Philly’s Phinest: Brandon Austin

Brandon trophies

Brandon Austin with Three PIAA State Championship Trophies

He’s the best Philly has to offer… The talent and skill level are undeniable… He’s the man… After winning three straight state championships and being named Class AAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, Brandon Austin was a consensus top 50 player in the class of 2013. He had it all… The future seemed secure… He would make a splash in the Big East with Providence and then embark on a long career in the National Basketball Association.

Maybe $100,000,000 or more…

Then came the detours… First an incident at Providence… transfer to Oregon… then another incident at Oregon…

Dream deferred…

Time to pick up the pieces… Forget basketball… It was time to rebuild trust and salvage his reputation…

After considering his dwindling options, Brandon decided to place his fate in the hands of Steve DeMeo, coach at Northwest Florida State College. DeMeo recognized that despite the allegations, Brandon was never convicted of anything… After meeting with Brandon, he felt the young man deserved an opportunity to continue his education and reestablish his basketball career. He gave him a scholarship.

Brandon reported to the campus in the sleepy town of Niceville, Florida ready to demonstrate that he was not the “predator” portrayed in national media outlets. For the past year, he kept his head down, stayed humble and accumulated academic credits. DeMeo says, “Brandon has been great with us. He’s a very respectful young man. He’s done everything we have asked of him off the court and more.”

On the court, Brandon flourished… Finally able to play after a year of allegations, investigations and suspensions, he led Northwest Florida to the Florida State Junior College Championship and the National Junior College Championship. The Raiders finished with a record of 33-2 and Brandon was named Most Valuable Player of the National Playoffs.

NWF Champs

Northwest Florida State after winning Florida State JUCO Championship

While he has been cleared of all criminal charges, Brandon acknowledges that he made some questionable decisions that cost him dearly. “I have been focused on improving my decision-making. I have learned to better assess situations. In the past, I kinda went along with the crowd, no more of that for me.”

The basketball world has taken notice of the fact that he still one of the best players in the nation. Brandon is a long athletic combo guard with tremendous ball skills. He can play the 1, 2 and 3 position. He is an intelligent and smooth playmaker who never seems to get rattled or rushed into making mistakes. In his first year of competition at the collegiate level he showed great poise and maturity. In the semi-finals of the National JUCO Championship playoffs, with 0.6 seconds left, Austin stepped to the line and buried two free throws to send the second-seeded Raiders into the NJCAA Division I title game with a 105-103 overtime win over 19th-seeded Georgia Highlands. He ended the night with a game high 29 points and 13 rebounds.

Brandon_Austin_NW FS

Brandon Austin in National JUCO Playoffs

Offensively, he makes everything look easy. Austin has great imagination and creativity. He has exceptional vision and passing ability. He is an excellent decision maker and appears to have the ability to develop into an NBA point guard. His drive and kick is an effective element to his offensive arsenal. His length and long wingspan gives him the ability to disrupt passing lanes and shots, as well as giving him extra length to get to loose balls and get shots off.

Austin has good form on his shot and a quick release. He is very good at running the pick-and-roll, well ahead of most college guards. Brandon is capable of creating and hitting midrange shots with a nasty handle, using crossovers and fakes to rock defenders off balance. He has dedicated himself to improving his conditioning. He has worked on his body and is showing better upper body strength.

Most importantly, Brandon Austin is a winner. After winning 3 straight High School State Championships, he led his JUCO squad to the Florida State and the National Championships in his first year of collegiate competition.

Big 10, AAC, Big West, ACC, MEAC and SWAC teams have shown interest in Brandon. Some want to see him have another incident free year at Northwest Florida State. Others are willing to have him come on board immediately. Brandon can graduate with an Associate’s Degree this summer.

“I just wanna focus on finishing strong academically. I’ve never had any problems with my books in college. But, I have made some questionable decisions off the court and away from the classroom. My Mom, Lonnie Lowry (Team Philly), Warren Green (mentor) and my counselor Dr. Abby Baker have helped me make better decisions. I am grateful for the opportunity Coach DeMeo and Northwest Florida State gave me. When we won the Championship, I was happier for the school and my coaches than I was for myself.”

Brandon FT

Whatever path Austin chooses to follow, it seems like a safe bet that team will win a lot of games and he will stay out of trouble.

Perhaps, one of the City 6 will step up and give Mr. Austin a chance to finish his education at home… After all, he is Philly’s Phinest!

Bruiser, Dunph, Dr. G, Phil, Jay… give him a call…

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A Tough PHILLY Guard: The Recruitment of Traci Carter

Traci Carter, like so many great and very good South Philadelphia ballers that came before him, studied under the master.  He was a skinny somewhat shy 7th grader when I first encountered him in 2010. There he was in the excruciatingly hot gym at the Marian Anderson Recreation center running and running while Claude Gross was fussing, cussing and, most importantly, TEACHING every moment of the practice. Gross is a Philadelphia schoolboy legend. He was the MVP in 1952 while leading Ben Franklin High School to the Public league Championship. An unflinchingly honest and acerbic man, Gross doesn’t tolerate foolishness or bad basketball. Both are likely ignite a stream of profanity that would make Richard Pryor blush.

Claude and MustfaClaude Gross ‘instructing’ South Philly’s Mustafaa Jones immediately after he hit a game winning shot to defeat St. Joseph’s

Lionel Simmons, Geoffrey Arnold, Donnie Carr, Nate Blackwell, Maurice Lucas, Dion Waiters, Biggie Minnis and Mo Howard are just a few of the players that have benefited from the uniquely delivered instruction and unconditional love offered by Gross over the past six decades. Traci is the latest fruit from the Claude Gross tree.

