CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Women’s basketball practice at Miami had been over for 30 minutes. Most of the coaches were gone. Almost all the players were gone. The scoreboard had long been turned off.
The Cavinder twins were still working.
Haley and Hanna Cavinder made their way around the 3-point arc, one shooting, then the other, over and over with a couple male practice players rebounding. The guys didn’t have to do much, since most every shot went through the net with a soft swish.
“What nobody knows about the twins,” Miami coach Katie Meier said, “is that they’re gym rats.”
NCAA Tournament-bound gym rats, that is, with ninth-seeded Miami playing eighth-seeded Oklahoma State on Saturday at Indiana in the Greenville 2 Region. The twins are major influencers with 4.4 million followers on TikTok alone, two of the bigger stars of the NIL era in college athletics, a pair of 22-year-olds who didn’t set out to get famous through short videos. They’re as serious about basketball as they are just about anything else, though that isn’t always noticed by those in the comment section.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that it hasn’t frustrated me. It has,” said Haley Cavinder, the older twin by two minutes. “I feel like coming in, you have to prove that. But that comes with it. I think people will paint you how they want to paint you. And if I’m known as an influencer and being successful, then that’s fine with me.”
Haley Cavinder leads the Hurricanes in scoring, averaging 12.6 points per game. Hanna Cavinder plays off the bench, averaging 4.0 points and is fourth on the team in 3-pointers made.
They came to Miami after playing three seasons at Fresno State, making the decision to transfer last spring with the goal of making the NCAA Tournament. When the NIL era started on July 1, 2021, and NCAA rules began allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, the Cavinders were among the first stars: Boost Mobile signed them immediately, touting the deal with a giant advertisement in New York’s Times Square, and many other deals followed.
Put bluntly, they were millionaires before coming to Miami. Success had already found them, and would have kept finding them no matter where they played. And they freely acknowledge that Miami had obvious advantages when they were transferring: phenomenal weather, family ties to the area and they immediately loved the campus.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie. Haley and I were perfectly fine at Fresno with NIL,” Hanna Cavinder said. “Perfectly fine. I didn’t transfer for NIL. We didn’t need to. I’m just going to put that out there and I’m trying to say that in the most humble way possible. Does the marketplace in Miami help? Yes. I’m not going to sit here and deny that either. I’m not stupid. But at the end of the day, I came here for basketball, came here to play on Saturday and be in March Madness. That was our goal. That’s why we trained so hard in the gym.”
The year at Miami has not always been easy.
Their recruitment was instantly scrutinized and led to Meier missing the first three games of this season through a university-imposed suspension that was handed down in anticipation of NCAA sanctions. Last month, Miami was placed one year of probation after the school and the NCAA agreed that coaches arranged impermissible contact between a booster and the Cavinders.
The twins did nothing wrong. Their eligibility was not jeopardized. But they were in the headlines anyway.
“I was in archaeology class and got a nice notification (on Twitter),” Haley Cavinder said. “I try not to react based off of emotion. We both knew we never did anything wrong. In that instance, when that happened, I was like, ‘Here we go.’”
Added Hanna Cavinder: “If you really know what happened and you actually read different articles and understand the basketball world, nothing was done that was wrong. It’s right there in front of you. But it’s the people that don’t really understand and just see the story and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re in trouble.’”
After the NCAA ruling, the Cavinders responded — fittingly — on TikTok with a 15-second statement that asked “dear NCAA, scared that female athletes have value?”
It got 2.2 million views and more than 100,000 likes. That’s an average day for the twins: Their TikToks alone have been liked more than 130 million times.
“The thing is, NIL, it’s a controversial topic to begin with,” Haley Cavinder said. “It’s new. A lot of people don’t understand it. A lot of older people don’t understand it. So with that, there’s already opinions. Hanna and I are trailblazers of it and that’s what comes with it.”
Their rise to fame started during the pandemic, out of boredom. Their TikTok videos, mostly dancing, went viral. They became stars, the timing was right with NIL about to happen, and they’ve reaped the benefits.
What makes Meier and teammates appreciate them is the work. They might have photo shoots or interviews or other responsibilities outside of class, but basketball never gets cheated. Haley has the better stats on the court; “nobody will outwork her,” Hanna said. And Hanna has the better mindset when it comes to taking advantage of the 24 hours in a day; “it’s like she’s my manager. My twinager,” Haley said.
They have been inseparable. That may soon end in the basketball sense. Haley Cavinder will play at Miami next season and take advantage of an extra year of eligibility; Hanna Cavinder isn’t sure if she will continue playing.
“There’s nobody closer to me than Haley in the world,” Hanna Cavinder said. “I love basketball. I ride or die basketball. I’ve given basketball so much of my life. And sometimes I’m like, I just want to breathe. I have to go back and weigh out my pros and cons.”
No matter what happens with basketball, the TikToks will continue. Their work together will continue. Their shared entrepreneurship will continue.
“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Haley Cavinder said, “and I want what’s best for her.”
And with that, they were off. The NCAA Tournament awaits. The Cavinder twins had more work to do.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25