Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens greeted friends and well-wishers on the way to his courtside seat. Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Elton Brand checked in with arena staff as he entered the arena. Rapper/entrepreneur 2 Chains and his kids posed for pictures with fans before the game. Just another game day at Overtime Elite (OTE).
OTE is no longer something to do when you’re done shopping at Atlantic Station. It’s one of the hottest tickets in town.
The line to get into OTE Arena stretched far back to the parking spots underneath Atlantic Station Thursday night. The first-year experimental basketball league was heading into its final week of play and fans were taking advantage of the 7pm tip-off time. Normally there are doubleheaders (and sometimes three games on a night like this) but the finals was something different all together. One game would take place on this night and the building was packed for it. It would be a similar situation the following night and much more of the same for game three of the finals. What began as an anomaly -teenage basketball players brought to Atlanta to form a league of their own- has quickly become a must-see weekend event in a city with no shortage of professional and collegiate sports to follow.
On the court Thursday night were Team OTE and Team Elite, squads of some of the most talented teenage basketball talent in the country, and in the case of young men like Emmanuel Maldonado, Izan Almansa and Kok Yat, the world. The idea to take this young talent and bring them together in Atlanta to live, train and hopefully prepare for NBA and overseas professional leagues has been a success if Wednesday night’s crowd was any proof.
Talents like 6-foot-7 Syracuse native Jai Smith, a prime target for the Syracuse Orangemen and other college basketball powerhouse programs after a huge junior season at Word of God Christian Academy, is a 2022 draft eligible player. The 6-foot-7 Thompson twins, Amen and Ausar, and guard Bryce Griggs are getting ready for the 2023 NBA draft while the draft eligible class of 2024 might be the deepest collection of talent on one team/organization in the country. The best player in the state of Arkansas last year, Bryson Warren, a wiry guard that was the first sophomore to win the state’s Mr. Basketball honor, has one of his best games of the season during game two of the finals. Warren was being recruited by nearly every high-profile college program in the country. Centers Jahzare Jackson, a San Diego native, and Alex Sarr, a Frenchman, are also a part of the 2024 class. Jackson has been on college scouts radars since he was in the seventh grade. Sam Perkins look-alike Tyler Smith, a 6-foot-11 forward with a smooth shooting touch and the Bewley twins, highly recruited Florida natives, have all used this platform to showcase their potential and talents.
Covington native TJ Clark was high on the list of local colleges and first team all-state following his junior season at Newton High School. His time at OTE has assisted in helping his star to rise in the eyes of the professional scouts that have visited OTE Arena this season.
With the Georgia State University Panthers preparing to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since popular head coach Ron Hunter left for New Orleans, the Atlanta Hawks in the middle of a race for one of the last Eastern Conference playoff spots and Atlanta United preparing to host newly minted Major League Soccer single-game attendance record holder Charlotte FC the OTE remained a big ticket in town. Overtime Elite told The Atlanta Voice that the entire finals series was sold out. A sellout best-of-three series during one of the busiest months on the sports calendar is a good sign, not only for OTE but for future OTE investors as well.
The idea that high school kids playing in a bubble across the street from Atlantic Station seemed crazy some months ago but now not so much.