This particular day, I was there with another of Claude’s proteges, Rashid Bey. Rashid was winding down an illustrious playing career that included being twice named Big 5 MVP, leading St. Joseph’s to the Sweet 16 and playing in Europe for more than a decade. Always restless, Bey was in the gym everyday with Claude’s South Philly ‘Developmental’ and ‘Future’ teams in the legendary Sonny Hill League. These are kids in grades 6-8.

Watching the practice, I asked Rashid “who can play… which one has a chance?”

He immediately called Traci over and introduced us. At the time Traci might have been 5’7″ and weighed maybe 125 lbs.

Traci-Carter-vs-Westtown“This is Del… He’s my guy… you need to stay in touch with him. I think you can play college basketball and he can help you with the academic part.”

Chewing on the collar of his shirt, Traci mostly stared at the floor. We exchanged numbers and, because Claude and Rashid asked me to, I have stayed in touch with him since then. Our conversations very rarely center on basketball. Indeed, I have seen him play exactly two times in six (6) years. Once at the Reebok Invitational Tournament and again last week at Life Center Academy.

Nonetheless, I was never worried about his basketball development. He has always been in good hands, Traci is a child of South Philly. Former LaSalle great Donnie Carr has assumed primary responsibility for Traci’s athletic, social and emotional development. With Donnie, Rashid and Claude in his corner, Traci can’t go wrong. The basketball foundation was simply too strong.

My role over the years has been to badger him and monitor his academic development. A few times a month, I would check in or he would call me. Occasionally we would sit a classroom and together calculate his core GPA. I always wanted to make sure he understood exactly what he needed to accomplish. Traci would text me a picture of his grades whenever he received his report card. I steadfastly attempted to keep him on track academically. It would be challenging because he experienced quite a few bumps in the road outside the classroom. The way he has dealt with the circumstances makes him much more likely to succeed at the next level.

As a freshman at Prep Charter, in South Philly, Carter was expected to be an instant contributor and lead the school back to prominence in the Public League. Before he could play a game, he suffered a knee injury which required surgery… Out for the season…

Tracicarter romanAs a sophomore, Traci expressed a strong desire to be in more rigorous academic setting and play in a stronger basketball program. So, he ended up transferring to Roman Catholic High School. Playing his first year of scholastic basketball, he was named 3rd team All-Catholic while helping Roman Catholic reach the Catholic League semi-finals where they lost to St. Joseph’s Prep.

All was well… Until Carter violated the disciplinary code at Roman and was forced to find a new school…

Genuinely remorseful about his indiscretions, Carter and Donnie Carr reached out to Pervis Ellison, the Head Coach at Life Center Academy. Pastor Dave Boudwin and Ellison agreed to take Carter and he moved to Burlington, NJ. Teaming with Trayvon Reed (Auburn) and Malik Hines (UMass), Traci had a good junior year. His backcourt running mate was Pervis’ son Malik Ellison, another highly rated college prospect. Heading into the summer, Traci was widely considered one to the top 100 players in the country.

Malik & TraciTraci & Malik, Life Center Academy backcourt mates

And then it happened again… Another knee injury… Another surgery… Traci missed the entire summer AAU circuit… He recruiting came to a virtual standstill…

He was despondent. I went to visit him and his leg was immobilized and his spirits were down.

“Traci, you have to remain focused. You have to maintain your discipline with regards to your academic pursuits. Don’t let this injury affect your grades.”

“I got you Del.”

Slowly, but surely he regained his strength. But then his partner went down. Malik Ellison broke his leg. Traci would have to start his senior season without his main man running alongside him. Predictably, Life Center struggled immensely. Eventually, Ellison would return and once again the basketball community began to buzz.

Traci dribblingEvery day, there were different coaches in the gym… Pat Chambers (Penn State), Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Jim Christian (Boston College), Rick Pitino (Louisville), Kevin Ollie (UConn), Chris Mack (Xavier), John Giannini (LaSalle) and Fran Dunphy (Temple) are just few that made it to Burlington for glimpse of the ‘Traci Carter’ Show.

Rebecca Boudwin, an adviser to Life Center students raves about Carter. “He’s been such a wonderful addition to our learning and spiritual community. We love all of our basketball players, but Traci is special. We see how hard he works on and off the court. We’ve seen how he handled adversity. Through it all he has remained focused on his academics. We are extremely proud of Traci.”

With his grades in order and a qualifying score under belt, Carter is set to begin visiting different colleges. He says he wants to take all 5 of his official visits.

TRaci ShepTraci and Shep Garner at Penn State with Coach Chambers

Carter says, “The coaches have been so respectful to me during the recruiting process. I have grown to really like several of them. I feel like I need to go see and feel the campuses in order to make an informed decision.”

As far as official visits, he says will probably go to 5 from among The University of California, Marquette, UConn, NC State, Memphis and Xavier. Unofficially, Carter will take trips to see Penn State, Temple, LaSalle and a few others.

“I just want to find a place where I can continue to learn as a student and a basketball player. I want an opportunity to compete for playing time as a freshman and I want to graduate from college.”

Donnie Carr and the rest of South Philly have done an exemplary job guiding the young man this far, no reason to think they won’t continue making good choices.

Be on the look out for Traci Carter, he’s one tough PHILLY guard!

 

PA, NJ and DE College Hoops Power Rankings

As of 12/23/2014 at 4:43 pm…PA, NJ, DE College Hoops Power Rankings-page-0

Three things I know for sure…

1. Villanova is the best team;

2. DJay Newbill is the best player;

3. Shep Garner is the best rookie….

Let’s get the league games started!!

 

 

 

 

“You Treated Fairly?”: Open Letter to Philly’s Grassroots Hoops Community

Milk crateThe 1st hoop for many, many Philly ballers!!

