BRADLEY HOOPS

What we know about the NIL collective supporting Bradley men's basketball

Dave Eminian
Journal Star
Some of the members of the newly-formed Home of the Brave NIL collective with Bradley University men's basketball players.

PEORIA — A new collective formed in Peoria, named Home of the Brave, has put Bradley University on the leading edge in the Missouri Valley Conference in the evolving name, image and likeness frontier.

And their hope is it helps the Braves men's basketball team toward the leading edge of the Valley standings.

"We are the first NIL collective in the MVC and one of only three in the country that are basketball-focused (Bradley, Gonzaga, Wichita State)," said Home of the Brave co-founder Joe Messmore. "NIL collectives are growing now in the NCAA, you hear about Ohio State football having $13 million to spend, and others like that.

"We're not going to compete with those kind of organizations and numbers. We're a group of Bradley supporters set up as an organization that will help Bradley men's basketball players maximize their (NIL) opportunities."

In addition to providing money for the players, the group also helps outgoing Bradley players find opportunities in the community. For instance, Canadian-born super senior Ja'Shon Henry told the collective he wants to stick around Peoria after he's done playing.

"So we're assisting him with (immigration) processes," Messmore said, "and helping him find opportunities."

More:Bradley senior basketball star will return for a fifth season in Peoria

Home of the Brave is a newly-formed NIL collective with a mission to support Bradley men's basketball.

Who is part of this Bradley collective?

The collective is capped at 50 members — all Peoria-area individuals with diverse business backgrounds. Their ranks include finance experts, engineers, communications people, restaurant owners, and a cross-section of young and older members with different experiences to offer.

They are assisting Bradley men's basketball players only.

"We're going to provide an opportunity that doesn't exist right now to connect athletes with businesses in the community," Messmore said. "We wanted to start small, crawl before we walked, so we capped it at 50 and it was filled on the day we launched. We don't want to necessarily move too fast, because the NIL rules from the NCAA are still shifting."

Messmore, a Notre Dame High School grad and Bradley Braves Club board of directors member, owns Molly Maid of Peoria and Quad Cities.

Among his Home of the Braves colleagues are fellow co-founder and PIPCO owner Steve Ciccarelli, and co-founder and Louisville Slugger Complex vice-president Rick Gaa. Other members include Steve Shaw (Alexander's and Famous Dave's restaurants), Peoria Civic Center Authority member Bob Manning, Envision Insurance chief Jeff Peterson, Vonachen Group CEO Matt Vonachen and many other notable business people in the community.

Members of the Gardner family from Oberlander Electric are in the group, as are Mark Scott (Scott Communications) and Bradley University grad and former MLB player Daren Epley, now a director at Cheney-Epley-Wolbeck Group at Morgan Stanley.

"It's a good mix," Messmore said. "A wealth of business connections in the community. Everyone shares a passion for Peoria, and for Bradley because it's a huge part of Peoria's culture."

Bradley's Ja'Shon Henry listens to his coaches during a timeout as the Braves battle St. Joseph on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 at Carver Arena.

How does the Bradley collective work?

Messmore says the collective has "well into the six figures" in its financial coffers. Home of the Brave approached the Bradley players and they all expressed interest in signing NIL contracts with the collective.

Those contracts commit the players to attending public and private events hosted by Home of the Brave. But it does not demand exclusivity. Players can benefit from networking within Home of the Brave, and still seek NIL deals outside the collective.

More:Bradley's basketball recruiting class is filled. Here's how the new players fit in

The Braves will have a signing ceremony at Alexander's on Aug. 21. The team will participate in a Home of the Brave public golf outing at Arrowhead Country Club in Edelstein on Aug. 22.

Home of the Brave will make NIL payments to the players — every player, including walk-ons, will get at least a minimum amount. Players can also be hired by members of the collective to do special appearances or commercials, etc.

They can also bring outside offers to the collective to be vetted. For instance, a wristband data device maker approached players recently asking them to wear their device in games and practices. The fine print? They would have been paid in a crypto currency launched by the company.

Hard pass, said Messmore.

"The collective is also there to give advice and protect the players," Messmore said.

Bradley head coach Brian Wardle directs his players in the second half Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021 at Carver Arena. Bradley routed the Maine Black Bears 71-39.

The view from the team

Bradley coach Brian Wardle knows the challenges presented in the era of the NCAA transfer portal. As he often says, programs don't just recruit their players, they have to re-recruit them every season.

NIL money available at higher-level programs — which is likely in part what happened in the case of Bradley star guard Terry Roberts leaving for Georgia — is a challenge for mid-major programs.

That's why Home of the Brave can be a game-changer for Bradley.

"The landscape of college basketball has changed over the last few years with the transfer portal," Wardle said. "You want to stay competitive with your market. We want to stay in the top tier of the Valley.

"This (collective) was organized by great Bradley basketball supporters, people who have loved this program for 30-40 years. They want to see us succeed, and it long pre-dates my time here."

More:Bradley men's basketball loses star guard to NCAA transfer portal

It's a critical tool now to help build and maintain teams. Especially with a competitive Missouri Valley Conference that has increased to 12 teams with incoming newcomers Belmont, Murray State and Illinois-Chicago.

"As always, our goal is to be in the top four teams of the Valley, win the tournament and get an NCAA tournament bid," Wardle said. "We hope this can help us. It's so new, we don't know yet."

The fine print

Fans can contribute by buying player merchandise and Home of the Brave merchandise offered by the collective on its website. Home of the Brave is not affiliated with Bradley University. It's an independent organization set up for the benefit of BU athletes under Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA NIL rules.

The collective can't sign recruits. It can only approach players after they've signed with Bradley. The collective's contracts also are limited in time and scope to protect the group's funds in the event a player transfers or leaves the program.

But among the benefits of Home of the Brave is to create a comfortable situation for players that will reduce transfer portal movement, the group says. Those with questions can contact the collective at info@hotbrave.com.

"NIL money for student-athletes, to help support them off the court," Wardle said. "I can tell you it's very much appreciated by them and means a lot to them."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.