- RSS Channel Showcase 5539756
- RSS Channel Showcase 9719185
- RSS Channel Showcase 8738117
- RSS Channel Showcase 7718382
Articles on this Page
- 05/17/16--11:01: _VIDEO: Kyree Walker...
- 05/20/16--18:47: _Southern Jam Fest: ...
- 05/21/16--12:26: _Southern Jam Fest: ...
- 05/22/16--14:30: _Southern Jam Fest: ...
- 06/26/16--08:58: _Volleyball official...
- 07/09/16--06:24: _AAU track coach cha...
- 07/22/16--04:27: _VIDEO: LeBron James...
- 08/08/16--15:37: _Pay-for-play claims...
- 10/17/16--10:07: _NBA announces youth...
- 12/16/16--04:59: _Meet eighth-grade b...
- 12/22/16--07:00: _John Lucas urges pa...
- 02/07/17--06:47: _ALL-USA Watch: Char...
- 08/29/16--16:12: _AAU girls basketbal...
- 09/08/16--11:19: _Doyel: Why did a Mr...
- 09/15/16--06:16: _Insider on prep sch...
- 09/21/16--03:00: _Pay to play: The hi...
- 04/09/17--05:17: _VIDEO: LaMelo Ball ...
- 04/30/17--11:52: _adidas Gauntlet: Br...
- 05/17/16--11:01: VIDEO: Kyree Walker can already jump out of the gym, in eighth grade
- 06/26/16--08:58: Volleyball official reaches 10,000 games
- 07/09/16--06:24: AAU track coach charged with sex assault, child endangerment
- 08/08/16--15:37: Pay-for-play claims land at Florida athletic powerhouse Tampa Plant
- 10/17/16--10:07: NBA announces youth basketball guidelines for rest and participation
- 12/16/16--04:59: Meet eighth-grade basketball phenom Zion Harmon
- 08/29/16--16:12: AAU girls basketball teammates commit on same day
- 09/15/16--06:16: Insider on prep schools: Grass isn't always greener
- 09/21/16--03:00: Pay to play: The high cost of youth sports
- 04/09/17--05:17: VIDEO: LaMelo Ball scores 38 in AAU debut with dad LaVar coaching
- 04/30/17--11:52: adidas Gauntlet: Brock Cunningham is dominating the competition
We’re living in an era where the kids jump right out of the gym. Now they’re just doing it an increasingly younger ages.
The latest to steal headlines in Kyree Walker, an Oakland-based eighth grader who currently suits up for the AAU Oakland Soldiers. He’s an absolutely phenomenal athlete, as the Vine of a self-assisting dunk above is testament to, not to mention the more comprehensive highlight reels below.
At least one analyst (from Arizona’s Finest Mixtapes) is declaring Walker the nation’s top eighth grader. He may well be right, though it seems far too early to name anyone the top anything in the nation when they’re in eighth grade. If he continues progressing, there seems little question that Walker will be one of the nation’s foremost athletes and dunkers in the years ahead, no matter where he ends up competing in high school.
Kyree Walker has emerged as a top dunker and athlete before playing a game of high school basketball (Photo: YouTube)camasmith
HAMPTON, Va. – Two years ago as a freshman trying out for the varsity basketball team at Bethel (Hampton, Va.), Kyle Foster had the same dream as every other player gunning it down the hardwood doing Figure-8 drills trying to leave a lasting impression in hopes of making the Bruins’ roster.
“I wanted to get a D-I offer,” said Foster, who scored a game-high 20 points in WAWG-BWSL’s (Va.) 68-48 win against the NH Ballers (N.H.) Friday night at the Southern Jam Fest. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if that was realistic, though.”
It didn’t help his confidence when he ended up getting cut, and any confidence that lingered after that massive rejection left for good when he got cut again the following year.
“I knew I could play, but when you get cut you do question yourself,” Foster said. “I didn’t really think about that D-I offer anymore. I just felt like I was going through setback after setback.”
Despite the disappearance of his confidence, Foster’s reputation as a three-point marksman floated around the basketball circles in Hampton Roads and eventually found its way to WAWG coach Stefan Welsh, who just happened to be looking for a shooter to complete his AAU team.
“People were telling me that he could really shoot and they showed me video of him making this fadeaway three-pointer to win a summer league game while falling out of bounds,” Welsh said. “I saw that and said, ‘Tell him he’s on the team.”
The transition wasn’t smooth initially; Foster readily admits that he was unsure of whether he belonged after consecutive failings at the varsity level.
