Jerome Tang didn’t always value NIL. Now a Kansas State player is getting $2 million

Anyone who has monitored Kansas State basketball recruiting over the past two years can understand just how important NIL money has become in college sports.

Shortly after Jerome Tang was hired to coach the Wildcats, he downplayed the importance of NIL deals and called them “pennies” compared to the “dollars” that he could help his players make in the NBA. Then he watched All-Big 12 shooter Nijel Pack transfer to Miami for what (at the time) seemed like an offer that was too good to be true — $800,000 and a car.

Back then, K-State fans were understandably frustrated and they feared that other teams might continue to buy their best players in the future.

But things have changed drastically since then. Tang and the Wildcats are now buyers. That much became obvious last week when K-State landed Illinois transfer Coleman Hawkins on a monster NIL deal that sources have confirmed is worth around $2 million.

“When he first got here NIL was still in its infancy and it wasn’t something that was affecting us a whole lot,” said Wildcat NIL managing member Curry Sexton. “But then NIL hit college basketball in a big way and it’s become incredibly apparent that the primary focus of these high-level transfers is NIL. With that, coach Tang saw the need to change his philosophy a little bit because he knew that if we pass on guys who are interested in NIL, we’re not going to have anybody to choose from.”

To his credit, Tang jumped headfirst into the world of NIL after spending a few months in Manhattan.

Wildcat NIL, the main collective that supports K-State athletics, traveled across the region last summer and educated donors on the growing importance of NIL. Sexton, a former K-State football player, and his partners took the lead. But Tang asked if he could tag along.

Who could help raise money for K-State basketball players better than their head coach?

So he drove to places like Topeka, Hiawatha, Salina, Kansas City and Wichita. He shook hands, took pictures and spoke passionately about how a bigger NIL budget could help K-State basketball win a national championship. Later, he also agreed to fly to Dallas and meet with donors there.

When it came to NIL, every meeting was important for Tang.

“We had several events over the course of the last nine months with the focus being on talking with our donors about the importance of NIL,” Sexton said. “Coach Tang was very much committed to being at those and sharing his message, and sharing the message of how NIL was affecting his program. He played a big role in the momentum we have now and how NIL has improved at K-State.”

Tang also lobbied for extra NIL money from K-State supporters when Arkansas publicly expressed interest in hiring him earlier this spring. His request was granted.

The results back that up.

It has been an incredibly busy offseason for the Wildcats. With only three returning players, Tang had to overhaul the K-State basketball roster with eight incoming transfers from other Division I schools.

The Wildcats are bringing in Dug McDaniel (Michigan), CJ Jones (Illinois-Chicago), Ugonna Onyenso (Kentucky), Achor Achor (Samford), Brednan Hausen (Villanova), Max Jones (Fullerton), Baye Fall (Arkansas) and Hawkins (Illinois).

Together, they form a transfer class that ranks third nationally, per college basketball expert Evan Miya.

Even though it is difficult to calculate K-State’s NIL budget for basketball, as most players choose not to advertise the value of their deals, the Wildcats will clearly be spending millions on their roster next season.

That didn’t used to be the case.

“From his 2023 portal class to now, I’m sure (the NIL budget) has grown by a pretty fair margin,” Sexton said, “and a lot of that is because we’ve all embraced it. Our athletic department has embraced it, our donor base has embraced it and our coaches have embraced it. That has really helped strengthen coach Tang’s NIL pool, as well as the pools of all of our other programs.”