Why?? Stevie Jordan’s Decision

We are in the midst of basketball paradigm shift. There has been fundamental changes in the approaches to and underlying assumptions of elite scholastic basketball. Most significantly, grassroots/AAU basketball has superseded high school hoops in importance. Scholarships are earned in the summer. High school merely provides college coaches an opportunity to follow-up with the kids they have seen on the grassroots/AAU circuit in the summer.

Kwalifi Poster - Josh Gibson-page-0

At the very highest level of competition, the prep school or academy model has gained a foothold. Increasingly, the very best players leave home to train and play with other elite players on a daily basis. Going into this season, the top 5 high school teams in the nation are all prep/academy squads. Oak Hill Academy (VA), Montverde Academy (FL), Huntington Prep (WV), Findlay Prep (NV) and Chaminade Prep (MO) are the consensus top programs this year.

Some kids from the Greater Philadelphia region have decided to seek higher levels of competition and go this route. Sedee Keita is at Putnam Science Academy (CT), David Beatty is St. Benedict’s Prep (NJ) and Horace Spencer graduated from Findlay Prep last year. About a month ago, Trevon Duval decided to transfer to Advanced Prep International (TX).

Now, imagine you were an elite scholastic player presented with a similar opportunity. Let’s say you were named the State Class AA Player of the Year as a junior. Let’s say you led a school that had never won a postseason basketball game in 51 seasons, to six playoff wins in a three-week span. Let’s say you pumped in 21 points to lead your team to a state championship. Let’s say you were named 1st team All-State.

Conwell Egan State Champions2

Conwell-Egan Pennsylvania Class AA State Champions, 2015

Suppose your grades and academic standing were beyond reproach? Suppose you already committed to a winning Division 1 college program?

If you were presented with an opportunity to train and practice every day against, arguably, the top player at your position on a daily basis, what would you do? What if two of your other potential teammates were top 10 players in their respective classes?
Would you take advantage of this opportunity to hone your skills and enter college ready to compete right away?

Stevie Jordan

Stevie Jordan, Advanced Prep International

Conwell-Egan’s Stevie Jordan faced this situation…

This is Jordan’s statement regarding his choice:

First of all I want to thank God as well as of those that contributed to my success over the past three years at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School. From family, friends, coaches, teammates, teachers, staff, press and those that I have met along the way, I am thankful for the impact you have made in my life. I am grateful for my teammates and the opportunity to play with each and every one of you. Together, we made history as State Champions. I have been working and training for a chance to play consistently with and versus the best players in the country. 

I have always appreciated the challenges in life, knowing that would make me the best possible.  My family and coaches have trained me to seek and embrace these challenges.  Therefore the only decision consistent with my goals is to attend Advance Prep international (API).  My heart is heavy for leaving, but my mind is strong. The choice to leave CEC was not an easy one. Nonetheless, it is my hope, that you understand my decision and continue to support me in my endeavors. I look forward to the 2016-2017 school year where I have committed to Rider University and seeing you in the stands cheering the team on as we make headway on the collegiate level.

All the best
Stevie Jordan, II

Special thanks to my Coach Frank Sciolla not only a great Coach but awesome mentor-appreciate you Coach SKI thanks for believing in me and “twatching”, the entire coaching staff, Janet Dollard-(CEC President), Bill Burns (Coach), Marion Manns (School Principal) and Alumni.  Cant forget my Bro, Lapri- Thank you for being alongside of me for this bumpy but historical and memorable road. I love you Bro – Keep Grinding!!

kwalifi poster - basketball black & white-page-0

Youngfella… The Black Cager wishes you the very best this year and we look forward to seeing you lace ‘em up at Rider University next year.

Advertisements

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…

“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.

 

Philly Pride & Triple Threat is Focused on Education

PPTT(L to R) Kamal Yard, Philly Pride & Triple Threat, Bill Gibson, Chief Enrollment Manager for Secondary Schools, Nick Regina, Deputy Secretary for Enrollment Management and Eric Worley, Philly Pride & Triple Threat

Philly Pride & Triple Threat (PPTT) is committed to serving youth in and around the Philadelphia area in three distinct arenas; Education, Athletics, and Life.

Educationally, members of the foundation receive the necessary academic incentives and support to assure success in the classroom. Athletically, members of the foundation compete on a well organized basketball team and are involved in other basketball related activities. The two main goals athletically are; development of fundamental skills and exposure to college coaches. From a Life standpoint, participants are coached and mentored by high character and quality individuals with the primary goal of instilling appropriate life lessons in the individual students.

Eric Worley and Kamal Yard are diligently working together to inspire promising inner city youth to be leaders, champions and student-athletes as well empowering them to be successful in high school, college and life.

Specifically, these gentlemen use basketball as a “hook” to engage young men and women in the program.  The larger, more important objective is to help Philadelphia area youth access high quality educational opportunities, internalize positive value systems and refine life skills that will prepare them for the day the ball stops bouncing.

Their track record is extremely strong.

Rysheed JordanRysheed Jordan, St. John’s University, Philly Pride & Triple Threat Alum

Well over 30 collegiate athletes have come through the program. St. John’s Rysheed Jordan and DePaul’s Brittany Hrynko are both projected to go in the 1st round of the NBA and WNBA draft respectively.  The PPTT program has developed some of Philadelphia’s most talented players in recent years.  Many have prospered in some of the most academically challenging independent and Catholic high schools in the area.  Recent Temple University commit Levan Alston (Haverford School), St. Joseph’s University commit Chris Clover (St. Joseph’s Prep), Tony Carr (Roman Catholic), Sean Lloyd (Mt. Zion Prep, MD), Josh Sharkey (Archbishop Carroll), and Lamar Stephens (Haverford School) have come through their ranks.  In each case, the young men were well-prepared for the rigorous academic programs they encountered.

