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Budding brand BallDawgs highlights basketball in Las Vegas

So what if Neal Carter thought he was one of the best prep point guards in Pennsylvania? It didn’t matter what he thought if there wasn’t any game tape to prove it. So he paid one of the players on his high school’s junior varsity team to film him with one of those small, rectangular, obsolete video cameras.

“It was shaky footage,” the 32-year-old remembered from his office inside the Tarkanian Basketball Academy.

But it would have to suffice.

It was that shaky footage that helped him finally earn collegiate interest from Division II and III basketball programs across the East Coast. That eventually propelled him to IMG Academy and St. Leo University. It was that shaky footage that would propel him into that office at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy.

Albeit unexpectedly.

Carter is the founder and CEO of BallDawgs, a budding business based in Las Vegas that produces highlight tapes of basketball players across the country. In 21-plus months, the company has transformed from a casual Instagram handle into a legitimate corporation that covers the NBA, WNBA, BIG3 and prep basketball in Las Vegas and beyond.

The Instagram account boasts more than 180,000 followers, and the company also has a line of merchandise and promotes showcases and events, such as its All-Star Game in May at Democracy Prep.

Carter said his recruiting experience helped inspire the work BallDawgs does now in showcasing the talents of players at all levels.

But he hadn’t a clue that it would combust the way it has.

“It’s getting to that point where you’re looking at a multimillion-dollar entity,” said nine-year NBA veteran Jerome Williams, one of the company’s investors and a fixture on the local basketball scene. “The whole staff at BallDawgs has done a phenomenal job. That’s what happens when you put together that proper team.”

Before the brand

BallDawgs has indeed built the proper team, with more than 40 contributors around the country taping games on its behalf. But Carter is the leader, and his selfless, jovial nature has a calming influence across the company.

He hails from New Jersey, a state steeped in a rich basketball tradition that fueled his everlasting love for the game. He played in high school, at IMG as a post graduate and at St. Leo in St. Leo, Florida. Carter committed as a point guard, but said the Lions brought in a better one, thereby limiting his playing time and beginning the next phase of his life.

He had worked as an event promoter while attending St. Leo, throwing parties at local residences and clubs and using Facebook to build his brand. He dropped out to promote and plan events full time, bouncing between Miami and Atlanta before moving to Las Vegas in 2018 to pursue a position with MGM Resorts International.

Carter began coaching basketball that fall at Founders Classical Academy of Las Vegas, a charter school that emphasizes academics more than athletics. He created an Instagram handle on behalf of the school in an effort to market the players.

The handle would eventually become BallDawgs.

Carter parted ways with Founders because of their differing philosophies and rebranded that handle as “a page for the community” after consulting with his former players.

“I just started going to events more than anything else and was just reposting what everybody else was posting,” Carter said.

BallDawgs was officially formed Oct. 1, 2019.

Building the brand

One of those events in October 2019 was Halloween Hoops, an annual preseason showcase at Coronado High that precedes the high school basketball season. It was there that Carter met Jacob Machnik, a former Cougars player turned videographer who had committed to covering the 2019-20 high school season.

He was there to film for fun, but Carter had another idea.

“At first, it was really informal,” Machnik said. “It was just like, ‘Hey, was that you filming at Halloween Hoops,’ … He kind of just made me an offer like ‘I’ll shoot you some money if you get anything really dope. You can send it to me, and I’ll post it on the page and tag you.’

“Eventually as the high school season went on, we kept running into each other at the same events. … The vision just kind of developed dynamically over time as we kept working together.”

With Machnik on board, BallDawgs created content throughout the 2019-20 season, culminating with its first All-Star Game at American Prep Academy. Highlights circulated across social media, and the brand began to grow exponentially as top players with big followings reposted BallDawgs content — creating a need for more videographers, such as former Durango guard Marq Mosley.

The coronavirus pandemic essentially put a halt to basketball in Las Vegas, save for the occasional underground open gym that top players would discreetly attend. But Carter, Machnik, Mosley and company used the surplus of free time to build mixtapes from games they had taped in 2019-20, showcasing players at all levels until basketball activities resumed.

They also began dabbling in graphic design, contracting with freelancers and editors to create commitment announcements and things of the sort. The content has helped provide publicity for players, linking some to college programs they would eventually sign with.

“They didn’t focus on all the big-time players. … There was never any favoritism with them,” said UNLV freshman guard Keshon Gilbert, formerly of Durango. “From the little kids, to five stars, to no stars, it was always love with everybody.”

And it still is.

Carter said BallDawgs has multiple investors and other prospective ones interested in helping the brand compete with Overtime or Ballislife, two of the most prominent companies in the mixtape industry. Williams used to coach at Findlay Prep and worked closely with Ballislife.

He said BallDawgs has similar potential — with videos that generate more than one million views per week.

Sometimes Carter can’t believe it, either, but he remains focused on helping the brand continue to blossom. One event, one mixtape, one post at a time.

“Sometimes I think we all don’t realize how big the brand has gotten,” said Malik Ricks, a staff videographer. “Just to see all this stuff come through in what we’re doing and how far it’s taken us and people recognizing us. It’s like the sky is the limit.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.