Bradley Central basketball stars land group NIL deal

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Bradley Central players celebrate after Harmonie Ware, right, made the winning basket in a TSSAA Class 4A state quarterfinal on March 8 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

When Bradley Central High School won the Class 4A girls' basketball tournament in March, the Bearettes became TSSAA state champions for the seventh time in program history.

Even as part of a dynasty where such success is the standard, some members of the most recent title team have found a new way to stand out.

Five players who suited up for the 2022-23 Bearettes — Avary Brewer, Sloan Carpenter, Kimora Fields, Hannah Jones and Harmonie Ware — have signed an endorsement deal with a Chattanooga-area business that could be a first for high school athletes in the age of name, image and likeness compensation. A TSSAA ruling in December allowed student-athletes under its oversight to participate in NIL deals without affecting their eligibility, part of a nationwide trend as high school sports sanctioning bodies in dozens of states have followed the precedent set by the NCAA for college sports.

The deal for Brewer, Carpenter, Fields, Jones and Ware is with Wholesale Carpet Sales & Flooring in Cleveland, and the quintet are featured in a 34-second video in which they are referred to as "The Fab 5," a reference to the University of Michigan men's basketball team of the early 1990s.

The players do not speak as music plays throughout the video, which begins with the five — wearing black uniforms with white trim but no school or team names on them — in a darkened, empty gym as Carpenter, the title team's point guard, dribbles a gold basketball before tossing it up and out of frame. In the next scene, Carpenter, now in a different gym with kids playing basketball behind her, catches the ball and returns to dribbling it between her legs before passing it out of frame. One by one, each of the other four players — in street clothes and in various settings — catches the ball, dribbles and passes it on before it returns to Carpenter in the gym, where the players then drive to the basket or shoot before the video concludes with all five lined up and the words "The FAB 5" overlaid before dissolving to a logo for the business.

The video was shared on social media by Wholesale Carpet Sales & Flooring this week with the headline "INTRODUCING ... The Fab 5 of Bradley," and it was preceded by a shorter video last week teasing "Something big is rolling out in Bradley County."

While other local prep athletes have announced NIL deals — Boo Carter, a highly rated college football prospect who is now at Bradley Central, became the area's first to do so not long after the TSSAA ruling — and college programs have become known for their links to so-called collectives that offer compensation to multiple players, such group deals are not yet common at the high school level.

"After doing some research, I believe there is no one anywhere in the United States that has ever offered a group NIL deal like this," said Wholesale Carpet Sales & Flooring's Bartlee Norton, who took over the family business from his late father Johnny. "The reason I did this is to spotlight a great group of local athletes who have had some outstanding achievements as of late.

"I wanted to empower this group of young ladies by showing it is worth taking a chance doing an NIL deal for high school athletes. These girls are door openers. There is a lot of amazing young adults all across the state, and I hope this leads to even more companies making a financial investment in local student-athletes."

Norton and parents of the players contacted by the Times Free Press declined to disclose the compensation for the players. It's the first of a planned three-part series of NIL partnerships intended to highlight student-athletes in Bradley County.

Carpenter and Jones were seniors this past school year, while Brewer and Ware were sophomores and Fields was a freshman as the Bearettes capped a 35-1 season with a 58-49 win over Bartlett on March 11. All five were key members of the seventh championship won by the girls' basketball program that is the state's all-time leader in wins.

A recent social media post from Wholesale Carpet Sales & Flooring featured a picture in which the five recreate a famous photo of the original Fab Five: Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber, who as Michigan freshmen reached the championship game of the 1992 NCAA tournament and also played for the title the following season.

The video spot was filmed by The Alderman Group, an advertising agency in Cleveland.

"I am so proud of these girls," Bearettes coach Jason Reuter said. "Their success led to this NIL deal, which I had nothing to do with. I am just sitting back like anybody else watching. This is something that their parents and Wholesale Carpet Sales & Flooring did together.

"It was very well done and professional. Their hard work has paid off with a state championship, athletic scholarships and now with this NIL deal. The Fab Five of Bradley County has a catchy ring to it. We won as a team and played as a team. I think it's very fitting that the starting five did the first NIL deal as a team."

The 6-foot Fields was the Class 4A state tournament MVP, an honor that capped an outstanding season in which she averaged 17 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.5 assists and 0.9 block per game while shooting 68.5% (254-of-371) from the field.

"To be given this unique opportunity after my freshman year feels great, and I am so proud of my team and what we accomplished this year," said Fields, who, along with Ware, already has a scholarship offer from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "I am looking forward to many more great things in the future."

Brewer and Ware combined for more than 25 points per game as sophomores. Carpenter and Jones, who helped the Bearettes win 120 games in their prep career, will both play for Johnson University, an NAIA program near Knoxville.

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