“I was struggling at first and one day Coach Welsh just came up to me and said, ‘You’re the best shooter in the state; you need to start acting like it,’ ” Foster recalled. “That just did something in me. It changed everything.”
Welsh is a legend in Hampton Roads; he led Woodside (Newport News, Va.) to back-to-back state titles in 2004 and 2005 and went on to star at Arkansas.
“He had a gift that he was wasting because of lack of confidence,” Welsh said. “I told him if he didn’t start shooting I was gonna take him out. I didn’t care where he shot it from; as long as his feet were set, he could let it fly. It just started to click for him.”
Foster, who grew from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3 over the last year, went on to average 20 points per game through the first few tournaments for WAWG and subsequently picked up offers from Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore and College of Charleston.
After his stellar season on the summer circuit, Foster not only made Bethel’s team, he led the Bruins in scoring, averaging 15 points per game and leading the Peninsula District in three-pointers made.
He committed to Howard in April.
“Honestly, the whole situation just taught me to believe in myself more,” Foster said. “I got cut not once, but twice, and I never thought I could turn it around and still fulfil my dream of playing D-I. But Coach Welsh helped me build my confidence and it showed me what I’m capable of if I just do what I know I can do. It was the best lesson I’ve ever learned.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY
image1 (22)jabarnett13Kyle Foster (Photo: WAWG)
HAMPTON, Va. – Brandon Huffman won’t go as far as saying that it could make the difference between wins and losses, but he contends that a well-orchestrated slapping and shaking of the hands intertwined with a perfectly placed dab before, and sometimes during, games is as much a part of the game as flying chest bumps and floor slaps.
“It just adds that extra part of the game that you need,” said Huffman, a forward who runs with Team Loaded (N.C.). “It’s the perfect way to start the game.”
He’s certainly not alone in that assessment.
Not only did players competing in the Southern Jam Fest at the Boo Williams Sportslex Saturday cosign handshakes as a necessity, NBA stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, among many others, all engage in the pregame pastime.
“You want it to be something that people haven’t really seen,” Huffman said. “That makes it more live and gets you more hype.”
WE-R1 Blue (Del.) point guard Trevon Duval said he and teammate Eric Ayala engage in their original hand-smacking routines before and during games because it adds even more of the fun element.
“I feel like I play my best when I’m out there having fun,” Duval said. “It just makes us more hype out there when we’re doing things like that. I think handshakes definitely have a place in the game for that reason alone.”
Team Wall director/coach Kendrick Williams said he doesn’t mind his players engaging in said fun as long as they “know when to get serious.”
“I’m old school when it comes to things like that,” Williams said. “Stuff like that isn’t helping you put the ball in the hole or grab rebounds. I think it’s unnecessary, but as long as it’s not a distraction and they’re not disrespecting anyone I don’t mind them expressing themselves.”
Still, on the most basic level, it’s difficult to come up with original handshake routines when you’re not around your teammates.
Most teams pull players from all over their respective state as well as from adjoining states and may have one practice every week.
“We don’t really have handshakes on my AAU team,” Garner Road-West (N.C.) point guard Thomas Allen said. “We probably would if we were around each other more. I definitely have handshakes with my high school teammates. We’re always around each other so it’s easier to come up with different stuff.”
The general consensus among players is that the time invested in coming up with the wacky handshake routines goes a long way in building camaraderie, which in-turn builds on-court chemistry.
“And those things help you win games,” Duval said. “When you’re doing things like making up handshakes it’s like it’s something that’s just between you and your teammates. That’s y’all’s thing. Stuff like that pays off in the game.”
Shake on it.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY
image1 (24)jabarnett13Even pros such as Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have unique handshakes (Photo: Getty Images)
HAMPTON, Va. – Even though WE-R1 (Del.) has managed to open the spring circuit season on a dominant note, posing a 7-1 record in the competitive Under Armour Association, Trevon Duval and Eric Ayala were admittedly beginning to grow a bit restless.
“It’s cool playing, but it’s a little different when you’re playing for a championship,” Duval said. “We wanted a trophy.”
Ayala scored 34 points in a 75-65 win against Team Loaded VA in the Southern Jam Fest title game Sunday at the Boo Williams Sportsplex to make sure they left with the hardware.
“This was my first championship since like the eighth grade,” Ayala said. “I’m definitely gonna enjoy it. It’s big because of the way we won.”
Duval left two minutes into the game suffering from dehydration that led to severe leg cramps after an acrobatic layup.
“The trainer said if he kept playing he’d end up in the hospital because he’d need an I.V.,” WE-R1 coach James Johns said. “I just told the guys it was time to step up. Trey got you here now finish it. I knew they’d respond.”
