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Zia Cooke, one of the highest paid college basketball player, talks about the impact of sponsorship deals

College basketball made headlines last month for a reason beyond the NCAA March Madness tournament when Opendorse released new data showing female basketball players are the second highest paid college athletes. Zia Cooke — junior guard and leading scorer for the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team, which won the tournament in March — has been named one of the highest-paid college basketball players of the Final Four, according to Bloomberg.

“It just shows we can do a lot of things that a lot of people say we can’t do,” she told CBS News. “Seeing all the girls there for NIL and I think it was just a boy shows that we can do literally anything they can do. It’s a business and it’s super efficient for women and men.”

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Portraits
South Carolina Gamecocks #1 Zia Cooke poses during media day at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four at the Minneapolis Convention Center on March 30, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images


Opendorse, which is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, tracks what sports agents call name, image and likeness, or NIL, deals, and found that college footballers are the highest paid, while male basketball players rank just behind their female counterparts.

This comes after the United States Supreme Court ruled last year’s college athletes should be allowed to control their name, image and likeness, and make money from it. Now you can catch your favorite college athletes wearing Puma apparel, holding a Doordash bag with their personal discount code, or even featured in an advertisement.

Female basketball players have been able to bank more than their male counterparts, in part due to their higher social media followings.

“I feel like a lot of people really love women’s basketball. It’s just hard for them to admit it, and I don’t know why,” Cooke said. “But I think the newspaper shows everything, the stats. The stats show everything.”

Cooke has over 228,000 followers on Instagram. And if you want this young star to scream your product, her posts are valued at a potential $8,000 each, Bloomberg reported. She is her team’s best potential earner and one of the best potential earners in college basketball.

The point guard recently partnered with H&R Block in his biggest deal yet, and said working with the company was “super, super fun”.

“It gave me a chance to show who I am for a minute,” she said. “I did DoorDash, which was also super fun. I’ve done Bojangles deals and I’ve done Fenty Skin, Rihanna’s line, so I’ve got quite a few and this is just the start. I I’m excited for what’s in store.”

What does a 21-year-old do with that much money? For Cooke, she doesn’t even look at her account.

“I don’t even want to know how much money I have,” she said. “I haven’t looked at the account since I started. Now I just try to stay focused on my best work… I want to save because once you see the prices you want to buy stuff like that. ”

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