If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
Don’t ever come to the ghetto
‘Cause you ain’t understand the ghetto
And stay the fuck out of the ghetto…
“Ghetto Bastard” Naughty By Nature

Basketball is THE inner city game. It is the game played in the ghetto, ‘round the way and in the ‘hood. Every year black communities and neighborhoods many consider off-limits to outsiders are invaded by representatives of multi-million dollar college athletic departments. Wave after wave of college coaches regularly venture into places most white people avoid after sundown. The trained eye can spot ’em a mile away.  You see ‘em roll up in rental cars fresh off the private jets looking lost in public housing developments.  The team logo and that of their shoe company sponsor featured prominently on a new golf shirt or sweater if it’s a lil’ chilly outside.  The over-sized Conference Championship ring is dripping with ice.

Rucker_parkAcross America in cities like Philly, Motown, NYC, Chi-town, LA, B-more, DC, ATL, and H-town representatives of America’s increasingly wealthy athletic departments come in search of beautifully sculpted Black bodies. They are looking for the young men that will lead them to the “promised land” or at least the “Sweet 16.”  This search brings to them to the projects, Section 8 homes and other low-income Black neighborhoods one after the other.  Representatives of the Math department, Chemistry department and History departments never seem to make their way down.  In much of the non-sports mainstream (mostly white) discourse, urban centers are derisively described and as isolated pockets of dysfunction, deviance and despair to be avoided and in some case obliterated, if the opportunity for gentrification presents itself.

The athletic department reps, the coaches, the recruiters are there for a very specific purpose.

These colleges and universities are vying explicitly to extract a valuable resource from these impoverished communities. They want young athletic Black bodies.  They want to co-opt the labor of our young men and use it to increase the economic status of the University President, Athletic Director and Basketball coach and other athletic department employees. They want our Black boys to serve as cheap labor in the multi-billion dollar enterprise known as collegiate athletics.  Now, it should be noted that along the way he may earn or be awarded (see recent UNC scandal) a degree in some obscure major with limited earning potential.

As bad as this situation sounds, it’s infinitely better than being one of the 72% of Black boys that fail to graduate from HS on time every year in places like Philly and NYC.  These young men are headed for a lifetime of low wage earning or they will participate in the extra-legal ‘hood economy and likely end up in prison. In the ‘hood, collegiate athletics is a possible way up and out of poverty.  But having dealt with college programs over the years, you know others benefit to a much larger extent.  The fates of the gifted low-income urban Black male athletes and wealthy white university athletic department employees are inextricably intertwined.

A situation has emerged whereby Black boys and the struggling grassroot basketball community from which they emerge are dependent upon billion dollar sneaker companies and college athletic programs with $100-$150 million dollar athletic budgets. The existing situation breeds economic success and financial security for Presidents, AD’s and coaches. In many ways, the existence and sustenance of grassroots programs is dependent on the their connection to college programs and the college program’s continued economic gain in dependent upon struggling grassroots basketball programs. Born out of this arrangement is a sort of mutual dependency.

Dr JJulius “Dr. J” Erving in a Harlem, NY Playground

High skilled urban Black male basketball players sell their athletic labor in return for athletic scholarships while the college athletic programs generate millions of dollars selling their performance to alums and the general public.  Coaches are paid million in salaries, bonuses and perks.

As the heads of the AAU/grassroots “farm system,” what are you getting? Are you treated fairly? Do the coaches, boosters and fans respect you?  Over and over, I hear that you guys are “killing” amateur basketball.  It’s bullshit.  AAU/grassroots basketball long ago superseded scholastic basketball as the premier development arm for collegiate hoops.

In Philadelphia, basketball is king among amateur sports. College basketball occupies a unique space in Philadelphia’s sports milieu. There are six (6) NCAA Division 1 Basketball programs in the Philadelphia area representing some highly competitive conferences. Villanova (Big East), Temple (AAC), St. Joseph’s (A10), LaSalle (A10), Drexel (CAA) and Penn (Ivy) all play in tough leagues with nationally recognized competitors.

Anyone that watches the games will notice some common themes regarding these teams and others in their respective conferences. A significant percentage of revenue is generated by basketball programs with a high percentage of urban Black male athletes.  The boys from ’round the way are getting it in.  North Philly’s DJ Newbill is the star at Penn State.  Jabril Trawick, hailing from the Westside, is the headliner for Georgetown.  Another North Philly native, Rysheed Jordan in manning the point guard spot in Madison Square Garden for St. John’s.  Chester’s Rondae Jefferson is back for a 2nd and perhaps final season at Arizona.  Black males from ’round the way are making a lot of money for these schools.

sidewalk hoops

The over-representation, employment and production of Black males in revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) is well documented. Black males represent a mere 5.8% of the total U.S population. Black males comprised 45.8% of major college football rosters and 61% of major college basketball rosters in the 2009-2010. The numbers for the pros are even higher. Over 67% of NFL players are Black and 78% of the NBA in 2011-2012. Collegiate and professional football and basketball organizations consistently scour the ‘hood when seeking talented players.  In many cases, you stand ready and willing to serve your players up to the hunters. I want ask you some important questions.

Are your AAU/grassroots programs sufficiently benefiting? Do you feel like college programs respect the role you play? Do college coaches and fans appreciate your tireless efforts getting these guys ready for the next level?

Is it enough for these programs to just come year after year and take the most talented and highly gifted without considering the plight of those left behind?

Do the City 6 programs work with you when your kids can’t afford the $200, $300 or even $400 price of their camps? Do they give you balls? Do they donate equipment?  Do they make sure you “eat” when you bring your players to visit their campuses? Do they provide tickets to your organization so the younger kids can see the older kids play “live”?  Or, do they just come through, pick the ripest fruit and get back in the German luxury sedan?