Ayala certainly got the memo.
He drained six three-pointers and scored 21 points to give WE-R1 a commanding 48-31 halftime lead over Team Loaded VA.
“First, I had to make sure Trey was good,” Ayala said. “He’s my brother first so that’s important to me. When I saw he was OK, I knew it was time to go to work. I wasn’t gonna let us lose.”
WE-R1 kept the onslaught rolling in the second half, swelling the lead to as many as 22 early on demoralizing dunks like Talek Williams’ 360, two-handed jam that sent the Boo Eilliams Sportsplex into a state of pandemonium.
Team Loaded VA went on a three-point draining barrage of its own late and even cut the lead to six, but Ayala and Co. converted at the free-throw line down the stretch to secure the win.
“This was the perfect way to win because we all pulled together to get it done,” said Duval, who averaged 22 points and eight assists at the Southern Jam Fest this weekend. “That’s just how this team is; I went down and we didn’t miss a beat.
“I think this will help us a lot going forward when we’re playing for the Under Armour title later this summer”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY
image1 (27)jabarnett13WE-R1 poses with the Southern Jam Fest trophy (Photo: Jason Jordan, USA TODAY Sports)
Lee Powell, a volleyball official from Garland, Texas, hit a significant milestone this weekend at the AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championships in Florida.
Powell, 73, officiated his 10,000th game, including AAU and high school, during a 48-year career.
Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 11.56.58 AMjabarnett13
BERLIN, N.J. – A Berlin Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track coach has been arrested and charged with child endangerment and aggravated criminal sexual contact, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office announced Thursday.
Jamal W. Balkman, 36, is being held on $250,000 bail.
According to NJ.com, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said the victim is a juvenile male, and authorities are investigating whether Balkman met the boy through his coaching duties.
The prosecutor’s office said its Special Victims Unit worked in conjunction with Berlin Township Police after an investigation into a sexual misconduct allegation that was reported to them Wednesday.
LeBron James Jr. is already a fine young basketball player. He might even be among the best in his age. Now he’s starting to take another leap forward, incorporating some of his father’s signature moves while competing on the summer AAU circuit.
We already know that Bronny holds scholarship offers from multiple collegiate programs, allegedly including Kentucky and Duke. We also know that he can run the floor as a point guard par excellence, and that he has a solid shot from distance.
Apparently that shot has recently improved again — take a look at that halfcourt trey to start this highlight — and his ability to run his team’s offense continues to grow. Don’t write off the defense, either; it may not have been as dramatic as dear old Dad in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but Bronny’s block to start a fast break was pretty impressive nonetheless. It certainly speaks to his commitment as a two-way player.
Any doubt about his continued commitment to self improvement can be wiped away in this highlight, too. Just check out LeBron Sr. on the sideline. That’s an involved, committed Dad, and he is excited about what Bronny is starting to produce on the floor.
Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 10.54.56 PMcamasmith
There are few phrases that instill more terror and concern in high school athletics than “pay-for-play.” When it’s used in connection with an established athletic powerhouse, the alarms are even louder.
That’s precisely what unfolded last week, when Tampa Plant High’s baseball program came under fire for longtime head coach’s Dennis Braun’s affiliation with an AAU baseball team that uses the same mascot and colors as Plant’s black and gold Panthers.
An investigation by the Tampa Tribune found that Braun had strongly encouraged baseball player’s in Plant’s district to play for the 14-and-under Tampa Panthers team, at a cost of $1,100 per season, paid twice per year. The psuedo-coerced non-school baseball affiliations have continued into players’ high school careers, the Tribune also found:
If you didn’t pay to play for the Tampa Panthers, parents and former Plant assistant coaches say, you’d likely never make the high school cut, creating an atmosphere that former pitching coach Scott Hurst, as well as former and current Plant parents, say is elitist and rigged to benefit the families who pay for offseason teams with which Braun is associated.
In his 11 years at Plant, Braun has been involved in three investigations, one by the school district in 2007 involving intimidation of a player and two by the FHSAA. The most recent one from the state came within the past year when it was discovered that all of Braun’s varsity players participated on the same non-school summer team — except one player, who was later cut his senior year.
According to some parents whose children opted against playing for Braun, the need for a Tampa Panthers background was practically an open secret in the region.
“It was a well-known fact. If you wanted to play for Plant, you had to play on (the Tampa Panthers) team prior to going to Plant. It was expensive. We had three kids in college,” Martee Craparo, whose youngest son played at Robinson High instead of Plant, told the Tribune. “We didn’t have the ability to come up with the excessive amount of money that was required to go, so we basically made the decision that we weren’t going to do it.”
