HOUSTON — Miami was supposed to be the poster child for how Name, Image and Likeness can go wrong.
An example of the problems it can present.
Last April, Miami booster John Ruiz announced that his company, LifeWallet, had signed Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack to a two-year, $800,000 deal that included a free car, and Packer was committing to the Hurricanes.
Less than a week later, leading returning scorer Isaiah Wong’s agent, Adam Papas of Next Sports Agency, said his client would be entering the transfer portal if his NIL deal, significantly less than Pack’s, wasn’t increased.
Instead of it blowing up the Hurricanes, it seems like a distant memory, an irrelevant footnote.
Wong stayed with Miami and, along with Pack, led the ACC school to its first Final Four.
“Even when all that stuff was going on with Isaiah, he called me [and] said, ‘Coach, I’m not going anywhere.’ He told me that,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said this week before his team’s 72-59 loss to Connecticut at NRG Stadium. “So what the public perception is, is not the reality. The reality is Nijel came on campus, went into the gym. Isaiah was there. They became best friends overnight. They clicked immediately. Why? They love basketball. They’re gym rats. They love to compete, and they want to win.”
Wong, a Piscataway, N.J., native, then released a statement that he wasn’t going anywhere, and the situation was resolved.
Whether there are issues behind the scenes or not, it hasn’t impacted the Hurricanes.
The duo have thrived as part of one of the best backcourts in the country.
Wong was the ACC Player of the Year this season, and Pack followed up a strong regular season by averaging 18.5 points in four tournament games.
“I mean, all that mattered was my teammates accepting me, and they did that from day one, my coaching staff,” Pack said. “Everybody accepted me and took me in as a brother. We never seem to talk about [NIL] as a team. Nobody came at me negatively.
“And we played together so much. And you could see it’s obviously working off really well now. I feel that’s the reason why this team is so good, because our bond is so strong. And nothing with NIL with anybody on this team has ever affected us in a negative way.”
In fact, NIL and the transfer portal elevated Miami. Not only did the Hurricanes land the high-scoring Pack, but they also picked up key forward Norchad Omier from Arkansas State, the linchpin to their front court.
Miami and Ruiz haven’t tried to hide the impact of NIL, and even when it got out in a negative light, the end result has been positive.
Players are making money off their name, and Miami has reached April for the first time in school history.
“I don’t know about other programs of how NIL affected them,” Larranaga said, “but there’s been not a single day of negativity in our program based on NIL.”