Amen and Ausar Thompson went own way in unprecedented NBA leap
When Amen and Ausar Thompson were 9 years old, they made what they called a dream board, writing “Amen and Ausar’s basketball dream” on a piece of poster board.
The dream board, which was the idea of their father, Troy, included a list of “every day” to-dos and their shared goals. They each wanted to become “the greatest NBA player of all time” and a billionaire, along with owning a shoe company and growing to 6-foot-9, the same height as boyhood idol LeBron James. There are also drawings of a Nike shoe and a pile of money.
Now 20 years old, they are well on their way.
The 6-foot-7 twins are expected to go as high as Nos. 3 and 4 in this year’s NBA Draft.
By most accounts, only 7-foot-4 French phenom Victor Wembanyama and NBA G League star Scoot Henderson are considered locks to go ahead of them, though controversial Alabama star Brandon Miller likely will as well.
Amen ranks higher than Ausar on most draft boards — the Spurs and Hornets have been mentioned as possible destinations, pending the exact draft order being revealed during Tuesday night’s lottery — but both brothers are projected to go in the top 10.
Given their superlative physical gifts — which include 7-foot wingspans, being super-quick off the dribble and dynamic playmaking that’s evident in a stream of viral moments splashed across the internet — that’s not unusual. According to those who’ve been around them, their basketball IQs also rate highly, the product of years of studying games and players.
Twins making it to the NBA is unusual, but it’s not unheard of. Dick and Tom Van Arsdale were the first set of twins to play in the NBA, a pair of 6-foot-5 wings drafted one pick apart in the first round in 1965 by the Knicks and Pistons, respectively. There have been others: Horace and Harvey Grant, Jason and Jarron Collins, Brook and Robin Lopez and Markieff and Marcus Morris, to name a few.
The path the Thompsons chose to reach the NBA, however, is altogether new.
Two years ago, Overtime Elite, a pro league based in Atlanta for players between 16 and 20 years old, was just getting started.
When the Thompsons decided to commit to OTE, foregoing their senior years of high school and eschewing the traditional route of college basketball, or even more established alternatives such as the G League or playing overseas, its gym wasn’t even built.
Now, OTE is replete with a 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. The campus includes a gym featuring the same shot-tracking system most NBA teams use, high-definition lights on the main court that were previously used at Staples Center and Barclays Center, a weight room and a nutricion center, among other accouterments. There is an accredited, NCAA-approved school.
Players also make a minimum salary of $100,000.
This past season, the league expanded from three teams to six — incorporating two prep schools, Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix and Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., along with Our Savior Lutheran in The Bronx — and played a 90-game schedule, plus the playoffs, from last November through this March.
It helps that Jeff Bezos, Drake, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and dozens of other athletes are among those who have helped bankroll the endeavor.
The star power doesn’t stop there, though.
Former NBA player and coach Kevin Ollie previously headed OTE’s coaching and basketball development. Ryan Gomes and Dave Leitao are among the league’s coaches. Dominique Wilkins’ nephew Damien is the GM.
“I started OTE because I represented sports leagues when I worked at [William Morris] Endeavor, they all told me that young people weren’t engaged, weren’t watching television and all those things,” said co-founder and CEO Dan Porter, who launched the league with Zack Weiner in 2021. “I mean, the average season-ticket holder for most sports is between 45 and 55. So we were building something for our audience.
“It’s a basketball league that’s competitive and that’s got a high-energy style of basketball that our audience likes. … As I tell every NBA executive that comes through here, we’re also in the audience development business, and that’s good for basketball, it’s good for people who are gonna follow our players to pro teams.”
OTE now counts more than 75 million followers across multiple social media platforms.
But before all of that were the Thompsons, who were two of the first four players to sign on.
“I didn’t wanna go at first,” Amen told The Post. “My family wanted me to, but I didn’t want to.”
Ausar was more on board with the idea, but still cautious: “When I signed, I was super-anxious,” he said. “It was a big deal at the time.”
Now, the Thompsons have become the big deal.
“They’re work monsters,” one NBA assistant coach told The Post in his assessment of them. “And they’re competitive as hell.”
That work began in earnest at a young age.
Born in January 2003 in San Leandro, Calif., just south of Oakland, Amen and Ausar — the names rhyme with “uh pen” and “uh car,” as they politely pointed out when they sat down with The Post — were already doing drills designed by their dad by age 7.
They spent endless hours at the local Boys & Girls Club, where, as Ausar is quick to point out, his team beat Amen’s for the title when they were in third grade.
James was providing plenty of inspiration around that time, too, leading the Heat to four straight Finals appearances, including two titles.
Basketball is also in the Thompsons’ blood: Troy and two of his brothers were accomplished basketball players, and their uncle, Mark Thompson, competed in the hurdles for Jamaica at the 1992 Olympics. Ausar and Amen’s older brother, Troy Jr., played basketball at Prairie View A&M as well as professionally.
