Great Osobor: English basketball star set to make $2m before turning pro

IIn American college sports, the biggest money still goes to the coaches, like Jimbo Fisher, the Texas A&M football coach whose price for failure in recent seasons has been a $77 million buyout. But for the first time in the more than 150-year history of campus sports, the players have started to get a piece of the pie, too. And one of the biggest scores of all just went to a Spanish-born, British-educated basketball star.

Before becoming a star on the American college basketball circuit, Great Osobor played in England for Myerscough College in Preston. Osobor, a 6-foot-4 forward, wasn’t a highly touted prospect before coming to the United States. He began his career in 2021 at Montana State, a lower Division I school with virtually no history of basketball success. Osobor was just a role player for the Bobcats, and after two seasons he transferred to Utah State, another small DI institution in Logan, just over an hour north of Salt Lake City. Osobor was a breakout star in the 2023-24 season, leading the Aggies with 18 points and nine rebounds per game.

And in a newly liberalized college sports economy, the 21-year-old has earned his keep. Previously, athletes couldn’t even switch schools without being benched for a season, under NCAA rules designed to discourage transfers. That rule was gradually unenforced and officially disappeared in 2021. Now Osobor is playing for his third school in four years, and he will be handsomely compensated for it. ESPN reported that Osobor will collect $2 million for so-called “name, image and likeness” considerations to play for the University of Washington. That appears to make Osobor the highest-paid player in the ranks, all for someone who received virtually no buzz until a season ago.

Osobor’s story is a good one. Growing up in Spain, he didn’t play basketball beyond the pickup level. His family moved to Huddersfield, not really a hoops centre, when he was twelve. Athletics reports this that his basketball career only took off through the grace of a physical education teacher who saw Osobor in the gym. The teacher recommended moving to a basketball academy in Bradford, and Osobor was finally off to the races. Osobor became a dominant player in the English youth ranks, generating enough interest to forge an American collegiate career.

Don’t confuse that with a lot of quite interesting. Osobor received virtually no attention from the major programs, which explains his first landing at Montana State. Even MSU didn’t see huge potential in Osobor, who played less than half the minutes in each of his two seasons with the program. It wasn’t until he went to Utah State that Osobor made it to launch.

At USU, Osobor was a dominant force as a scorer and rebounder. A throwback power forward who hardly bothers with three-pointers, but likes to get his man in the paint and score with creativity or brawn, Osobor proved to be too much for the competition in the Mountain West Conference. Osobor was downright unstoppable at times, as when he scored 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting (plus 10-of-16 at the foul line) in a game against an overmatched Air Force in January.

But Osobor was excellent in big places against quality competition. San Diego State, a conference opponent that played in the national championship game last season, also couldn’t stop Osobor from scoring around the basket. The Mountain West was the best conference in the sport outside of the old “Power 6,” where the best teams play, and Osobor won the league’s Player of the Year honors as Utah State finished atop the standings.

So when Osobor announced his plans to transfer to another university for his senior season, it started off as a bonanza. Osobor was an extremely valuable player. He has three years of college experience but has only been a team’s lead player for one season. That suggests he may have a lot more room to grow in his final season before turning pro. Osobor is both a known commodity and a source of potential, and he entered the transfer portal at a time when teams would be falling over themselves for both. National championship prospects don’t win with just freshmen, and Osobor offered his suitors guaranteed production.

Washington won the sweepstakes, beating a group led by Louisville and Texas Tech. The Huskies have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 13 years and are still looking for a breakthrough under seventh-year coach Mike Hopkins. Washington normally wouldn’t land a player who was considered by recruiting firms to be the best player available, or at least one of the top five.

What has changed isn’t so much Washington as the nature of the recruiting. Old-fashioned charm, persuasion and playing ability still go a long way in luring players – especially in basketball, which lacks the level of funding used in American football. But the best players can get a big payday “collectives” of third parties, consists of passionate fans, who pay athletes to play for specific schools. The fix is ​​still needed due to archaic and not yet fully changed NCAA rules that prohibit schools from paying athletes directly. But it’s a distinction of logistics rather than spirit, and universities whose supporters can marshal resources are now in a position to sign the best players. Elite players who can attract big sponsors can get even more money, even if there aren’t many in college basketball. The biggest college star, Caitlin Clark, just turned professional.

Enter Osobor, who receives a huge reward for his efforts to help Washington cross the threshold. The Huskies and their supporters have put substantial work into strengthening their financial operation, and Osobor’s recruitment represents a huge win for an athletic department that has had a tough few months. (Washington’s football team lost the national championship game and the head coach left days later to replace the legendary Nick Saban at Alabama. Then the athletic director left for Nebraska.) Getting Osobor will hurt not only the basketball team but also the morale of the fans good ones come. donations are requested.

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It represents a significant expense. Even a wealthy basketball program’s roster costs only about $3 million per year. While it is unknown how much of Osobor’s compensation will come from the booster organization and how much from independent ventures, the Huskies (and their friends) are placing a big bet on Osobor to turn around the program’s fortunes.

It’ll make for a funny story: three years in a world where college athletes can get paid (albeit still by third parties, not by their schools), the best-compensated player in campus basketball won’t be a 17-year-old prodigy with a five-star prospect rating . It will be a power forward who trained in basketball in England and then played his first three American college seasons at two universities, Montana State and Utah State, that many fans of the sport have never paid an ounce of attention to. Now Osobor will be the centerpiece of a team in the Big Ten, the richest conference in college sports. (Another reason the Huskies may have been so willing to compete: In their first year in a tough conference after leaving the Pac-12, the school and its fans are eager to perform competitively.)

There are traditionalists who will not like Osobor’s story. They see the rise of the transfer portal and player payments as twin evils that have sucked the soul out of college sports. There’s a hint of truth in there, but only a flicker: Osobor’s loss is devastating for Utah State, which helped bring out his greatness and now won’t benefit from taking his talents to a much wealthier school. USU can only hope that Osobor’s development serves as an advertisement for future prospects to be interested in the school — even if those players then end up looking for a new move, just as Osobor did. After all, schools like Utah State have been losing coaches to bigger schools for generations. Now players are just following suit.

College sports have always had both “haves” and “have-nots,” and the advent of transfer culture and player compensation has allowed Osobor to step into the spotlight and make life-changing money. Without the ability to transfer freely, Osobor would have played an entire college career at Montana State, where he struggled to emerge as anything other than a member of a supporting cast. And without the ability to take money for his services, the value Osobor creates on the field would have been left to others. His story is more a triumph for a new way of doing business than a story of lost tradition.