CHICAGO – In the spring of 2021, as star recruits flew off the board to sign with colleges for that fall, twins Amen and Ausar Thompson — then rising high school juniors regarded as two of the top prospects in their class — made the unconventional choice to sign with fledgling startup league Overtime Elite as it got off the ground for its inaugural season. The decision sent shockwaves across the hoops landscape that reverberated throughout the ecosystem: five-star guards with this pedigree almost always historically land at a Kentucky, a Duke or any of the other major college programs across the country. But nope — not the Thompson twins.
Instead, they signed two-year deals to join OTE in what is quickly becoming a respected developmental program aimed at building players on and off the court to rival other paths like college, G League Ignite and the overseas NBL. It came with a big payday, to be sure — which players can now get in college with NIL, but was not available to college players at the time — but it also came with a freedom of other burdens and responsibilities, which has allowed the duo in two short years to blossom into bona fide lottery prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft.
“We got more development [at OTE],” Amen Thompson told CBS Sports on Thursday. “More hours, more time in the gym, more opportunities, more time to work on some of our weaknesses. Some guys in college or elsewhere have only a certain amount of time to adjust and learn, but we could be in the gym all day.”
Quipped Whitney Bell, the league’s director of communications: “They are in the gym all day.”
Don’t take their word for it or mine; take the NBA’s. The league is six weeks away from making the Thompson twins potentially the first sibling pair to go top-10 in the same draft. That doesn’t happen by accident. Some combination of drive, skill and athleticism has powered them to the brink of making history. Other twins have been selected in the same draft. In 2008, Brook Lopez was the No. 10 pick by the Nets and Robin Lopez was the No. 15 pick by Phoenix. And in 20111, Markieff Morris was the No. 13 pick by Phoenix and Marcus Morris went to Houston at No. 14 in 2011. But no pair of twins have both been selected inside the top 10 of the same draft.
But that could change this year. Amen is ranked as the No. 5 player on the CBS Sports Big Board. Ausar is No. 6.
It was a gamble then to blaze a path no player before them had taken. College was (and still is) a place where players can get exposure and prepare for the NBA. G League Ignite has emerged a viable path, thanks to similar gambles from Jalen Green and investments from the NBA. But OTE was merely a concept — a gamble come to fruition through capital investments from the likes of Kevin Durant, Jeff Bezos and Drake and then pushed to a new stratosphere by the twins, who have finished their time with OTE and come out as two of the most exciting prospects in the 2023 class.
Ahead of the final day of the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday, I talked with the twins in the arena for a rapid-fire Q&A as they wrapped up their week in Chicago.
Q: One alarm clock or multiple alarm clocks?
Ausar: I have like 10 alarms.
Amen: I have three or four. Five feels ridiculous. Three or four is perfect.
Ausar: The first one is to wake me up. The next one is to make sure I’m actually up.
Q: What time is the alarm clock set?
Q: Acceptable to hoop in AirPods or nah?
Amen: Like in a workout setting or in five-on-five? (I said in a five-on-five setting.)
Q: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Amen: No, a hot dog is a hot dog.
Ausar: A hot dog is a hot dog.
Q: Favorite emoji?
Amen: The normal laughing face.
Ausar: That’s mine, too.
Q: LeBron or MJ?
The twins, in unison: LeBron.
Amen adds: MJ is great, too.
Q: Favorite movie?
Amen: I don’t watch a lot of movies actually.
Q: Favorite TV show?
Amen: Attack on Titan.
Ausar: I watch Attack on Titan.
Amen: I’m watching Snowfall right now too. I’m about to finish Season 1.
Thursday’s notable performances
Some of the top performers from Wednesday’s scrimmage action — O-Max Prosper and Tristan Vukčević — were scratched from participating Thursday, presumably because they helped themselves so much on Day 1 they could only go down from there. Still, there were plenty of big performers Thursday.
Seth Lundy, Amari Bailey and Ben Sheppard were the biggest winners of the second day of action. Sheppard scored 25 points on 8 of 10 shooting and really showcased his shot-making ability. Bailey followed up his productive Wednesday with a productive Thursday, turning in 19 points and six assists. Lundy had 18 points and caught fire in his scrimmage, capping what was a productive week for him in Chicago.
Toumani Camara and Terquavion Smith also played well in their time on the floor adding 15 and 20 points, respectively. Camara had a really nice day on both ends, which included taking a charge on defense and then making two shots around the rim with a high degree of difficulty — one a finger roll at the rim and another a floater as he scooted down the lane.
Weber State’s Dillon Jones again helped himself on Thursday to finish off a strong week. He had two no-look, one-handed assists through traffic in consecutive possessions during five-on-five work, and looked confident and comfortable making plays and distributing for others a day after showing he could score.