EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Chapin superstar guard KJ Lewis will one day achieve his dream of playing professional basketball. For now though, the 17-year-old high school junior has decided to remain an amateur athlete.
Within the last week, Lewis was offered a lucrative two-year professional contract with upstart basketball league Overtime Elite that would’ve paid him a total of $500,000 ($250,000 per year), Lewis and his family told KTSM. In doing so, he would have forfeited his final two years of high school eligibility, plus any and all collegiate eligibility he planned on using.
The decision was tough for Lewis, but he turned down the contract offer from Overtime Elite on Sunday, instead choosing to remain at Chapin and continuing on a path towards playing college basketball.
“It was really hard, it had my head spinning the whole week,” said Lewis. “The two biggest things were not being able to finish out my high school career and not getting to play in college, which I want to do. If I did it, I would lose out on social activities and I’d move to a different state.
“There were definitely pros and cons,” Lewis continued. “The pros of going would be getting NBA training and being treated like a pro, experiencing new things. The cons were the money (Lewis and his family wanted $2 million), being away from my family and losing out on just being a kid, because if I signed it I’d immediately be a professional athlete.”
Just being considered as an option for the league is quite the honor for Lewis, who is rated as a Top 50 recruit in the nation in the Class of 2023 by every major recruiting service.
Lewis was first approached by Overtime Elite to play in the league early last week. He and his mother, Monica Ramirez, held multiple meetings with league brass, eventually being offered the $500,000 contract on Thursday.
“They reached out to my mom first and she asked me if I would consider it. I wasn’t expecting it because I didn’t think I was on their list,” said Lewis. “We listened to what they had to say and their pitch to us was good, but I decided to stay in high school.”
Set to begin this fall in Atlanta, Overtime Elite is a new professional league that has targeted and signed some of the top high school basketball stars in the classes of 2022 and 2023. All of the players that sign with the league are promised a minimum $100,000 contract, plus bonuses and equity in Overtime. Multiple players have already signed deals worth over $1 million, including Missouri City (TX) guard Bryce Griggs and Fort Bend (TX) forward Tyler Smith.
The single-site Overtime Elite league is the latest innovation from the sports social media giant Overtime, which has risen to prominence in the last decade mainly by posting highlights for a digital audience. With financial backing from the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, rapper Drake and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, Overtime Elite has quickly become a new option for the nation’s top basketball players to explore.
Approximately 30 players will be split into three different teams and play each other for a full season, with the games being streamed for a digital audience. The players will also receive training and guidance from some of the top basketball minds, including former Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie, who will be the OT Elite head coach. Players will also still attend school in a high school equivalency program.
“They offered me the contract and I had three days to decide if I wanted to take it or not, then move to Atlanta really quickly,” Lewis said. “They showed me pictures of their facility on Zoom and it was cool to see.”
The money is eye-popping and Lewis had a big decision to make: turn pro and immediately make six figures, or hold out and continue playing high school basketball, with the plan to eventually play at one of the top collegiate programs in the nation.
As a junior, Lewis currently has 14 Division I scholarship offers from the likes of Houston, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, UTEP and more. Shortly after turning the Overtime Elite deal down, he received his newest offer from 11-time national champion UCLA on Monday.
“(Overtime Elite) was not an opportunity that I expected to come knocking at our door,” said his mother, Monica Ramirez. “I was a bit surprised, but open to listening to their pitch. But he’s had a dream since he was little of playing on the big college stage with fans, then live out the dream of the NBA, something he can do outside of Overtime Elite.”
In affect, he is betting on himself. With the NCAA approving Name, Image and Likeness guidelines on July 1, Lewis could easily make as much, if not more money off of NIL agreements once he reaches college. State of Texas NIL laws do not have any guidance regarding compensation for high school athletes; additionally, UIL guidelines do not currently allow high school athletes to profit off of their likeness.
If and when he makes it to the pros, the NBA riches would, of course, outweigh those he would receive from Overtime Elite. While certainly an intriguing option, the $500,000 was simply not enough to sway Lewis away from his current plans for his basketball career.
“My mom was talking about it a lot, it’s a first-year league,” Lewis said. “Nobody has gone pro from it yet and we don’t know how that’s going to go. So that was another impact, too.”
Money aside, Lewis and his family feel and have always felt that it is immensely important for him to get the chance to be a kid for as long as possible. In April, Ramirez pondered moving Lewis to a high-powered prep school, or a high school in the Dallas Metroplex, for his final two years of high school. However, the family eventually decided that it would be better for him to stay at Chapin for at least another year.
Mom and son are taking a similar approach here; while the Overtime Elite money is enticing, Lewis has many hopes and dreams for his prep basketball career that he would have to forfeit by signing with OTE.
“I’ve always told myself I’ve wanted to be a McDonald’s All-American, all the big events basketball players can do, I want to achieve those things,” Lewis said. “I want to win Peach Jam and experience college, feel that atmosphere and that vibe. All of those were big parts of me turning it down.”
His mother agreed; there will be time to be a professional athlete some day very soon, but now isn’t that time for Lewis.
“I’ve never been one to be led by money,” Ramirez said. “If money is the only thing that’s driving you, then your life will be out of balance. Of course, we want him to make as much money as possible, but it’s not the end-all. Allowing him to have a life outside of basketball is very important to me so that he can be a well-rounded man.”
A non-traditional path to the NBA is still a possibility for Lewis. Players that have come before him have reclassified and gone to college a year earlier than planned. If Lewis does so and goes to college in 2022 rather than 2023, it would be a way for him to capitalize on potential NIL deals a year sooner.
In lieu of college basketball, there is also the NBA’s G-League Ignite team, which allows the nation’s top players to begin professional basketball right out of high school. He could also head overseas and play for one season before entering the NBA Draft, something players like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton have done in recent years.
However, Lewis said he has not yet pondered those possibilities and is instead focused on getting better for the upcoming high school basketball season. Playing college basketball is something that is on his list of priorities as he enters his junior season.
“Even without the NIL rule, I was still wanting to go to experience college. That’s just another advantage for me wanting to go to college,” Lewis said. “Even if that wasn’t a possibility I think I still would want to go to school.”
His mother has long said that the family wants to make the best decision possible for Lewis’ future, not only in basketball, but in life. There is still a list of unknowns regarding Overtime Elite and what will be expected of the players and their families.
Lewis’ family did not fear the potential ramifications of choosing to sign the contract, but they are comfortable with the decision they made to instead stick to the current path laid out for the elite 6’4 guard.
“My job is to teach him that he has everything he needs on the inside to make his dream happen,” said Ramirez. “If he’s willing to stay the course, then he should be able to reach his goal. There will be hurdles and distractions and things come in to challenge that. How he handles that will determine whether or not he reaches the goal.”
Scouts like his work ethic, athleticism, defensive intensity and basketball IQ. Now, he’s refining his jump shot to add to his chances of one day playing in the NBA. He wants to build on a sophomore season at Chapin in 2020-21 in which he led the Huskies to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Lewis is looking forward to two more years of high school, then, “hopefully one year of college” before reaching his NBA goal. Overtime Elite may have been his first professional offer; it certainly won’t be his last.
“I’ll take little lessons from this experience and apply it to the future,” said Lewis. “In the future I will have an agent and be able to think about my options with contracts and endorsements if I’m fortunate enough to get them. It was a good experience to go through and a good problem to have.”