How former Kansas State guard Nijel Pack became the face of name, image and likeness

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The dollar amounts and other benefits college athletes have been receiving since the path was cleared for name, image and likeness agreements two years ago largely remains a mystery.

That’s why jaws dropped when the details of Nijel Pack’s deal were revealed last year.

An All-Big 12 guard at Kansas State in 2022, Pack decided to transfer to Miami. Soon after arriving his two-year, $800,000 agreement with LifeWallet, which included a car, became public. The gasp was audible throughout the sports landscape.

NIL deals could be worth that much?

Pack said he wasn’t fazed by the announcement by LifeWallet or the commentary that followed, including criticism from Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

But since the jolt of Pack’s news, the earnings of other college athletes have become known. That includes Saban’s quarterback Bryce Young, a former Heisman Trophy winner who made an estimated $1 million in NIL agreements last year.

“People in my corner told me to look at it with a positive perspective,” Pack said. “If you make it to the next level, and that’s my main goal, thinking about what people will expect from you because you make a certain amount of money.

“This is basically preparing me for the next level.”

Pack, a 6-0 guard, averages 13.4 points and 2.4 assists for a Hurricanes team looking to extend its season against top-ranked Houston in the Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday at Kansas City’s T-Mobile Center. Fifth-seeded Miami overcame second-half deficits against Drake and Indiana to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

In two seasons at K-State, Pack started all but one game and averaged 15.3 points. He couldn’t prevent two ninth-place finishes and no postseason, a stretch that cost Bruce Weber his job.

The Wildcats hired Jerome Tang, and Pack had a conversation with his new coach, but soon made his decision to leave. In late April, LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz tweeted the details, and for a while Pack became the face of NIL

The reverberations were felt at Miami. The agent of guard Isaiah Wong, who had led the Hurricanes to the Elite Eight, told ESPN that Wong needed an NIL upgrade. The next day Wong announced the comments were unauthorized.

Still, it seemed possible that different NIL deals could have an impact in the locker room. Fifth-year guard Jordan Miller said Thursday the team was happy for Pack.

“At the end of the day he’s our teammate, and everybody’s happy for him,” Miller said. “We all have the same opportunity. There’s no bad blood.”

Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said he’s like to see more transparency in NIL.

“Nijel’s deal was transparent,” Larrañaga said. “Everybody knew. That’s how it should be. The NBA, you can look up salaries. I’d like to know what the collective at North Carolina is playing their players. If everybody knows what the market is, you can compete.”

Does Pack wonder how things might have fallen had he continued his career at Kansas State? He most certainly would not have earned the income there that he is at Miami. But he’d be part of one of college basketball’s great turnarounds.

The Wildcats, who took on Michigan State in the East Regional semifinal on Thursday, were picked to finish 10th this season, partly because several players like Pack weren’t coming back. But K-State finished tied for third under Tang and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m happy for their success and how well they’re doing,” said Pack, who added he remains in contact with a couple of his former teammates. “They’re doing great and our team is doing great. It’s worked out well for both of us.”