A former Plant assistant, John LaRocca, has come forward to corroborate many of the claims against his former boss. In fact, he said that he was one-half of the scouting team responsible for identifying potential players for Braun’s AAU and American Legion teams. When one of the players they recommended refused to play for one of Braun’s summer-league teams, he systematically cut them from Plant’s varsity team the following season.
There are far more disturbing and damning details in the Tribune report right here. For now, most distressing of all is the following: At time of publication, Braun had been penalized just $250 after he agreed not to coach any of his players during the 2016 summer season. He’s still the head baseball coach at Plant High.
Longtime Tampa Plant baseball coach Dennis Braun, right, has been accused of orchestrating a pay-for-play scheme incorporating youth baseball teams in AAU and American Legion (Photo: Twitter)camasmith
The NBA and USA Basketball have partnered to develop a first-ever set of youth basketball guidelines to enhance the way children, parents and coaches experience the game, emphasizing the importance of player health and wellness, the NBA announced Monday.
The recommended playing and rest guidelines — which have been endorsed by a handful of organizations such as AAU, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Adidas, Nike, Under Armour and the NCAA — were established over the past six months by three working groups (health and wellness, playing standards and curriculum and instruction) made up of coaches, administrators, former players (including retired NBA champions Shane Battier and Bruce Bowen) and leading medical experts from around the world.
In addition to these guidelines, the health and wellness working group outlined eight key recommendations to “promote a positive and healthy youth basketball experience,” including the importance of delaying single-sport specialization until age 14 or older.
The announcement of the guidelines tips off the second annual Jr. NBA Week, during which all 30 NBA teams host clinics and events in their communities.
Visit youthguidelines.com for more.
We rarely post a series of tweets this long but we again make an exception for former NBA star and coach. Lucas hit on the topic of how parents need to do their research to prevent youth players from being used by the system.
This is a topic that Lucas touches on frequently on Twitter, and one we’ve referenced before. Click the link; it’s worth a read.
76ERS @ BULLETS JOHN LUCAS A BKN USA MDjabarnett13John Lucas (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY Sports)
Sophomore Charles Bassey unintentionally made headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this season when he was banned from competing for his St. Anthony Catholic squad due to an investigation by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.
That’s Bassey, an ALL-USA preaseason selection, taking the ball on the perimeter, launching an assist to himself off the backboard and flushing home an outrageous slam dunk. In fact, outrageous may not be a strong enough adjective.
Yes II Success is a more essential part of Bassey’s training than ever before due to the decision that has barred him from the court at St. Anthony. If he keeps turning out highlights like this, few may even remember he spent his sophomore season off the court.
Charles Bassey threw down a monster slam for AAU squad Yes II Success (Photo: Twitter screen shot)camasmith
Two Nashville-area girls basketball players with AAU ties committed on Sunday, with East Nashville’s Erica Haynes-Overton choosing Memphis and Brentwood Academy’s Bria Dial selecting Chattanooga.
Dial chose Chattanooga over East Tennessee State, Troy, James Madison, North Carolina-Wilmington and Middle Tennessee State.
Both players were on their respective future campuses over the weekend.
“We were talking all weekend, when she was on her visit to UTC, and I was on mine to Memphis,” Haynes-Overton said. “I just felt like that was the right place for me to be. I felt like now was the right time. I planned to mention my decision before school ball, but it came earlier. I just went ahead and wrapped it up.”
Commitments are nonbinding for the athlete and school. Neither can sign until the early signing period, which begins Nov. 9.
Haynes-Overton, a 5-foot-5 senior guard, helped the Lady Eagles to a 32-2 record and the program’s first state championship in March, averaging 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.6 steals.
Ninth-year coach Melissa McFerrin led Memphis to an 18-13 overall record last season, falling to Tennessee-Martin in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Dial and Haynes-Overton both play AAU Basketball for one of the Team Brandan Wright squads.
Dial, a 5-10 forward, helped Brentwood Academy win its third consecutive Division II-AA state title, averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
Chattanooga is led by former Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster, who has an 82-16 record with the program.
Reach Craig Harris at 615-259-8238 and on Twitter @CHTennessean.
MOST POPULAR STORIES
tmp1472512873925.jpgtdunhamusatodayEast Nashville's Erica Haynes-Overton shoots during a win over CPA in last season's state tournament.Brentwood Academy's Bria Dial shoots over Briarcrest's Gabby Salazar during last season's Division II-AA state semifinals.
