Scott Cross wasn’t surprised when he heard that two of his former athletes, alumni DJ Bryant and Link Kabadyundi, had become business partners.

Entrepreneurial spirit and a strong friendship led Bryant and Kabadyundi to create Next Play, a brand focused on helping student-athletes achieve success outside of sports.

“Birds of a feather flock together. Like I mentioned, I mean, those are two of the greatest guys I’ve ever been around,” said Cross, former men’s basketball head coach. “It wouldn’t shock me if they continue working together outside of this.”

The pair jump-started the brand in early 2019, Kabadyundi said in an email. Bryant, who was a guard for the men’s basketball team at the time, was working in real estate, while Kabadyundi was working as a photographer for the UTA athletic department.

Bryant and Kabadyundi’s relationship goes back to 2016, when they became teammates. The duo grew close during and after their athletic careers, leading to their venture into the business world.

“[Kabadyundi] is my best friend, so we spent so much time together off the court and got to know each other there,” Bryant said. “We both had some type of passion or some type of thing that we were building off the court.”

Bryant said the idea for Next Play came to fruition when he and Kabadyundi were talking about stigma student-athletes face when their collegiate playing careers come to an end.

He said he drew inspiration from UNINTERRUPTED, a brand focused on athlete empowerment that was created by NBA star LeBron James and businessman Maverick Carter.

The duo wanted Next Play to achieve something similar to that brand, but they wanted the focus to be college athletes.

Kabadyundi said the purpose of the brand is to help student-athletes grow as they transition into the real world after college, whether it’s as a professional athlete or not.

“College athletes are the [centerpiece],” Kabadyundi said. “We encourage these athletes to leverage what they have at hand to create a ‘next play’ for themselves, both during and after their playing days.”

Bryant said he took advantage of the connections he made as a college athlete and used those connections as “free marketing.” He wants other student-athletes to take advantage of the opportunities they are offered while on scholarship.

Kabadyundi and Bryant began spreading awareness of the brand by creating T-shirts with the Next Play logo stretched across the chest. They partnered with eSix Sportswear in Arlington to create the logo and their first set of T-shirts.

Cross recruited and coached the duo from 2016 to 2018 and was one the first people to be made aware of the brand in its early stages. Now the men’s basketball head coach for Troy University, Cross said he received one of the Next Play T-shirts from Kabadyundi when he visited his family on a vacation in Florida.

Bryant said some of his former teammates and other athletes at UTA have already purchased Next Play T-shirts, and he hopes that he can see the brand grow at his alma mater.

“It’s cool to see that, especially [because] it’s somewhere where it started at,” Bryant said.

Kabadyundi said he wants to move the brand beyond just T-shirts. He said they will turn to social media posts and interviews with student-athletes to grow the Next Play brand.

“We want to continue putting out events in order to accomplish our mission in inspiring and preparing student-athletes to be all-around professionals in,” he said.

@c_amaya7

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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