Baltimore BoyPuttin’ in work…

Let me know… I’m really curious.  Remember, you have leverage.

If they tell you the kids have to “pay” full price, let everybody know… Tell the other AAU/grassroots coaches how you were treated…  Share information about your experiences…. In my opinion, Black boys have already paid. Let me show you how.

Young men from the ‘hood currently participating in revenue-generating sports (football and basketball) far exceed their white counterparts and other races. Keep in mind football and basketball make virtually all the money supporting all the other white dominated collegiate sports. Think about this fact, less than 1 percent of the total collegiate student-athlete population generates more than 90% of NCAA revenue during “March Madness.” Of the 1 percent, well-over half were Black young men from ’round the way.

Over the past decade (2004-2013), the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has triggered more than $6.88 billion of national TV ad spending from 269 different marketers. Ad revenue in 2013 was $1.15 billion, up 3.8 percent from the prior year.  Less than 1% of college student-athletes generate this staggering amount of revenue, the overwhelming majority are young Black men from the ‘hood.

Guys from the ‘hood played, started and produced more than their non-Black teammates. Locally, Black players scored 73.9% of Temple points last year. Blacks accounted for 83.5% at St. Joseph’s, 87.3% at Villanova, 98.3% at Drexel, 87.1% at LaSalle and 65.7% at Penn.

Wilt Claude

The 1953 Christian St YMCA, National Champions, featuring Philadelphia school boy legends Wilt Chamberlain (standing center) and Claude Gross (seated 2nd from right)

The local colleges and universities want and need Black athletic talent. Their labor is undeniably needed to sustain massive inflows of revenues in athletic departments. Make no mistake colleges, universities, Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches are making money off the labor of young men plucked from the ‘hood.  The players get an “opportunity” to earn a college degree as long it doesn’t conflict with their athletic obligations. Alums, boosters and fans root for and are entertained by the performances of these young men.

Ask yourself: How do the university’s alums and fans really feel about the young men in the ‘hood? I know they shake your hand after your boy gets get 20 points  and grabs 10 rebounds against a rival. I know they cheer loudly and passionately for your boy when you’re seated next to them at the Wells Fargo Center, Liacouras Center, Hagan Arena and Gola Arena. But, how do they really feel about you and yours?  How do they talk amongst themselves?

Do fans of the local schools respect the communities that spawn the athletes that help them win games? How do they refer to the neighborhoods that border their respective institutions?  You have been there your entire life.  They are guests passing through while pursing a college degree.

One way you can get a feel for this is by perusing the local team message boards. It’s an absolute must for those desiring a peek behind the curtain of cordiality extended to your face during actual games and “official” visits to campus.  There behind the veil of a screen name, keyboard tough guys unleash their true feelings about the ‘hood and those who hail from there. They are talking about your Grandmom that refuses to move from the house she paid off years ago. They are talking about your cousin that is struggling to work 2 jobs to pay that Catholic school tuition. They are talking about your homie that’s remodeling the house his parents left him in their will. They talking about your Aunt with those hot ass plastic furniture covers on her “good” living room set.  They are talking about your uncle in the halfway because the police lied and fabricated evidence against him.

What are they saying? Far too often, they say “Fuck the community!” Far too frequently, they argue that they should “bulldoze your family’s homes!”

MinstrelTurn of the Century “Minstrel” Poster

Then 10 minutes later they argue that your son, grandson, godson, nephew, or youngbuck averaging 32 ppg for the public school ‘round the way should come to their school. They call President Obama and Attorney General Holder “minstrels.”  Meanwhile, the same person puts forth an argument why “Junior” should come, bust his ass and sack quarterbacks for their alma mater next year.  It’s a truly weird dynamic to observe. They make no apologies.  Indeed, the proudly claim they are speaking “truths”.  Many of them despise and hate the ‘hood, while simultaneously yearning for the big beautiful Black bodies walking down it’s narrow avenues.

I say Fuck ‘em!

I say keep track of these public discourses and hold the programs accountable.  I say ask the coaches and athletic directors to disassociate themselves from the most egregious offenders. If they choose not to, I say educate our young men from the ‘hood about the way SOME of the alums feel about them, their families and their neighborhoods.

Let’s not ignore those that wish you and yours harm.  Of course, MOST alums and fans are respectful and always decent in public and behind a screen name.  I say call on them to check the racist tendencies of the vocal minority within their family.  These boards have moderators.  If offensive language it left up, one can safely assume is is acceptable within that cyber-community of the school’s alumni.

Read for yourself. View this stuff for yourself. Make sure you let young people understand the parameters of public discourse surrounding their families and their neighborhoods.

The time has come to make sure our young people and their families are fully informed before they make the very important decision to earn money for a particular university.  If one or more of the local schools is offering your players a scholarship he will likely have other options.  If he doesn’t hit me up and I’m sure we can find a school that will pay his bills.

If you feel disrespected, if you feel unappreciated by local programs and their followers and they are offing your players scholarships you have options.  Exercise them.  Buyer beware!

It should be noted that it’s a very specific segment of the largely white male middle class fan and alumni base making the most vile statements.

Message boards are largely populated by white male alums of the schools. Recent surveys have identified the characteristics of message board posters. The data indicated that the vast majority of message-board users were male (87.8% of total, 92.2% of subscribers), White (90.8% of total, 92.4% of subscribers), and married (62.1% of total, 63.0% of subscribers); had least an undergraduate degree (76.0% of total, 79.3% of subscribers); and were current residents of the United States (97.4% of total, 98.1% of subscribers). Most respondents indicated that they were alumni of their message board’s school of focus (59.0% of total, 60.6% of subscribers). A total of 77.4% of survey participants indicated they were at least 30 years old, with subscribers tending to skew slightly older than non-subscribers. Also of note was the finding that 25.5% of all users were age 50 or older.

