From the halls of the University of Florida to the highest level of the sport.
Florida Gators basketball reached its pinnacle when head coach Billy Donovan controlled the reins from 1996 to 2015. Winning 35 NCAA tournament games and back-to-back national championships while at Florida, Donovan saw droves of talent cycle through his building for nearly 20 years.
However, of the talent that repped the orange and blue during the accomplished Donovan era, none live up to the individual production and personal brand built by Washington Wizards star guard and first-time Olympic competitor Bradley Beal.
Reminiscing about his cherished time at Florida, Beal sat down with AllGators to discuss playing for Donovan, the new NIL rule implemented by the NCAA on July 1 and his partnership with Shamrock Farms' Rockin’ Protein.
As one of the only one-and-done players in Florida basketball history, Beal’s special talents on the hardwood left a lasting impact on the program and the program on him. For Beal, his one-season career at Florida was more than just a stepping stone to the NBA; it was a learning experience that aided his transition into becoming a man, on and off the court.
“It was amazing for me and very well needed. I always say it was short-lived because I love Billy Donovan, and I wanted to win him a national championship, and I always told him that even when he [is] coaching with the Bulls now," Beal said. "It was amazing, man.”
Despite being one of the best players — if not the best — Donovan has ever coached, the mutual understanding between the two that everything had to be earned on Beal’s part strengthened their relationship. In fact, it was the drawing factor for Beal to attend UF.
“I chose his school because he never guaranteed me anything. He didn’t make anything easy for me. He said, ‘You may not start. You may not play a lot, but you will become a man. You will get better every day.’ That’s what I respected about him, and I embraced that every day. He lived out his part of the deal. He got me better every day, and I left out of there as a man. He was awesome for me.”
Helping him start his path to success, the University of Florida played a substantial role in laying the foundation for Beal to build his personal brand. Now, Beal has taken advantage of his platform, recently partnering with Shamrock Farms’ Rockin’ Protein, a protein beverage that uses real milk, is low in carbs, has no added sugar and keeps Beal’s body performing at the highest level.
“It’s my go-to protein for several reasons. Tastes great; it’s very high in quality protein and natural nutrients that you don’t get in all products. This is made with Shamrock farms milk, natural milk, that you’re getting your true nutrients from. It’s low in sugar, with no added sugar. [It has] all the things you need to perform at a high level,” Beal says.
“What we put into our bodies as athletes is always important, or even people of all fitness levels, what you put into your bodies is always important. So, I stand by this product. It’s been well worked and fit for me. There are an infinite amount of companies out there that preach that their brand is the brand, but I really believe it in [Rockin’ Protein’s] product.”
Rockin' Protein is available at local grocery stores across the nation, including at Publix's in Florida.
Taking a step back to reevaluate his time in college nearly a decade removed, Beal wishes he could “go back in time and go back to school.” With new NIL rules implemented by the NCAA allowing college athletes to profit off themselves, AllGators asked Beal — as someone who would’ve reaped the benefits — his thoughts on the new climate of college sports.
Speaking candidly on the issues of the rule, Beal provided an unexpected response of pessimism, expressing his concerns for the profusion of questions still to be answered for how young athletes should — and will — handle the new opportunity.
“I really want to read more into it and understand it, but, for the most part, I have more concerns than positives about it. Granted, I’m for rewarding these young athletes who risk their bodies, sometimes lives, playing these games and these sports. In that regard, 100 percent, there should be some time of format to where players can get paid.
"My biggest thing is making sure that there’s an even playing field. Obviously, some guys are going to make more than others. There’s going to be some guys in the team that may not get sponsorships or NIL [deals]. So what do they do? What happens to them,” Beal questioned. “So, it’s just making sure that everyone’s taken care of, it’s done in the right way and guys aren’t being taken advantage of. You know, that they know what they’re signing onto.
All in all, Beal disputes the vague style in which the rule was introduced, saying, "I like the idea, but I would also like it to be a little more clear. It’s kind of a free for all, and kids are just going to jump on something because they’ve never seen that amount of money before."
How do college athletes ensure that they are making wise decisions for themselves? Do they mirror professional athletes to operate as individual entities?
In an attempt to provide clarity for the young competitors, Beal provided some perspective into the seriousness of the endorsement process and the steps to take to guarantee college athletes know what they’re signing.
“I always say educate yourself before you do anything. You know, read about the brand, read about their product, what it is that they do, who they represent, what they have done in the past and go from there. Hire a lawyer to read over the paperwork because there’s going to be a few terms that you’re not going to understand and language that you’re not going to understand.”
Meanwhile, Beal, like many others — including the NCAA itself — when discussing NIL, failed to have all the answers, specifically when discussing the possibility of signing agents early in one's career, citing his inability to predict what the college landscape will offer in the near future.
“I can’t imagine college kids having an agent. It’s probably the most negative thing. Like you tell your coach ‘go talk to my agent,’ that’s not going to sit well with some coaches,” coach Donovan being one of them. “I’m very curious to see how it goes. Hopefully, it’s not as crazy as it could be, but I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Despite expressing his concerns for how the rule was implemented, criticizing the “free for all” atmosphere that the rule has already created in less than two weeks, Beal feels that the opportunity to earn money in college could’ve tipped the scale in the opposite direction when he was weighing his options to go one-and-done in favor of the NBA.
“It very well could have, honestly," Beal shared. "Part of my decision to leave was to get my family out of our financial situation. We didn’t grow up with anything. That was a bonus for us, but if you were making some money on college, that could’ve eased off some of the stuff your family may have been having to deal with. Maybe I could’ve embraced being in school and doing another year and not having to worry about ‘Okay, I need money. I need the money from being drafted.’
"It could have went that way, for sure.”
Meanwhile, leaving to go to the NBA has worked out in the long run, as Beal has grown his net worth to $40 million at 28 years old and is coming off an impressive playoff berth with the Wizards that included being second in the league in scoring at 31.3 points per game on the year.
Beal’s path to success has been unorthodox. Starting with a move from St. Louis (Mo.) to Gainesville in 2011 for a short college stint to producing an already admirable NBA career by age 28, the man who prioritized his family above all when making the jump to the professional level continues to break down barriers for himself and his loved ones.
However, not one to forget where he came from, Beal’s connection with Florida continues to be a strong one despite the turnover since he left for the draft in 2012 and exudes his love for the school when speaking on it.
Now, Beal embarks on a new journey as he participates in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, representing team USA and the Gators with hopes of bringing home a gold medal.