Nine members of the Kansas men’s basketball team proved Sunday night that the benefits associated with name, image and likeness dollars can be a two-way street.
In attendance at The Oread Hotel on Sunday night for Family Promise’s largest fundraiser of the year, the nine Jayhawks joined together to donate $17,000 of their own money to the organization, a nonprofit outlet that serves to combat homelessness for Douglas County families.
Each of the players was paid to attend the event as part of an NIL deal, and, in addition to mingling with guests and participating in a Q&A; session on stage with emcee Brian Hanni, the Jayhawks watched a video about one family’s struggle with homelessness.
That was enough to get their attention and their emotions took over from there.
“The money we all donated was because of J-Wil,” KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr., told the Journal-World on Monday of teammate Jalen Wilson. “He was the one who said something in our team group chat.”
Putting that idea into practice came during the fund-a-need portion of the event, when Hanni asked donors to raise their paddles to pledge various amounts of money. Largely quiet, Hanni tried to rally the room during the lull and was shocked to see KU’s KJ Adams and Bobby Pettiford throw their hands up to pledge $1,000 apiece.
The rest of the team soon followed. Shortly after Adams and Pettiford spoke up, Wilson told Hanni that he and Kevin McCullar Jr. were in for five each. Because the last amount was $1,000, Hanni assumed Wilson meant $500 each. When Wilson clarified that he meant $5,000, Hanni was blown away and the room went wild.
“I’m fortunate to get to emcee about 80 events like this every year, and I’ve never seen a moment like that,” Hanni said. “The crowd immediately roared with applause in a standing ovation and then the additional giving around the room spread like wildfire.”
Added Wilson: “I think people were surprised. But after watching that video, I just got really moved by it and thought to myself if I can contribute to help people going through that in some way, I’m going to do it. I just felt the need to do it and if I have it or I can help I’m going to do it every time.”
Joining Harris, Wilson, Adams, Pettiford and McCullar in contributing to the $17,000 pledged by KU players were Kyle Cuffe Jr., Michael Jankovich, Cam Martin and Joe Yesufu.
It all led to a record night of fundraising. Family Promise Executive Director, Dana Ortiz, did not have the final numbers from Sunday’s event but said there was no question that the amount raised was a record for the organization.
“Fundraisers like the auction party are critical to us continuing to serve large numbers of families in need,” Ortiz said Monday. “An incredibly generous donor stepped up to arrange for the men’s basketball team to appear at our largest fundraiser and the basketball players who attended brought so much love, energy and community spirit to the auction party. This was an incredibly generous gift, beyond them already taking time to support the work of Family Promise of Lawrence, and their generosity is a true testament to this team.”
Entering last weekend, Family Promise had served 221 families and 647 individuals this year alone. Wilson was thrilled to think that the Jayhawks’ group gesture and the donations it inspired would push both of those numbers higher and he was happy to be able to show “I actually care about why I’m here.”
This instance of Kansas athletes being involved with local charities is not limited to the men’s basketball team and it could become a big part of KU’s future NIL plans. Earlier this year, five members of the KU football team — Devin Neal, Jalon Daniels, Earl Bostick Jr., Ky Thomas and Kenny Logan Jr. — did a similar deal with Family Promise. And 20 other football players were involved in a spring fundraiser for Just Food.
On Monday, other Kansas basketball players, including Zach Clemence, Gradey Dick, Zuby Ejiofor, Charlie McCarthy, Ernest Udeh Jr. and Wilder Evers, attended Family Promise’s annual golf tournament, the Dale Willey Memorial Golf Tournament at Lawrence Country Club.
“It’s not always about taking,” Wilson told the Journal-World. “I’ve always been a big giver and I’m always trying to help the next person and we were able to do that. I just felt like we could make the statement that NIL’s not always about us gaining money; it’s about us being able to change people’s lives with the money we’re receiving.”