Let’s not send our young men where they aren’t welcomed and embraced. These are the internet addresses of message boards for the City 6 basketball programs.

St. Joseph’s Basketball – http://saintjosephs.scout.com

Temple Basketball & Football – http://temple.scout.com/

LaSalle Basketball – http://explorertown.proboards.com/

Villanova Basketball & Football – https://villanova.rivals.com/forum.asp

Drexel Basketball – http://www.caazone.com/boards/forums/drexel-dragons.7/

Penn Basketball – http://boards.basketball-u.com/showforum.php?fid/43/

Judge for yourself.

 

NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1: AAU Done Right

Steve Kerr-page-0

Is Steve Kerr correct?  Has the process of becoming a better team basketball player “become completely lost” within the now dominant world of AAU basketball?  Kerr’s sentiments have been echoed by many within the basketball hierarchy.  Detroit Piston’s Head Coach, Stan Van Gundy says, “[AAU] is a bad system for developing players… They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are.”

The deeply held pessimism is enough to make one wonder if there are any redeeming aspects of AAU/grassroots basketball.  Nonetheless, any knowledgeable basketball person will tell you AAU/grassroots circuits (NIKE, Under Armour and Adidas) have superseded high school in importance for aspiring collegiate and professional players.  Hence, parents face a quandary, do they forgo the most significant platform in terms of exposure and high level competition because of the concerns expressed by coaches like Kerr and Van Gundy?  Or, do they try to identify AAU programs doing the things the “right” way?  I’m going to assume that virtually every parent will choose the latter course of action.

This begs the question:  What does AAU/grassroots basketball look like when it’s done right? Of course, first and foremost the program must be competitive.  Of course, a good AAU program has to win tournaments.  Kerr complains that winning is devalued.  He significantly overstates his case.  Winning matters and it matter a lot.  No one wants to play for a program that get’s smoked game after game. Nobody wants to be on the wrong end of 20, 30 even 40 point blow outs in front of ACC, Big East, Big 10, SEC and A10 coaches. Good AAU programs win games. Some of the very best AAU programs are in the mid-Atlantic region. NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1 are doing AAU/Grassroots basketball the right way. They win and their players consistently go on to play at next level.

These are grassroots organizations with well-established support structures and developmental programs that have improved the quality play among their participants. It should be noted that high quality programs enhance the athletic, educational, and social development of the student-athletes. It can’t be all about winning AAU games and tournaments. But, make no mistake these programs win a lot of AAU games and tournaments.

Playaz Peach Jam2014 NIKE Peach Jam Champions, NJ Playaz

In 2014, Team Final, led by Rob Brown, was the regular season champion of the NIKE EYBL circuit. Their 14-2 record was the finest in what is widely considered the most competitive grassroots league. Jimmy Salmon’s NJ Playaz (pictured above), led by All-American Isaiah Briscoe (Roselle Catholic HS) won the prestigious Peach Jam title. The Peach Jam Tournament provides a culmination for teams playing on the NIKE sponsored the travel team circuit and allows 40 teams to compete for an ultimate goal each summer. It is the premier tournament of the summer. The Final Four of the Peach Jam wan nationally televised by ESPNU (see below).

Peach Jam ESPNUAnother nationally recognized AAU program has emerged out of Middletown, Delaware. Under the direction of Terrell Myers, WE R1 took home both the regular season and UAA Tournament championships in 2014.  Led by Derrick Jones and Malik Ellison We R1 defeated highly regarded Sports U to capture the Under Armour Association title (pictured below).  WE R1, like NJ Playaz and Team Finals, is generally considered one of the most competitive grassroots programs in the nation. All three are consensus top 25 teams, with NJ Playaz and WE R1 coming in 1, 2 in most national rankings.

2014 Under Armour Association Finals2014 Under Armour Association Champions, WE R1

So, they win big games and bring home hardware from the biggest tournaments.  What else makes these programs special?  Some obvious questions immediately come to mind: Do their players get recruited? Do they get scholarships? The track record of Jimmy Salmon and the NJ Playaz in this area is beyond reproach. Tim Thomas (Villanova), Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), Gerald Henderson (Duke), Eddie Griffin (Seton Hall), Marcus Toney-El (Seton Hall), Vince Carter (North Carolina), Kenneth Faried (Morehead St.), Dahntay Jones (Duke), Sean Singletary (Virginia), Earl Clark (Louisville), Jeremiah King (Drexel) and Kyle Anderson (UCLA). Of course J.R. Smith and Kobe Bryant would have been included had they elected to play collegiately instead of jumping straight to the NBA. Another Playaz alum is NY Giants ALL-PRO wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Kyle AndersonKyle Anderson, NJ Playaz

Team Final alumni roster includes NBA lottery picks Tyreke Evans (Memphis), Mike Gilchrist (Kentucky) and Dion Waiters (Syracuse). This year alone, seven Team Final players have committed to NCAA Division 1 programs. This list includes Malachi Richardson (Syracuse), Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova), TreVaughn Wilkerson (Hartford), Trey Lowe (Temple), LaMarr “Fresh” Kimble (St. Joseph’s), Ahmad Gilbert (Geaorge Mason) and Levan Alston, Jr. (Temple). Khaif Wyatt (Temple) and JaQuan Newton (Miami) are also recent high profile Team Final Alums.

dion waiters

Dion Waiters, Team Final

We R1 alums include Dexter Strickland (North Carolina), Ben Bentil (Providence), Markus Kennedy (SMU), Jaylen Bond (Temple), Jared Mann (Stanford), Charles Cooke (Dayton), Khalid Lewis-El (LaSalle), Isaiah Washington (Penn St), Austin Tilghman (Monmouth). This year’s UAA Championship team featured Tim Delany (Villanova-commit) and Derrick Jones (ESPN #22, 2015). Also in the program is Sedee Keita (ESPN #34, 2016).

