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The Poster Child of NIL': North Carolina State's DJ Burns cashes in on Wolfpack's magical NCAA Tournament run

247 Sports - Everybody wants a piece of DJ Burns these days, and understandably so.

The Poster Child of NIL': North Carolina State's DJ Burns cashes in on Wolfpack's magical NCAA Tournament run

With an infectious smile and nimble playing style for a big man, DJ Burns has taken the nation by storm, guiding North Carolina State to an improbable Final Four run.

It's hard for a smile not to creep across your face watching the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns execute spin moves, crisp passes and a sweet mid-range jumper that defy his size (there's a reason he's become an object of NFL interest). Basketball analyst Terrence Oglesby might have the best description of his game: "A walking refrigerator with ballerina feet." The way he plays the game, full of joy, has made him the breakout star of the men's NCAA Tournamen . Even NBA superstar Nikola Jokic is a fan now after Burns had 29 points in an Elite Eight win over Duke.

Accordingly, the man nicknamed "Smooth Operator," "Big 30," and "Gen Z-Bo" has emerged as perhaps the epitome of what name, image, and likeness was intended to be.

The North Carolina State forward is everywhere these days. With a surging popularity and growing brand—his Instagram follower count has exploded to more than 180,000 in recent days—Burns has landed NIL deals with CVS Pharmacy, Intuit TurboTax, Barstool Sports, and Raising Cane's, among others. It certainly didn't hurt that 15.1 million people watched Burns lead the Wolfpack over the Blue Devils in the most-watched Elite Eight game in five years. Everyone wants a piece of Burns these days, and understandably so.

"He's a really good kid overall, very charismatic and authentic," said Aaron Hackett, director of athlete relations for Postgame, a NIL marketing agency. "Everything that he puts out, whether it's doing content or a press conference, he's very authentic and true to himself."

Hackett and Postgame CEO Bill Jula handled the CVS deal that came together in less than a day after North Carolina State knocked off Marquette in the Sweet 16. Postgame had already worked closely with Burns as part of an Adidas ambassador deal last year and saw that he cared about producing good content and consistently delivered what was needed. They reached out to Burns about doing a deal to promote CVS' same-day delivery service through its ExtraCare+ and CVS app, and Burns was the catalyst to getting multiple of his NC State teammates included in the deal. Burns predictably stole the show wearing sunglasses and extolling the virtues of keeping your face and body hydrated with lotion, but it was a win for everyone involved and showcased his other teammates. The video, posted Sunday, had 650,000 views on Burns' Instagram page.

It's not just that Burns is a burgeoning star that brands want to work with. Perhaps even more importantly, he can pursue deals and capitalize on the moment. You never know how long the ride will last, but Burns has smartly executed deals that make sense for him at the peak of his popularity.

For instance, the quick turnaround was crucial for the CVS deal. Jula credits NC State head coach Kevin Keatts for allowing Burns and other players to pursue NIL deals during the NCAA Tournament when "winning is far more valuable than waiting 'til they lose or it ends."

"A lot of coaches might lock that down and say no NIL deals, we have to focus on the Elite Eight tomorrow," Jula said. "You could see that not only come through in the campaign in being allowed to do it, but it reflects how they play on the court. They're loose; it's us against the world. Us locking down in a hotel room for 24 hours isn't going to change whether we win or lose."

That Burns is even playing in this NCAA Tournament speaks to the power of NIL. Before players could financially capitalize on their likeness, Burns may have had to head overseas to start making money playing basketball after he finished his senior season last year. But with the rise of NIL and collectives, Burns was able to come back for a fifth season, purchase a house in the Raleigh area, and give back to the local community.

Last summer, Burns wasn't anywhere near the name-recognition stratosphere he's in now, but well-traveled former Tennessee and Winthrop player was a well-liked figure and popular in North Carolina among Wolfpack fans. He organized three meet-and-greet sessions around the state by himself, charging $10 for photos and $15 for autographs, and made about $3,000 off one in New Bern.

Afterward, following a couple of trips to the local Boys & Girls Club in Raleigh, Burns had a question for North Carolina State's collective: Could he donate the NIL money he made to the club? He noticed it needed new basketballs, basketball nets and other equipment, and wanted to know if it was legal for him to help. The answer was yes, and it spoke to who Burns really is, according to OnePack NIL collective general manager Chris Vurnakes.

"He is, for us, the poster child of NIL," Vurnakes said. "Three or four years ago, he would not have been able to take advantage of these opportunities, but throughout the last month, he's been offered dozens of NIL opportunities. ...He's very in demand. He's great in commercials, and he has a great personality that you see on the court, which just exudes in our community."

Expect to see plenty more of Burns in the days leading up to Saturday's Final Four clash against Purdue. No one has better taken advantage of NIL opportunities that have cropped up during March Madness than Burns, and with all eyes on Phoenix, there should be more to come this weekend. True NIL marketing deals typically aren't as lucrative as the roster salaries from collectives and boosters, but as Burns keeps stacking national deals, he has the chance to make significant money off this NCAA Tournament run.

Burns may have only become a household name recently, but those around NC State couldn't be happier that it's all finally paying off for the gregarious big man.   

"What the nation has seen from DJ Burns over the last two or three weeks is what NC State fans have seen for two years," Vurnakes said. "He has the charisma, character, and personality that just shines, and he's not afraid of the spotlight."

John Talty is a national college sports reporter for 247Sports. He is the bestselling author of "The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama's Coach Became the Greatest Ever." 

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