Southport senior Paul Scruggs is the latest Division I basketball recruit to leave the Indianapolis-area for a prep powerhouse — and the third serious candidate to remove himself from the running for 2017 IndyStar Mr. Basketball.
Depending on who’s doing the talking, Scruggs’ transfer on Tuesday to Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., is a logical decision — or a bizarre basketball move.
“It was a no-brainer,” Scruggs’ father, Dan, told me Tuesday.
“It’s chaos,” said a college basketball coach familiar with Scruggs, one of seven coaches I spoke with in an attempt to make sense of this story.
And I failed. Cannot make sense of it.
For one thing, Scruggs is transferring to a school that didn’t exist three years ago. For another, Prolific Prep isn’t a school at all. It’s a basketball team that sends its players to a Catholic school in Napa, Justin-Siena High School.
You hear me? Paul Scruggs just transferred to a P.O. box.
“Recruiting has gotten weird, we all know that, but this is too much,” another college coach told me. “Transferring one month into your senior year? That’s weird. Going across the country? That’s weird.”
This story involves the often complicated relationship between high school and AAU. It involves a sneaker company. But I’ll start with a former NBA player named Gary Trent, whose son — Gary Jr. — is one of the top recruits in the Class of 2017.
Gary Trent Jr. is at Prolific Prep, his third school in five months. He’s best friends with Paul Scruggs. They’ve known each other since second grade, and were AAU teammates for years. The families are close.
Gary Trent Sr. called the Scruggs family a few weeks ago and suggested they give Prolific Prep a look for Paul’s senior year.
“Gary Sr. told me how good the program there was,” Dan Scruggs said. “It really piqued our curiosity, and I saw the opportunity for Paul to improve on his academic schedule and his basketball skill level.
“My wife and I, we’re very religious,” Dan Scruggs continued. “We prayed about it and asked the Lord which way we should go, and he directed us in that direction.”
The story could end right there. Or it could go in another direction, a direction that starts in the Crispus Attucks school district, where Paul Scruggs lived through eighth grade. Indy Hoosiers AAU coach Mike Peterson has coached Scruggs for nearly a decade, a relationship that started before Scruggs could dribble with his left hand. Peterson, a Southport graduate, suggested Paul attend Southport High to learn from a staff led by Kyle Simpson and included former Notre Dame standout Chris Thomas, the IndyStar Mr. Basketball in 2001.
In three years at Southport, Scruggs moved to within 55 points of Kellon Thomas’ all-time school record. Since Scruggs’ junior season ended at semistate, Peterson says, he has heard from prep schools around the country wanting Scruggs for his senior season.
“I had a million calls,” Peterson said, mentioning La Lumiere in La Porte and Huntington (W.Va.) Prep. Two other schools involved were Brewster (N.H.) Academy and Findlay (Nev.) Prep, Gary Trent Jr.’s school for a few weeks before he settled at Prolific Prep.
As August approached the plan was for Scruggs to return to Southport, and he has been in class there for several weeks. But in recent weeks the plan changed. Why? Depends on who’s doing the talking, but the timing is curious. It was early last month that saw the breakup of Scruggs’ high school coach and his AAU coach.
It’s confusing, but in a nutshell: Simpson was running the local AAU program, funded in part by Under Armor, that oversaw Peterson’s Indy Hoosiers. Two men with two different visions, Peterson took his Indy Hoosiers one way and Simpson took his Under Armor sponsorship another. Simpson is joining forces with former Broad Ripple, IUPUI and Indiana Pacers standout George Hill for an AAU program that will be called G3 Grind.
Peterson, who also is close to Gary Trent Sr., is still looking for his basketball landing spot, but told me he’s not worried about it. He has a son playing high school football. He has been working on a computer app that would track a youth basketball player’s diet, academics and more, and went this spring to Under Armor headquarters in Baltimore to work on it but couldn’t make a deal.
What does the split of Scruggs’ high school coach and AAU coach have to do with his transfer to Prolific Prep — or “Pro Prep,” as the two-year-old basketball operation likes to be called? That’s a good question. Could be a coincidence.
“The timing is going to make it seem like it, but this has nothing to do with Kyle Simpson and Mike Peterson,” Peterson told me.
College coaches involved in Scruggs’ recruitment — he has been recruited hard by IU, Purdue, Xavier, UConn, Illinois and Michigan State, among others — don’t believe that.
“This is all about that rift,” one Division I coach told me.
“Everything was fine at Southport,” said another Division I coach, “until the drama started between the two coaches.”
