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

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Great Osobor;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Great Osobor</a> recently transferred from Utah State to Washington. </span><span>Photograph: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images</span>

In US college sports, the biggest money still goes to the coaches, like Jimbo Fisher, the Texas A&M football coach whose prize for failure over the past few seasons was a $77m buyout. But the players have begun to take a piece of the pie, too, for the first time in the 150-plus-year history of sports on campuses. And one of the biggest scores of all has just gone to a Spanish-born, English-trained basketball star.

Before becoming a star on the US college basketball circuit, Great Osobor played in England for Myerscough College in Preston. Osobor, a 6ft 8in forward, was not a highly touted prospect before coming stateside. He began his career in 2021 at Montana State, a lower-tier Division I school with almost 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, a little more than an hour north of Salt Lake City. Osobor was a breakout star of 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 cashed in. In the old days, athletes could not even switch schools without sitting on the bench for a season under NCAA rules designed to discourage transfers. That rule gradually stopped being enforced and went away officially in 2021. Now Osobor will play for his third school in four years, and he’ll be compensated handsomely for it. ESPN reported that Osobor will collect $2m in so-called “name, image, and likeness” considerations to play for the University of Washington. That appears to make Osobor the best-paid player in the collegiate ranks, and all for someone who drew almost no fanfare until a season ago.

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Osobor’s story is a good one. Growing up in Spain, he didn’t play basketball beyond the pickup level. His family relocated to Huddersfield, not quite a hoops hub, when he was 12. The Athletic reported that it was only by the grace of a physical education teacher spotting Osobor in the gym that his basketball career kicked off. The teacher recommended a move to a basketball academy in Bradford, and Osobor was finally off to the races. Osobor became a dominant player in the English youth ranks and generated enough interest to build an American collegiate career.

Don’t mistake that for a lot of interest, though. Osobor drew virtually no consideration from the big-time programs, which explains his initial landing at Montana State. Even MSU did not see enormous potential in Osobor, who played fewer than half of the minutes in each of his two seasons with the program. It was only upon going to Utah State that Osobor achieved liftoff.

At USU, Osobor was a dominant force as a scorer and rebounder. A throwback power forward who barely bothers with three-pointers but loves to back his man down in the paint and score with either creativity or muscle, Osobor proved too much for the competition in the Mountain West Conference. Osobor was sometimes outright unstoppable, like 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 spots against quality competition. San Diego State, a conference opponent that played in the national championship game the prior season, could not stop Osobor from scoring around the basket either. The Mountain West was the best conference in the sport outside the longtime “Power 6,” where the best teams play, and Osobor won the league’s Player of the Year honor as Utah State finished top of the standings.

So when Osobor announced his intention to transfer to another college for his senior season, it kicked off a bonanza. Osobor was an unusually valuable player. He has three years of college experience, but he’s only been a team’s primary player for one season. That suggests he may have plenty more room to grow in his last season before turning professional. Osobor is both a known commodity and a well of potential, and he entered the transfer portal at a moment when teams would fall over themselves for both. National championship contenders do not win with only star freshmen, and Osobor offered guaranteed production to his suitors.

Washington won the sweepstakes, beating out a group led by Louisville and Texas Tech. The Huskies have made just one NCAA Tournament in the past 13 years, and they are still looking for a breakthrough under seventh-year coach Mike Hopkins. Washington would not normally land a player that recruiting agencies considered the best player, or at least one of the top five, available.

What has changed is not so much Washington as the nature of recruiting. Old-school charm, persuasion, and playing opportunities still matter greatly when attempting to lure players – especially in basketball, which lacks the level of financing being thrown around in American football. But the best players can command a big payday from third-party “collectives,” made up of passionate fans, that pay athletes to play for specific schools. The workaround is still necessary because of archaic and not-quite-yet-changed NCAA rules that bar schools from paying athletes directly. But it is a distinction in logistics rather than spirit, and universities whose supporters can marshal resources are now positioned to land the best players. Elite players who can attract big-time sponsors can get even more money, though there are not many of those in college basketball. The biggest college star, Caitlin Clark, just turned professional.

Enter Osobor, who will get an enormous payday for his efforts to help Washington get over the hump. The Huskies and their supporters have put substantial work into beefing up their financial operation, and the recruitment of Osobor represents an enormous victory for an athletic department that has had some rough 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 departed to Nebraska.) Getting Osobor will not just help the basketball team but also the morale of fans being asked for donations.

He represents a significant outlay. Even a rich basketball program’s roster will only cost around $3m per year. While it’s unknown how much of Osobor’s compensation will come from the booster organization and how much will come from independent ventures, the Huskies (and their friends) are placing a huge bet on Osobor to change the program’s fortunes.

It will make for a funny story: Three years into a world in which college athletes can be paid (albeit still by third parties, not their schools), the best-compensated player in campus basketball will not be a 17-year-old wunderkind with a five-star prospect rating. It will be a power forward who received his basketball training 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 given a lick of attention. Now Osobor will be a centerpiece for a team in the Big Ten, the richest conference in college sports. (Another reason the Huskies may have been so willing to pony up: In their first year in a difficult conference after leaving the Pac-12, the school and its fans are eager to comport themselves competitively.)

There are traditionalists who won’t like Osobor’s story. They see the rise of the transfer portal and payments to players as twin evils that have sucked the soul out of college sports. There is a flicker of truth, but just a flicker, in that: The loss of Osobor is devastating for Utah State, who helped bring out his greatness and now will not benefit as he takes his talents to a much richer 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 are then angling to make another move just as Osobor did. After all, schools like Utah State have lost coaches to bigger schools for generations. Now players are merely following suit.

College sports have always had haves and have-nots, and the advent of transfer culture and player compensation has allowed Osobor to shift to a brighter 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 was struggling to emerge as anything more than a member of a supporting cast. And without the ability to take money for his services, the on-court value Osobor creates would have been left for others to collect. His story is a triumph for a new way of doing business more than it is a tale of lost tradition.