Overtime Elite exhibition brings out top prospects, lively crowd

Credit: Adam Hagy/Overtime Elite

Credit: Adam Hagy/Overtime Elite

Overtime Elite held an exhibition Thursday at Atlantic Station, showcasing a smorgasbord of future NBA players across three games.

The energy and enthusiasm in the OTE arena were another reminder of Atlanta’s underappreciated love for basketball, especially at the younger levels. The arena was packed and lively for more than six hours, each of its exhibition contests giving fans reasons to stay loud.

In the ever-evolving prep basketball landscape, OTE is an up-and-comer. The league consists of six teams – double that of its inaugural season – and will play a 15-to-18 game schedule from November to February, plus a postseason.

The venue has put OTE at the forefront of player development. It hosts 30 athletes, offering three NBA-size courts, a weight room and a chef that cooks three meals a day for players. It has personalized education plans which, beyond basic curriculum, also offer classes on relevant qualities such as media training and the “business of basketball.”

Credit: Adam Hagy/Overtime Elite

Credit: Adam Hagy/Overtime Elite

OTE offers two forms of compensation: An athlete can accept a scholarship to preserve NCAA eligibility or sign a professional contract of six figures annually, plus bonuses and equity shares. Naasir Cunningham, the highest-ranked signee as the No. 3 recruit in 2024 class per 247Sports, was the first to forego a salary so he would have college eligibility after graduating from high school. Cunningham still can benefit from NIL, of course. He said he has scholarship offers from Texas, Duke, Arkansas and Kansas, among others.

After OTA chose Atlanta as its host over seven other potential cities, the league cited Atlanta’s “rich” basketball history among the reasons for that decision. The 103,000 square-foot arena has since become everything OTE had envisioned, but Thursday perhaps was its true coming-out party.

The arena was packed to its 1,300 capacity. The contests were engaging, featuring in-game narrations and constant communication with the crowd. The basketball was an easy watch with so many players aspiring to eventually reach the peak of the profession. Even some members of the Orlando Magic, including 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, enjoyed from the sideline (the Magic play the Hawks on Friday).

Cunningham’s YNG Dreamerz opened Thursday’s festivities against the Columbus Explorers of Miami, led by the lauded Boozer twins, Cayden and Cameron (the sons of former NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer). Cameron is the No. 1 player in the 2025 class; Cayden is No. 24. The Explorers won 85-71. Cameron had 28 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and a couple of steals.

The OTE venue was built by stars – Jeff Bezos and Drake were among the heavy hitters chipping in – so it’s no surprise it draws them. On this night, the headliner, as it so often is in the NBA, was a LeBron James.

LeBron Jr., who goes by “Bronny,” and brother Bryce James took their talents to Atlantic Station on Thursday evening with the California Basketball Club. Only Bronny played, scoring 16 points. He’s a high school senior while Bryce is class of 2025.

Credit: Kyle Hess/Overtime Elite

Credit: Kyle Hess/Overtime Elite

They weren’t the only big-name offspring on the California team. Justin Pippen (Scottie’s son), Drew Fisher (Derek’s son) and Ashton Hardaway (Penny’s son) joined the James brothers. Hardaway scored a team-high 19. Despite all the name power, OTE’s City Reapers won the game 66-51.

The City Reapers are highlighted by the Thompson twins. Amen and Ausar, Oakland natives, enter their second season with OTE. They were the highest-profile prospects to commit to the program. Both players, superb athletes to such a degree that some invoke young Russell Westbrook comparisons, are projected as potential top-10 picks in the next draft.

“I block that (out) because mock drafts don’t mean anything right now,” Amen said. “You can’t let that stuff faze you or else you’ll get complacent.”

Ausar was the OTE Finals MVP last season, but he missed Thursday’s game with a tweaked ankle. Amen led all scorers with 18 points and was the most impressive prospect for most of the game – and maybe the best player on the court Thursday night.

The Thompsons would become the first players drafted into the NBA from OTE after the league was shut out in the NBA draft following its inaugural year. Given the talent it’s attracting now, OTE should only grow in prominence.

One more takeaway from the night: the turnout. Football dominates the South, including the Atlanta area. Nothing compares. But the focus on football sometimes overshadows the appreciation this area has for basketball.

High school basketball always has been popular around Atlanta. The region routinely produces high-level talents, too. Recent players include Jaylen Brown, Anthony Edwards and Jabari Smith. Mr. Georgia has ranged from Kenny Walker (1983) to Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1994-95) to Dwight Howard (2004) to Smith (2021), who after one season at Auburn went No. 3 overall in the latest draft and made his debut for the Rockets Wednesday night. (He had a large contingent for that.)

The captivated audience at OTE is a refreshing reminder of how passionate this area can be for hoops. The league provides another avenue for fans to consume more advanced prep basketball. These exhibitions felt like they mattered, both to the players and consumers. For a league that launched in March, it was quite the platform.

“It’s a beautiful arena,” Cameron Boozer said. “The practice courts, the big arena, the lights. It’s an amazing place to play. The atmosphere, the announcers, it’s just amazing.”

OTE’s future remains intriguing, especially if graduating high school players are soon granted draft eligibility. The league only further advertises basketball in Atlanta. Nights like Thursday remind us how fun a sports city this is, even beyond football and the Braves.