Dan Scruggs says his son’s transfer has nothing to do with that.
“We spent a little time talking about it, praying about it, and this is where God has led us,” he said of Prolific Prep.
Whatever the reason, Scruggs becomes the third Class of 2017 standout to leave the IHSAA and his shot at Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, joining Park Tudor’s Jaren Jackson Jr. (who transferred to La Lumiere) and Pike’s Justin Roberts (transferred to Findlay Prep).
How does the transfer impact Scruggs’ recruiting? Coaches involved say it shouldn’t matter much, noting that recruiting is a 26-mile marathon — “and we’re in mile 25,” one told me. Scruggs considered committing to IU after his freshman season but has moved closer to Xavier over time. UConn, however, has become a major player in recent weeks.
As for the kid himself — this is about the kid, I hope — Paul Scruggs has two goals: be academically eligible for Division I next fall, and be physically ready for major college basketball in one year and the NBA shortly thereafter. Scruggs and his parents flew to California this weekend to check out Prolific Prep.
Only his parents came back.
Scruggs stayed in Napa. He’s taking classes at a Catholic school, living with a host family and playing basketball for a P.O. box. I wonder how many people really know why Paul Scruggs is out there. I wonder if Paul Scruggs is among them.
tmp1473185815147.jpgtdunhamusatodaySouthport guard Paul Scruggs is the latest Indiana product to take the prep school route.Had Paul Scruggs stayed at Southport, he likely would have left as the school's all-time leading scorer.Paul Scruggs, shown here playing with the Indiana Junior All-Stars, won't be an All-Star his senior year.
Three of the state’s top high school basketball seniors are gone to prep schools. On the bright side, three spots opened up on the IndyStar Indiana All-Star team.
Right? Is that a big deal anymore? The defections of Southport’s Paul Scruggs (Prolific Prep), Park Tudor’s Jaren Jackson Jr. (La Lumiere) and Pike’s Justin Roberts (Findlay Prep) might suggest it’s not. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that. Jackson Jr. and Roberts both cited a chance to play better competition, day in and day out in practice, as a primary reason to transfer to prep school.
To each their own. But I also wonder, too, how much they’ll miss it 10, 20, 30 years from now. Scruggs played in front of two of the most electric crowds I’ve seen in 16 years of covering sports — the packed house at Southport against Evansville Reitz in February of 2015 and the semistate game against Romeo Langford and New Albany in March at Richmond.
Maybe Prolific Prep is the best place for Scruggs, but I guarantee it can’t offer an environment like those two games. Will he become a better player at Prolific Prep? Is Roberts better off at Findlay Prep or Jackson Jr. at La Lumiere? That’s what we hear, but it’s impossible to say yes or no.
I asked Trey Lyles. Multiple times a year, beginning with his freshman season, I’d hear rumors that Lyles would transfer to a prep school. All the way up to his senior year. But Lyles never left Tech, winning the school’s first state championship and IndyStar Mr. Basketball in 2014.
“A couple of prep schools came after me and wanted me to take a look at their school,” Lyles said. “It was never a thing that was on my mind. I knew Tech was where I wanted to be. I never wanted to leave at all.”
Lyles said he can understand it, though. One of his grassroots teammates with the Speice program, JaQuan Lyle, transferred from Evansville Bosse to Huntington Prep (W. Va.) for his senior year. Tech beat that Huntington Prep team twice that season.
“I understand where guys go from a high school to a prep school to try to get those college looks or better competition,” Lyles said. “For me, Tech was the best option. I wanted to build something with IPS and do something for the team and the community. I didn’t want to end any friendships or relationships that I had already, and I already had my college offers. Playing at Tech, we basically played a national schedule. It was just as good as a prep school.”
There are reminders everywhere in the Tech gym of Lyles and that 2014 team. That won’t be the case at Southport for Scruggs, who would have been a surefire Indiana All-Star. His All-Star jersey will never hang in Southport’s fieldhouse. Maybe that doesn’t matter as much as it used to.
I asked D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. When Smith-Rivera was a junior at North Central after the 2010-11 season, he was probably the frontrunner for Mr. Basketball going into the following season. And that was a stacked class with names like Gary Harris, Yogi Ferrell, Kellen Dunham, R.J. Hunter and Glenn Robinson III.
Instead of coming back to North Central, Smith-Rivera transferred to Oak Hill Academy. Smith-Rivera had a strong senior year at Oak Hill, one of the most reputable prep school programs in the country. But looking back, after the completion of his college career at Georgetown, Smith-Rivera does wonder what might have been. North Central won a state title in his sophomore year of 2010 and there was talk of a potential “three-peat.” But Bloomington South and Dee Davis upset the Panthers in the Class 4A semistate in 2011.
