Adrien Nunez is going to get heckled by opposing fans at other Big Ten arenas this coming season. He knows it, and he’s excited for it. After all, Michigan basketball didn’t get to play in front of full crowds last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Any fans — even hostile ones — will be a welcomed sight.
Now, Nunez won’t be on the receiving end of some insults just because he plays for the reigning Big Ten champions. He’s become quite the hit on social media, and is set to profit off his name, image and likeness (NIL) in a big way. The fans giving him some extra attention, well, that just comes with the territory.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native has over 1.7 million followers on TikTok — where he has totaled over 89.2 million views on his videos — and over 113,000 followers on Instagram. With the help of his brother, Henry, a graphic designer, Nunez created his own logo, which is a silhouette of his head, and is selling merchandise on his website.
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Much of Nunez’ following — and fame — has been accumulated over the last calendar year, when he first heard about the possibility of the new NIL rules that are now in effect, he told Brian Boesch on the Defend The Block podcast this week.
“First getting into college, I was not thinking about this at all,” Nunez admitted. “I had the least amount of followers, and wasn’t a really big social media guy. Instagram was whatever; I just had it just because everybody else had it. I had the least amount of followers, so there was no reason for me to invest any time into it.
“Then, I started hearing the rumors about the possibility of the NCAA allowing us to profit off our name, image, likeness. Then the pandemic hit. I was like, OK, this is perfect timing — we have all this time on our hands — I’m going to build my social media. I just want to build it a little bit so I can profit when that day comes. I just want to get a couple more Instagram followers.
“And then some videos just started doing really well, and it just became what it is today. In March, this was the whole point of building the social media, for this day that I could profit off of it.”
That day was July 1, and Nunez was more than prepared. His social media accounts have come a long way from when teammate Brandon Johns Jr. first told him TikTok is a fun way to share content.
“Brandon Johns actually had told me about it in January of 2020, even probably December,” Nunez said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m not getting on TikTok, there’s no way.’
“From January to March [of last year], it started to become a little bit more normal. People were watching it or at least were on the app. So I was like, ‘OK, it’s not a weird thing. It’s not just a thing that’s going to go away.’
“And then I posted some videos, I posted a highlight reel with me and a bunch of other alumni and then I did one with [head coach] Juwan [Howard] — and they did pretty well and made me realize TikTok’s one of the only apps where you can really reach an audience outside of your followers, a huge audience. You can grow the fastest, you can grow your other platforms the fastest.
“So I was like, OK, I did it a couple times. I can do it again. So I just kept trying videos, they kept doing well. I just kept tapping into whatever algorithm they have, and they kept pushing my videos out and continued to grow.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done, boosting his profile well beyond what it typically would be for a reserve college basketball player. He’s helping himself out — absolutely — and he’s also giving advice to other athletes who are reaching out.
“A couple have, in terms of just growing, especially since the rule just passed,” Nunez said. “They want to know who to talk to, what brands are willing to work with us, agencies that have non-exclusive deals and exclusive contracts and all that stuff. A lot of people are coming to me for that, and I just want to see everybody eat, as they say.”
Everybody is ‘eating,’ but Nunez is about to feast, and it’s all because he was well-prepared for the new rules ahead of time.
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