Ben BentilBen Bentil, WE R1

By any reasonable measure, these programs produce kids that get recruited at the highest levels.  But, what else should you look for in a “good” AAU program?  Well, a good AAU/grassroots program build social cohesion and and increase social capital among young people and adults in their respective communities. The younger kids in the program and the larger community should benefit from the success of the older kids.  By the time the players participate on the 16u and 17u teams, they are generally very well known and look up to by younger players in the program and the surrounding community. Pay attention to the twitter and instagram accounts of the players in the program.  Read what they write.  Look at the images they project.  Is this how you want your child to portray himself publicly?  Watch how the student-athletes interact with younger kids and other members of the increasing AAU fan base. For programs like NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1, basketball is used as a practical tool to engage young people in their communities through volunteering, resulting in higher levels of leadership, community engagement and altruism among young people.

Dion book bag 2Dion Waiters, Team Final, interacting with youth during Book Bag Giveaway

Another indicator of a good program is the intensity of the relationships between the players and level of respect players (and former players) have for the coaches.  The relationships between AAU teammates are just as strong, perhaps even stronger, than those among high school teammates. Young people regularly spend 7,8 or 9 hours in vans traveling out of state to play in tournaments. They eat and sleep together on the road. In each of the highlighted programs, positive peer relationships are encouraged through coaching. If you spend anytime watching the teams practice and play it becomes apparent that social inclusion is very important to the coaches.  Talk to the kids that aren’t the stars on the team.  How do they feel about the program?  Of course, the guys getting all the attention and limelight are likely to be happy.  Are the non-starters benefiting as well?  Do they speak highly of the coaches and their teammates?

Social inclusion also relates to offering equal opportunities to educational programs regardless of ethnicity or basketball ability. There is a great deal of attention paid to ensuring Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA level players are academically eligible.  Rob Brown, Jimmy Salmon and Terrell Myers are consistently monitoring report cards, arranging SAT tutors and tracking GPAs.  Each treats the low D1, D2 and NAIA recruits the same way they treat the ESPN top 50 kids.  When evaluating programs, find out how the last man on the bench is treated.  That is a true indicator of the quality of the program.

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Sedee Keita, WE R1, ESPN #34 (2016)

Lastly, find out if their players exhibit a pattern a negative acting out behaviors.  Do they get suspended from high school or college?  Are there allegations or accusations of sexual misconduct or assault? Have their alums been arrested while in college?  Given the recent explosion in the number of criminal incidents involving high profile athletes, it is important to know the people you trust with your children.  There can be little doubt that NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1  have a positive impact on character-building in their participating players. The thugh element is virtually non-existent in these programs.  These young men go off to college and the overwhelming majority are highly successful on the court and they graduate.

This can be largely attributed to the respective roles Jimmy Salmon, Rob Brown and Terrell Myers  play within their respective organizations.  Plainly stated, they have high expectations and as a result have a positive influence on the degree of ‘character-building’ within their programs.  Research suggests that participation in organized athletics such as AAU basketball can be used as a means to reduce delinquent behavior. But it’s important to understand that playing basketball alone does not directly impact on negative behavior. Accordingly, good AAU programs combine basketball activities with academic, leadership and job-skills development and training to address risk factors in children and youth.

If you want to see AAU done right visit any one of these programs.

North Philly’s Devonte “D Jay” Newbill: Nittany Lion for Life

North Philly’s Devonte “D Jay” Newbill is one of the most talented college basketball players in the country.  His trek to the top of the college basketball world has been filled with potholes and detours.  Through it all, D Jay remained composed and focused on his long term objectives.

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On on March 15, 2010 Newbill led Strawberry Mansion High School to a 68-46 win over the Trinity Shamrocks coached by Larry Kostelac Jr. Following the loss, Coach Kostelac described Newbill as a “Terrific player.”

In the Mansion win, Newbill scored 18 points (8-12 fgs) and grabbed eight rebounds. Kostelac said, “Some of the shots he made with Jack Osborne and Mike Diminick [on him] were big time, and that’s what big-time players do.”

Make no mistake, D Jay was “big time.”  The 6-4 senior guard was committed to the Big East Conference’s Marquette Golden Eagles. “We’ve seen kids at the highest level before…. This kid’s going to be a hell of a player,” Kostelac continued. “The way he plays fits into that Marquette system.

Newbill nailed a 3-ball from deep on the right wing with 0.1 showing on the first-half clock.  That shot also gave Mansion a 32-20 lead at the break. “Tough shot, what are you going to do?” Kostelac wondered. “That’s the level he’s at.”

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Looking back, we have to give Coach Kostelac his due. He was dead on in his assessment. D Jay Newbill is a “hell of a player.” He plays at the the high major level. But, he never made it to Marquette University and the Big East Conference. After committing to his “dream school,” he signed a National Letter of Intent in April 2010. He was supposed to begin at Marquette on July 7th. D Jay never set foot on campus.

Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams fucked the kid over.

Publicly, Williams said, “Through a culmination of several things, we have decided to give DJ Newbill his release. DJ’s a great kid. He comes from a great family whom we have established relationships with, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him in his future, in whatever capacity that would be.” Within days of dropping Newbill, Marquette announced they signed Jamil Wilson, a local Wisconsin player who transferred home from Oregon. Plainly stated, Buzz cut D Jay to make room for a former Top 100 Wisconsin player coming home.

