NBA

The Lead Exclusive: A Sit-Down with NBA Agent Bryce Carpenter

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Growing up, many kids dream to be involved in professional sports.

Some are tantalized with the idea of playing, but others are fascinated with the business side of it all.

“Like a lot of kids, I knew I wanted to be a sports agent,” said Proactive Sports Agency founder Bryce Carpenter. “If you’re not going to play pro sports, it’s the second-best thing,” he added.

Early Sacrifice

Carpenter wanted to get his foot in the door early on, committing to working for free for NFL agent Joseph Clayborne while in college. With no prior experience in the sports agency world, however, Carpenter knew it wouldn’t be an easy road.

“I took steps at an early age to make a sacrifice,” Carpenter said. “I was willing to work for free to be around and learn whatever I can”, he added. “At first it started off with a few small things, but over the course of four years, it built into something where I had an official title. I was getting some deals.”

The saying “experience is the best teacher” fits seamlessly here for Carpenter. A lot of youth interested in working in sports often envision the end goal– getting paid, and getting paid a lot. But most forget the grueling steps to get there first.

“Everyone wants to get paid, but not everyone wants to make that sacrifice starting out. Because I made that sacrifice, it set me up to be in this position now,” Carpenter said. “If you have no experience or connections to players, no agencies will hire you.”

Proactive Sports Agency

Back in February of this year, Carpenter went public with his self-operated sports agency “Proactive Sports Agency”.

https://twitter.com/BryceTheAgent/status/1228384889571074055

After graduating college with a law degree, Carpenter wanted to pursue the NBA side of being a sports agent– but he wanted to try it on his own first.

“I started my own agency because I wanted to do things my way,” he said. I don’t agree with how some agencies run things, so I knew if I did things my way, they’d be done the right way.”

Carpenter, 22, is still a very young prospect in the sports business world– but that’s not slowing him down one bit.

“Everyone thinks being young is a big challenge, but it’s really not,” Carpenter noted. “People forget about age real quick.”

https://twitter.com/BryceTheAgent/status/1284526992558305280

Starting Out Alone

With age being just a number, Carpenter shifted his focus to emerging off the ground floor.

“The biggest challenge for me was having no players,” Carpenter said. “When I was recruiting and had zero guys, I mean who’s going to take a chance on an agent with no players? Nobody wants to be the guinea pig with a new agency because you’re handling somebody’s career,” he added.

Carpenter went on to add that despite securing a first client being his biggest challenge, he was still able to find upside in that process.

“I looked at it as an advantage with having no guys — even though it was a challenge — because you get my full attention,” Carpenter said. “You’re gonna be the foundation for my career so I have to make sure you succeed.”

“I think what separated me from everybody else is being who I am and really caring for the player,” Carpenter added. “A lot of agents run by a script or use what they’ve previously done for other guys as leverage to recruit, when in reality, most players that sign with these big agencies, they don’t even get to contact their agent.”

“When you have guys like Rich Paul, CAA, Octagon and Wasserman, how can you compete as a new agent with no players when they’ve done multi-million, probably billion-dollar deals at this point? So it really just took one player to believe in me, and thankfully I got connected with Justin Tillman, and he took a chance on me when he probably could have gone with anybody. Now that I have players, it’s easier to recruit and people take you more seriously.” — Carpenter

Justin Tillman, a six-foot-eight forward out of VCU, went undrafted in 2018, but has no short of experience– logging two Summer League stints, an overseas run in Korea, a G League run with the Memphis Hustle, and more recently, Israel’s Hapoel Gilboa Galil club.

Impromptu Interview

When asking further details about Tillman’s career, Carpenter surprised us, turning his phone over to none other than Justin Tillman himself.

Tillman described his unique experiences across the multiple leagues he’s participated in over the past two years. Unfortunately, he hit a bad string of injuries that slowed any momentum he had during the small windows of both Summer League stints. He tweaked his hamstring while with the Heat in 2018 and had a foot ailment with the Suns last year.

“Last summer I broke my foot prior to the start of Summer League, and the Suns didn’t want me to rush back and risk further injury,” Tillman said. “They were talking to [Carpenter] about offering me a contract, but since I wasn’t ready to play, it messed up my chance of getting one,” he added.

After Summer League in 2019, Tillman headed overseas to play with the aforementioned Hapoel Gilboa Galil squad in Israel. There he showed out, dropping 26 points (13-17 FG) and 11 rebounds in his debut.

“It was a great experience,” Tillman said. “They have a very high level of competition over there with some ex-NBA players as well. Biggest thing for me was proving myself and make more people notice who I am.”

Those ex-NBA players included Amar’e Stoudemire and Quincy Acy. Tillman went on to earn Israeli League Player of the Month in October, averaging 24.3 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. He was later named co-Israeli League Round 8 MVP in December after dropping a season-high 34 points in a double overtime win.