The twins were home-schooled in sixth and seventh grade, so they could spend more time on basketball.
And they have long had their eyes on the NBA. Ausar said he first started considering it a real possibility in middle school.
“When we started playing top competition and [the game] felt easy,” Ausar said.
Then in eighth grade, they got an offer to take their talents to Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a private school known more for academics than for athletics. Switching schools also meant uprooting the entire family and moving across the country. But by their junior year, they had sprouted to 6-foot-7, led Pine Crest to a state title and were on the verge of making an even bigger leap: to OTE.
Though they were being recruited by Kentucky, among other powerhouse college programs, and despite some trepidation, the fledgling stars decided to commit to the start-up.
“I just felt it was the best place for us to develop as players with a lot of room to grow and make mistakes,” Ausar told The Post.
Added Amen: “At the time, it was unproven. I was going to be one of the first to sign on. I didn’t know how the NBA would look at it.”
One recent indication came from Kentucky coach John Calipari, who stopped by OTE to watch his five-star recruit Robert Dillingham play there — Dillingham maintained his college eligibility by foregoing salary and instead signing NIL deals, including one with parent company Overtime Sports — and in the process gave the league his stamp of approval.
“This is why you’re here. This is why I’m so ecstatic,” Calipari tells Dillingham during a workout with Gomes in a video put out by Overtime Elite. “One, he’s gaining weight. He was too skinny. … But here’s what you’ve got to learn, his job is to make you uncomfortable. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’ve got to tell him, ‘Come on, man. Push me. Make me uncomfortable.’”
A tacit endorsement came from the Spurs, who signed rookie forward Dominick Barlow to a two-way contract out of Overtime Elite after last year’s draft.
“When NBA teams come through here, we sit down with them and are like, ‘What do you want to see?’” Porter says. “What are the strengths and weaknesses of guys you’re taking in the draft? We try to get access to that information and feed it back into our program, so that we know we’re preparing guys here in the right way.”
The Thompsons are at an entirely different level than Barlow, or many of the other players in the league, and with their success, so goes OTE.
Though they were highly touted prospects as juniors, they were not at the top of any recruiting rankings and now are projected to go near the top of the NBA Draft, paving the way for others who were skeptical of the previously unproven OTE path.
Ausar was named OTE MVP after averaging 21.3 points and leading his team, the City Reapers, to the championship in March, hitting the winning shot in the title game. That gives him two finals MVPs to go with this year’s regular-season MVP award.
ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony called the championship game one of the best games he’d been to all season, noting Ausar’s 24 points along with Amen’s 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
Still, there are questions — mostly about the talent level they played against in Overtime Elite and more specifically critiques of their shooting.
While Amen projects as a lead guard given his ability to see the floor, ball handling and explosiveness, his outside shooting is something he has admittedly had to work on. The same is true of Ausar, who projects as a slashing small forward. Both players have received high marks from scouts as willing and tenacious defenders.
One NBA scout told The Post that Amen has “great burst” off the catch, can get to the rim quickly and is an “excellent” ball handler, though he struggles more with his left hand. The same scout said that Ausar is a “dynamic finisher,” but also struggles with his left hand and is not quite as explosive.
Both also need to work on their shot, the scout noted, but said that’s true of most players at their stages of development.
What are their scouting reports of each other?
Ausar told The Post that Amen is the “twitchiest” player he’s ever played against and that his quickness makes him hard to stay in front of. Amen says Ausar is “smooth,” but also hard to stay in front of because “he has a lot of wiggle for someone his size.”
As for the doubts about their NBA ceilings, they’re mostly outweighed by the positives.
Mike Dunn, a shooting coach who works with a number of college and NBA players, has been in the gym with the Thompsons a handful of times and says their athleticism is “off the charts.” He also said their desire to get better is “insane.”
“They’re sponges for everything they hear,” Dunn told The Post. “I can’t say enough how hungry they are. In this day and age, with social media and them plastered all over [that’s rare]. They’re willing to accept info and play the long game; that’s what will make them last.”
Dunn also noted that they’re tremendous students of the game.
Though James is their favorite player, Amen and Ausar note they study a number of players intently — Jordan Poole, Kobe Bryant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Paul George, De’Aaron Fox, Ja Morant and Damian Lillard, among them — and try to pull the best attributes from each.
“If you look at Marcus Smart, he’s one of the best defensive players, so I try to take from that, too,” Ausar added.
Even Amen’s and Ausar’s down time is spent around basketball — playing NBA2K is a favorite pastime, and they try to glean whatever knowledge they can from the video game.
Both have the same goal, for themselves and for each other.
“Be one of the best ever,” Ausar said.
They also still remember the dream board they made when they were just 9. After all, it wasn’t that long ago.
“That’s a cool thing to look back on to see how far we’ve come,” Amen said.
“I have to go finish it,” Ausar added. “I never colored in my name.”