Philly Pride & Triple Threat is, clearly, one the leading youth sports development programs in the Greater Philadelphia region.  They take the responsibility of preparing students very seriously.  Over the past couple of years, Philadelphia’s public schools have faced unprecedented budget problems and experienced massive teacher and counselor layoffs. An already under-served group of urban students have found themselves virtually abandoned.  As a result, the roles of Worley and Yard have evolved and expanded.

They have become de facto school counselors for a significant portion of the 500 or so students in their program. More and more, they have been asked to help guide more students from poor and middle-class families to the area’s top middle and high schools. By default, Philly Pride & Triple Threat has been providing students with the kind of personalized counseling that students from more affluent families tend to get from private counselors or their school-based guidance counselors in the suburbs. They have worked tirelessly to establish relationships with Independent and Catholic Schools in Philadelphia out of necessity.

Brittany HyrkroBrittany Hrynko, Depaul University, Philly Pride & Triple Threat Alum

As noted earlier, Philadelphia is the midst of an unprecedented series of budget cuts. The cuts were to the bone!! In 2013, the Philadelphia school system laid off 3,783 employees, including 676 teachers and 283 counselors. Along with teachers and counselors, those losing their jobs included 127 assistant principals and 1,202 aides who monitor the cafeteria and playgrounds. Most recently, The SDP raided the The existing Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which has about $40 million built up in it. The future for Philadelphia’s public schools is very bleak.

Nonetheless, every day Yard and Worley work with students and parents hungry for good school placements.  They recognized that they needed to become much more knowledgeable about the application and financial aid process at tuition-based schools. Toward that end, they recently met with Nick Regina, Deputy Secretary for Enrollment Management and Bill Gibson, Chief Enrollment Manager for Secondary Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Yard says, “Mr. Regina and Mr. Gibson made us feel that our students would be welcomed in Catholic schools. I learned some important things that I can’t wait to share with our families.”  He gained a better understanding of the processes in place within Catholic High Schools.  According to Yard, “The Catholic high schools are very real options for our kids, we’ll make every effort to link our parents with admissions staff in several Archdiocese schools.”

Worley, a former teacher and principal in Philadelphia’s public and charter schools was also excited. According to Worley, “Catholic high schools are accessible and affordable for many our kids. I know first hand, how frustrating it can be for parents seeking a better school placement for their child. I look forward to helping our students access and navigate the application process.”

PPTTLogo

Yard and Worley also have a PPTT High School Assist Project, which will help sixth through eighth grade student-athletes succeed in middle school and leverage that success to gain admission to excellent college preparatory high schools. The HS Assist Project will offer academic instruction/tutoring, homework help, life skills development and test preparation for sixth through eighth graders.

The PPTT College Assist Project, will continue to provide high school student-athletes with the individual support necessary to be successful in high school and to prepare for college. College Assist Project support includes SAT and other test preparation, high school counseling, application/financial aid workshops, college visits and NCAA eligibility and recruiting guidance.

If you want see the fruits of Yard’s and Worley’s labor just peruse the rosters of Inter-Ac and Catholic High School teams or check your TV listings and find some Big East games, women or men.

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.

Sedee

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.

PA, NJ and DE D1 BBall Budgets 2012-2013

Image

School

Basketball Budget

Pittsburg (ACC)

7,344,213

Seton Hall (Big East)

6,401,383

Villanova (Big East)

6,398,678

Penn State (Big 10)

5,056,643

Rutgers (AAC)

4,366,444

Temple (AAC)

4,080,845

Duquesne (A10)

3,891,806

Saint Joseph’s (A10)

3,089,503

Drexel (CAA)

2,633,240

Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC)

2,320,904

LaSalle (A10)

2,046,119

Bucknell (Patriot)

1,860,056

Delaware (CAA)

1,731,722

Delaware St (MEAC)

1,640,546

Monmouth (MAAC)

1,523,983

Lafayette (Patriot)

1,523,418

Rider (MAAC)

1,518,322

NJIT (Indep)

1,417,199

Wagner (NEC)

1,396,966

Lehigh (Patriot)

1,382,178

St. Francis (PA) (NEC)

1,368,916

Robert Morris (NEC)

1,356,722

St. Peter’s (MAAC)

1,170,516

Pennsylvania (Ivy)

1,082,006

Princeton (Ivy)

994,108

How much do local colleges and universities spend on Men’s basketball?  What is the difference between “big-time” programs and mid-majors?  Utilizing the chart and table listed above one can compare the financial commitments of PA, NJ and DE colleges to their respective Men’s Basketball programs.  There are a few surprises.

A few things immediately jump out when comparing the basketball budgets of PA, NJ and DE Division 1 programs.  Seton Hall has not been getting an adequate bang for their buck. But perhaps most surprisingly, Lehigh with one of the smallest budgets has the highest academic record, the 5th highest number of average wins and a lottery pick in last years draft. Drexel’s basketball budget is larger than two of the Big 5 programs (LaSalle and Penn).  Fairleigh Dickinson’s budget is very high given their very low average wins and poor academic performance.  Delaware State, a historically Black (MEAC) school is in the middle of the pack budget wise.