Even though he never made it to Marquette, signing D Jay was a smart move by Buzz Williams. Once D Jay signed, he could never land at another Big East school. Strategically, Buzz cut off the possibility of D Jay attending West Virginia, Georgetown, St. John’s or any school in his league. Interestingly, then Georgetown Assistant, and current American Head, Coach Mike Brennan and West Virginia Head Coach Bobby Huggins had just watched Newbill in person before he committed to Marquette. By accepting the National Letter of Intent from Newbill, Buzz effectively eliminated the possibility of facing D Jay in the Big East Conference. After the shrewd, but heartless, move by Buzz Williams, Newbill was permanently banned from playing for another Big East team.

Indeed, Newbill was left scrambling. His dream of wearing the Marquette uniform and playing in the Big East tournament was shattered in an instant. Through no fault of his own, he was once again looking for a scholarship.  The only difference was the Big East Conference was no longer an option.  Referring to the decision to release him, Newbill said. “I was mad and hurt when this first happened. Now I’ll just go forth with my career somewhere else. Back to the drawing board. I’ll have to be careful about what school I pick.” In what would become a recurring theme, Newbill learned from facing difficult and adverse circumstances.

There was still considerable demand for Newbill as college prospect, but it was very late in the recruiting season.  As a senior he led Strawberry Mansion, coached by Stan Laws, to the 2010 PIAA state championship game at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.  D Jay was named the Pennsylvania Class AA Player-of-the-Year after posting 24.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 steals per game as a senior.  He was a first-team all-state selection by the Philadelphia Daily News. He was also named the Public League Player-of-the-Year and first-team all-city and All-Public League. Mansion posted a 28-2 record during his senior year which was highlighted by a school-record 64-point performance in a victory over Saul, the sixth-highest point total in Philadelphia Public League history. As a junior D Jay averaged 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals as a junior and was named second-team all-state and second-team All-Public League. There was no doubt that Newbill could play, the question was: Where would he play?

Newbill considered hometown programs such as Drexel, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple but he eventually settled at Southern Mississippi. After being without a scholarship as late as July, Newbill had a wonderful freshman season, He averaged nearly 10 ppg and 6.2 rpg for the Golden Eagles as a 6’4″, 205 lb guard. Despite joining the program very late in the recruiting season, D Jay started all 32 games and played over 30 mpg.

Near the end of his rookie season, Newbill looked back on his college recruitment and the way Buzz Williams treated him, “All this made me a stronger person and a better player… Adversity builds character. It made me want to work harder to prove that I could have been there and played at that level.” After an unexpected detour, the young man from 33rd and Cumberland in North Philly had arrived on the college basketball season. Once there, he assumed center stage.  He was named to the Conference USA all-rookie team selection. Southern Miss Head Coach Larry Eustachy declared, “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a freshman that has all the qualities he has. Not just as a player – and he’s the best freshman I’ve ever had – but more so as a person and a leader.”

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Despite his early success, attending college in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was not exactly appealing to D Jay. Newbill truly never felt at home in Mississippi. After being deceived and mistreated by Buzz Williams and spending a year in the deep South, Newbill was longing for a place he could truly call “home.” His longing for Pennsylvania became especially intense after his first college basketball season ended.

Fortunately, he was given an opportunity to come North and to return to his home state of Pennsylvania. Pat Chambers offered D Jay an opportunity to attend Penn State University and play in the super competitive Big Ten Conference. Newbill would be Chambers’ first major recruit in Happy Valley.

As a high school student, Newbill chose Marquette because that was his dream school and he chose Southern Mississippi because they had spot for him in late July. As a young man, he chose Penn State because it was the best possible academic and athletic situation for him. After committing, he said, “I chose Penn State because of family atmosphere, academics and the Big Ten Conference… [I’ll get] a lot of exposure… Penn State is not too far. I can come home and then get away when I want to focus on me.” It was a great decision, a true win-win situation.

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D Jay Newbill is, in many ways, a throwback. His demeanor and his game reflect the influence of Philadelphia’s great basketball tradition. He is part of a distinct Philadelphia lineage. D Jay is a “Hardnett” kid. In Philadelphia, that immediately identifies a basketball player as patient, smart, skilled and well schooled in the fundamental aspects of basketball. Hardnett kids also exhibit positive social skills.  Hardnett kids went to class and put forth an honest effort with the books.  But it was the way they played the game of basketball that drew most to Hardnett kids.  The late John Hardnett, one of Coach Chaney’s disciples ran basketball workouts and fielded teams in the historic Sonny Hill Summer League program. John Hardnett kids play a distinctly cerebral brand of basketball.  Hardnett died suddenly in May 2010. Newbill was one of the last of many great high school and college players developed by Hardnett. Doug Overton, Aaron McKie, Alvin Williams, Marc Jackson, Jamal Nichols, Mark Tyndale, Mardy Collins, Scott Rodgers, Dionte Christmas, Samme Givens, Ellis Gindraw and many other Philly ballers were schooled by Hardnett.

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Penn State hired a Philly guy to coach the Men’s Basketball team and the first thing he did was sign a Hardnett kid. That was a sound decision, by all accounts a very good move.  Since Chambers and Newbill have joined forces, the Penn State basketball program has improved and PSU has a bona fide star in the best basketball conference in the nation. But, most importantly, D Jay Newbill has finally found a “home.”  He has embraced Penn State and feels a special connection with the student body and the Penn State community.

Newbill would lean heavily on his Penn State family before he ever played a game in the Nittany Lion uniform. On September 15, 2012, his mother, Tawanda Roach, died suddenly. She had been diagnosed with cancer just three weeks earlier. For the second time in two years, Newbill experienced the excruciating pain of losing a loved one. He was particularly distraught after his mother’s death. He explained, “I just snapped out after that. I was throwing stuff around my room and I just broke down…I don’t think it can get any worse than that.” At 20, D Jay had endured a tremendous amount of adversity. The coach of his dream school “dropped him,” his mentor died suddenly and then he lost his mother.  These were very tough times.  D Jay credits Penn State for supporting him through this time in his life.