“I don’t regret the decision,” Smith-Rivera said. “But I do think about it a lot. North Central is close to my heart. Coach (Doug) Mitchell is close to my heart. The capability of that team my senior year would have been something special. I definitely would have been in the running for Mr. Basketball and would have had a great chance to win it. It’s a decision I made that I felt like was the best for me at the time. And I love Oak Hill as well.”
Scruggs, Jackson Jr. and Roberts are the latest, but players have been leaving for prep schools for a while. In addition to Lyles and Smith-Rivera, there’s Rapheal Davis, A.J. Hammons, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Mitch McGary, Justin Martin, Davon Dillard, Evan Gordon and several others who have gone the prep school route in the past seven or eight years.
Charlie Hall, the Indiana All-Star director, isn’t necessarily concerned.
“I’m not naïve enough to think being an All-Star would keep a family from making a move in their best interest,” Hall said. “But we’re not going to run out of good players. We’ve had a lot of kids who have fought to work with their college coaches to be a part of the All-Stars. So I think it does still mean a lot to them.”
Prep schools are recruiting from the same pool of players as major college programs. Trevon Bluiett, a 2014 Indiana All-Star at Park Tudor, was recruited heavily by prep schools from his sophomore year on. His father, Reynardo Bluiett, said the prep school route wasn’t considered “for one second.”
“He had offers,” Bluiett said. “But were very confident in our circle we had here.”
For some, the prep school experience worked out great. Davis had a strong senior year at La Lumiere before coming to Purdue. Smith-Rivera and Hammons both thrived at Oak Hill Academy.
John Murry was a different story. Murry transferred from North Central to a prep school called CCSE Prep in Sacramento, Calif., in 2012. The “school” was just 10 players living in a house with Francis Ngissah, the “president and CEO” of CCSE. Murry, now going into his senior season at Austin Peay, left after just seven games to attend another prep school in Florida.
A month after Murry departed California, Ngissah was arrested on suspicion of child abuse involving corporal punishment and willful cruelty, battery and false imprisonment of some teens in his basketball program. Murry wasn’t one of those involved. In 2014, Ngissah was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender.
“I was sold some false advertising,” Murry said in 2013. “Most likely, I should have just stayed (at North Central).”
More high-profile basketball players will be recruited by prep schools. For some it will be the right decision. For others, maybe not. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“I think about (the 2014 Tech team) every day,” Lyles said. “The relationships that I built with those guys and the relationships we continue to have. That’s lifelong stuff. Everybody on the team will remember that the rest of their lives.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
tmp1473273836868.jpgtdunhamusatodayJustin Roberts has traded Pike for Nevada's Findlay Prep.A top area player his first three seasons at Park Tudor, Jaren Jackson Jr. will finish his high school career at La Lumiere.Paul Scruggs has decided to leave Southport for a prep school in California.FILE – Tech's Trey Lyles (41) holds up the team's State Championship trophy after winning the IHSAA Boys Basketball 4A State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, March 29, 2014.FILE – D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera was a star at North Central before taking the prep route.
Richie Prunesti only has one regret.
He wanted to play college or professional hockey. While classmates were collecting lifelong memories, he spent weeknights practicing in Long Island or New Jersey and weekends playing all over the country.
His entire family made sacrifices to keep the former New Rochelle standout on skates.
“Most hockey parents, they’re comfortable,” Prunesti said. “I know, in my family, hockey definitely put us a little behind. We would do things differently so, if we had a tournament on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Chicago, a lot of the kids would fly out Friday morning. The rest of us would leave late on Thursday, drive all night, get out of the car Friday morning and play. I was asleep in the back so it wasn’t a big deal, but my dad had to stay up all night to save money. We’d drive home and he’d maybe have $40 left in his wallet to last until the next Friday. … He enjoyed it as much as I did. To him, it was always worth it.”
That commitment is hardly unique in the rapidly expanding universe of youth sports. There was a time when club and travel teams were reserved for the select few standouts competing for college scholarships. Now, any parent with a checkbook can get a kid in the game. The difference, according to interviews with high school coaches, athletic directors, academics, parents and young athletes, is outside competition and specialized training have become almost commonplace for students who want to play varsity sports in high school.
“It used to be playing in high school was something relatively accessible to everyone,” said Karl Erickson, a faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. “A small number who had aspirations beyond that would go outside to club and travel. For many people, that could be a great experience.