Tillman’s time in Israel has undoubtedly been his best overall experience. When asked what his toughest experience has been, Tillman didn’t hesitate:

“Overseas,” Tillman said. “G League is more one-on-one ball, people don’t play defense. Overseas is more structured and has better competition.”

Difficult Dilemma

Most of us in the sports world have had to adapt to recent alterations courtesy of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the NBA pausing on March 11th & set to (finally) resume later this month, a ripple effect has occurred among borderline players who now have to make a difficult decision between heading overseas or trying for the NBA. Normally, the dust can settle during the summer, giving players enough time to figure out if they have a shot at an NBA training camp spot or not. With overseas timelines unchanged, however, free agents now have a difficult decision to make.

“For [Justin], the challenge is the timeline is pushed back, so he has to decide if he wants to go overseas or not before the end of the NBA season,” Carpenter said. “He could turn down overseas teams to try for the NBA, but the timelines cross over now versus a regular year when after July we know who’s going to make an NBA roster, which then allows overseas teams to pick up the last guys.”

Shortly after the interview, Tillman inked a one-year deal with Dinamo Sassari of the Italian Serie A and FIBA Basketball Champions League. He also considered offers from leagues in Germany, China, Serbia and Turkey. Additionally, Tillman recently signed a marketing deal with Syndicate Sports Marketing.

https://twitter.com/JTillman23/status/1283516289957466113

“As long as I stay healthy and put up numbers wherever I go, then I’m sure I’ll have [an NBA] contract soon,” Tillman said.

Italy is set to begin play on August 1st.

“My past experience with the NFL side is completely different than the NBA. I thought the two would be very similar, but it’s actually the complete opposite in a lot of ways, such as how you recruit, talking to teams, obviously with the NFL you’re not talking to overseas football teams like you are with the NBA.” — Carpenter

College Conundrum

For Carpenter’s draft-declared college clients, it’s a bit different.

“I started preparing for no G League season, which affects the two guys I have in this year’s draft because they’d possibly start in the G League if they opt out of going overseas, so it’s changed everything,” Carpenter said. “Got a guy that’s going back to school who would’ve stayed in this year’s draft if this wasn’t going on, but with no workouts (among other things), I think borderline guys — 2nd round or undrafted — are feeling like they should go back to school. I think that’s the smart choice,” he added.

“For my two seniors, everything has just been pushed back. Normally guys are going hard for three months straight up until June, but with an October draft, everything changes. Some 2nd round guys are faced with the difficult decision of passing up six figures to try for a non-guaranteed roster spot. Add on possibly having no G League season next year– it’s chaos. It’s like the wild wild west right now.” — Carpenter

For a new agent in the biz, the past 5-6 months haven’t exactly been normal.

“Talking about being in the first five months of the business, this is a huge curveball I did not see coming,” Carpenter laughed. “There’s no way to prepare for something like this.”

Despite having to learn on the fly now, Carpenter isn’t fazed.

“Honestly, I’m in better shape now than I was before COVID,” Carpenter said. “I look at it as an advantage for agents like myself because I got to go recruit and everybody was at home as opposed to being on campus. Usually you’d have to make eight different trips to see eight different players at eight different schools. Now I was able to visit multiple guys in the same area. For an agent running his own agency, I don’t have a big budget like CAA and Octagon, so I have to find cost-efficient ways to be able to compete with them,” he added.

“I’m learning a lot as I go. I learn something every day. There’s still a lot that I don’t know and I have to learn very quickly because I have careers in my hands, but the guys that I have signed know that I’m going to have their best interest at heart and do my due diligence.” — Carpenter

The Agent’s Advice

“I ask every player their goals,” Carpenter said. “Everybody has a goal, whether it’s to make money or make the NBA. But I tell them you need to rank your goals. For example, my client Justin wants to make the NBA but at the end of the day he wants to make money. He’s not gonna sit in the G League for $30,000 when you can make way more than that overseas. One of my draft guys has a family. He can’t go overseas, so that’s why he wants to for the G League and try to get to the NBA. He doesn’t want to leave his family.”

With countless players moving back and forth from overseas leagues to the NBA G League and so forth, there are distinct avenues for each choice an athlete makes– one that could determine the fate of his career.

“Unless you’re on a two-way contract, I would never recommend playing in the G League,” Carpenter said. “G League is selfish basketball and it’s steered towards making guys on two-ways and on assignment better. Those are the guys they want to develop the most. For overseas, it depends on what league you’re in. If you go to China, you have a lesser chance than you would if you played in the EuroLeague.”

To conclude the interview, we asked where he sees himself a year from now:

“I’ve been talking with a few agencies. I don’t know if I’ll be switching and giving up my company, but I’m leaning towards staying and doing my own thing because I know how next year is going to go. I’m to the point where unless someone comes to me with a crazy offer to join them, I know my value and I think that’s why people keep calling me about opportunities, but I’m probably going to do my own thing for the next year and sign the guys I plan on signing.” — Carpenter

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