With the full support of Penn State and the athletic department, D Jay was able to summon the inner strength and fortitude to continue pursuit of his academic and athletic goals. He said at the time, “I think these obstacles help shape me into the man that I going to become.” On the court, his play was inspired from the start. After sitting out the 2011-12 season in compliance with the transfer rule, Newbill exploded onto the Big 10 scene. This despite being forced to play point-guard after an early season injury to Tim Frazier.  D Jay led Penn State in scoring (16.3) and assists (4.0) and was second in rebounding (5.0) and steals (1.2). He ranked ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (16.4) and assists (4.1) in conference games. D Jay became the 17th Lion to score 500 points (504) in a season. He finished second in the Big Ten in minutes played (36.5) and third in free throw attempts (196) and 20-point games (10) in the regular season, including six 20-point games in Big Ten games.

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All he did the following season was get better in every category. D Jay finished second in the Big Ten scoring race to Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (18.0) at 17.8 points per game. He scored 20 or more in 10 of Penn State’s 31 contests. He led PSU in scoring on 15 occasions. Newbill led the team in field goal percentage at .466, averaged 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per contest. Last season, Newbill led the Big Ten in total points (552) and field goals made (192). How much better was he? From year one in the Blue and White to year two, Newbill’s shooting percentage increased by five percentage points (41 to 46 percent). His three-point shooting percentage increased by eight percentage points (27 to 35 percent). Newbill also made a seven-percentage point increase at the foul line from last season to this year (68 to 75 percent).

Academically, D Jay has been a strong student at PSU. He was only 6 credits shy of a Bachelor’s degree after the Spring semester ended. Coming off a strong season, he could have graduated and turned professional. How would he have fared? He would have been considered a potential second round NBA draft selection. Perhaps, he could have made a team as an undrafted free agent. He could also secured a fairly decent position in one of the more highly regarded European Leagues. Or, he could have ended up in the NBDL for a year. Who knows? The important point is that because of his focus on academic as well as athletic goals, D Jay Newbill,  after four years of college could have graduated from Penn State and began a professional basketball career.

But turning pro wasn’t his only option.  D Jay had several others avenues . The 5th year transfer rule would have allowed D Jay to graduate and ‘transfer’ to another program and retain immediate eligibility to play at the new school. This is an increasingly widespread strategy. As an All Big Ten performer D Jay would have been an attractive 5th year addition to many of the Top 20 programs in the nation. This fact wasn’t lost on D Jay’s friends and supporters. There were many suggestions offered.  D Jay, however, took a different view.  He found that he viewed the situation from the perspective of a Nittany Lion.

“When I arrived at Penn State there was a lot going on with the sex scandal. Outsiders talked about that stuff, that wasn’t the Penn State I knew,” said Newbill. “I experienced the biggest personal loss of my life and Penn State became like my family. What matters more than going pro early or making money is my legacy as a Nittany Lion. As a team, we have been getting better every year. Two years ago we won only 10 games and 2 Big 10 games. Last year we won 16 games and 6 Big 10 games. This year we will make another jump and make the NCAA tournament.”

D Jay is cognizant of his ongoing journey from North Philly to Penn State graduate and NBA prospect. His high school was featured on ABC’s flagship news program, “World News with Diane Sawyer,” in a special report on the state of education inside one of Philadelphia’s toughest schools to learn. At Strawberry Mansion, the average SAT Critical Reading score is 348 the average SAT Math score is 326. The average M/V combined score is 674. D Jay went through an adjustment period upon arriving at Penn State University where the average SAT scores fall between: Verbal: 530 and 630 and Math: 560 and 670. The average combined score is between 1090 and 1300. D Jay realized that he had to dedicate himself to his studies and work closely with the academic support staff for student-athletes.

Newbill has experienced first hand the leap from one of the poorest performing schools in Pennsylvania to success at Penn State University.  He never loses sight of the fact that he is from 33rd and Cumberland and will soon be a Penn State Alum.  “I really appreciate everything made available to me at Penn State. Everyday I work out, train and learn at one of the greatest universities in the country. I constantly wonder how I can help bring Penn State to 33rd and Cumberland and the rest of North Philly. Penn State has changed my life. I want to expose other young Black kids to college at Penn State. I don’t know how I’m going to set it up, but I’m going to get it done. When I play professionally, I will definitely work to help North Philly kids go the Penn State.”

What can we expect this season?

Looking at his career trend, Newbill increases his point total significantly every year. He scored 293 year 1, 504 in year 2 and 604 in year 3. Let’s conservatively assume he scores another 604. Newbill will have over 2,000 points and be likely be named All Big Ten for the second year in a row. But, more than any personal goal, Newbill wants to lead Penn State to the NCAA tournament.

“The whole thing is about getting to the NCAA tournament. That’s my immediate goal. I have been focused on my academics and I am in a position where I will easily graduate. As a young boy, I didn’t always think I would be a college graduate. I was fortunate enough to meet John Hardnett and he helped me understand how to leverage basketball.”

“The decision to attend Penn State was the best decision I have ever made. I’m a Nittany Lion for life! More than anything else I want help other people from around my way gain access to Penn State.” Newbill understands that the best way he can achieve that goal is by excelling as a professional basketball player.

Toward that end, D Jay will be heading to NBA MVP Kevin Durant’s skills camp. If he performs well there he’ll get invited the LeBron James camp. One thing for sure Strawberry Mansion and Penn State will be well represented. “This is my last year at Penn State. As a kid in North Philadelphia, I never thought a place like Bryce Jordan Arena would be my home court for four seasons. My time here has been very special.”