-campus” work, meaning NIL activations.

There will be plenty of time after the tournament, Naiditch said, to focus on what comes next for Burns and continuing to capitalize financially. The goal this weekend is to walk away with a national championship trophy.

“There will be more deals, for sure,” Naiditch said. “But the Final Four is not the same as the lead Elite Eight marketing-wise. The challenge is to be mindful that basketball comes first right now. DJ has to perform again. Two more games. So yes, you’ll see some deals but also leaving some room for basketball.”