Atlanta - If you walk through Atlantic Station, you might just miss it. Nestled in alongside the shops and restaurants, underneath the offices, is a glimpse at what one new league hopes is part of the future of pro basketball. That includes players who could be in high school instead earning six-figure salaries.
"Working with some of the best athletes in the world to prepare for life in and beyond basketball is at the core of our mission," said Overtime Elite president and commissioner Aaron Ryan.
Overtime Elite, based at a facility next to Atlantic Station, is a new professional basketball league for players 16-20 years old. They recruited players for their first season from all over the country and some international players. This includes former Newton High School player TJ Clark, who gave up his senior high school season to take part.
"When I first heard about it I was actually in class," said Clark. "As soon as I got here, I knew I made the right decision. Even my mom said it turned a light bulb on in me."
Clark is one of 27 players taking part in this first season, which started in late 2021. They are broken into three teams, and they compete against each other as well as prep schools and top high schools from around the country. They are paid a minimum of $100,000 per year, according to Overtime Elite, and enjoy other perks as well, including equity in the newfound league.
There is a tradeoff – since the players are paid, they lose their ability to play college basketball down the line.
"What's better [about this path versus the traditional one] is that there's options," said Ryan. "The reality of it, is that while this is innovative in the United States, this is not groundbreaking around the rest of the world. Whether you are a prodigy in the world of music, a tennis player, a golfer, or an international soccer player for sure. It may not be for everybody, it certainly should be an option for those that want to take it."
Overtime Elite says they will give players academic scholarships should they choose to go that route after their playing careers.
As for Clark, he hopes this experience will help and speed up his path towards playing in the NBA.
"Instead of me jogging, I'm running," said Clark.
The NBA is the ultimate goal for these players, and it may not be long before an Overtime Elite alum plays on that stage. Point guard Jean Montero is projected by some as a possible first round pick in this year's NBA Draft.
Overtime Elite's first season concludes in early March. Home games are played at Atlantic Station, which fans can buy tickets for and attend. A game schedule and ticket information can be found on Overtime Elite's website.