“Now there has been this shift to where the club and travel teams, which tend to be more expensive and year-round time intensive at times, are becoming par for the course or mandatory just to take part in a high school sport,” Erickson said. “Now, you’re either all-in, full-bore, year-round, or you’re not even in the system.”
Parents spend thousands of dollars a year to place their kids in club or travel programs, hundreds or even thousands each season on new equipment, and often hundreds per hour on private lessons or coaching.
The time commitment can be equally burdensome. Now, more than ever, kids spend more time year-round on athletics in hopes of being able to play next season, be it in high school or college.
It’s not unheard of for a high-level high school athlete to spend as much as $20,000 a year on team fees, equipment, travel, private coaching and personal training.
“Back when I started, they had leather helmets almost,” said North Rockland Athletic Director Joe Casarella, who has worked in high school athletics for 50 years. “Kids played everything. They enjoyed themselves. Now they’ve been cheated out of their childhood a little bit as you move on 50 years later. Young kids are put on travel teams when they’re 7 or 8 years old and they specialize in whatever sport it may be.”
Prunesti, 23, fell in love with hockey in the second grade. His dad was a baseball guy, but was soon all in with hockey. There were only a couple of years when Prunesti wasn’t on two teams. He always made a point of suiting up with classmates for New Rochelle games. The atmosphere with friends in the stands making noise was a reward and Prunesti went on to become The Journal News/lohud Player of the Year in 2011. The real work, though, was done on the region’s top club teams.
Homework got tossed into the back seat on rides to practice and play with the New Jersey Avalanche or New York Applecore. It’s a lifestyle that requires an intense commitment, one that most star athletes know well.
“That’s where you had to go in order to get real competition,” Prunesti said.
So he kept grinding, but two years after high school, the passion evaporated.
“I was in Michigan for an NAHL tryout. I was missing my friends. I was tired. I was looking for a chance to relax. I quit,” said Prunesti, who is now working for the city of New Rochelle. “That might have been the biggest mistake I ever made. Looking back on it now, I would give anything to get back in.”
The supremely dedicated athlete is asked to push nonstop.
“I go to school, I come home, I practice,” said Kyra Cox, a junior at John Jay High School, who ranks among the country’s top junior golfers. “I practice in the morning. I practice at night. Golf is my whole life. It’s amazing how much work has to go into this.”
“I’ve seen the gamut,” Carmel Athletic Director Susan Dullea said. “Students that are just trying to make the team. Average students who are just trying to get better, maybe get on the court more. And then we have that child who maybe is specializing and just loves the sport so much that they would do anything to keep playing.”
A lucrative industry
It’s difficult to quantify the size and scope of what is a loosely regulated industry, but leading experts agree that more than 25 million kids between the ages of 6-17 participated in an organized team sport in 2015. Insiders estimate club and travel programs generate nearly $9 billion in yearly revenue.
And even after a heavy investment in money, time and private lessons, there are no guarantees.
Fingers point in all directions whenever this topic is raised. It’s a volatile discussion because parents, athletes, high school coaches and administrators, private coaches and trainers all have separate agendas.
“Most (high) schools have moved away from a model that is organized around the principle of providing sport opportunities for all kids,” said Tom Farrey, who leads the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute. “That means shutting down intramurals, getting rid of freshman teams, limiting junior varsity teams, cutting back on PE. They are generally moving toward a model that serves the best athletes in the school or the best-trained athletes in the school.”
Colleges do offer scholarship money to a limited number of elite athletes, primarily at the Division I and II levels. Parents do want the best for their kids, and if they’re able to mention at a dinner party that their child is going to Georgetown to play lacrosse, all the better.
“The amount of money offered in NCAA athletic scholarships has grown by a factor of five or six,” said Farrey, who wrote “Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.” “In the early 1990s, when you started to see the travel team environment really take off, the schools were only handing out about $250 million a year in athletic aid. Now it’s at least $2.7 billion.”
The coach vs. the private instructor
That chase can lead to trouble for high schools, their coaches and administrators who, in theory, pick teams and distribute playing time to the most deserving athletes. Their opinions don’t always jibe with parents and their sons and daughters, who have to sort through varying opinions not always rooted in truth.
“I’ll make the argument loud and clear that there’s a disconnect, that the AAU coach, that elite coach, is telling that kid all the things they want to hear because the parents are paying and you want to keep that money coming in,” Yorktown Athletic Director Fio Nardone said. “They say, ‘He’s getting better. He needs to keep working on this.’ And he keeps coming, the family keeps coming, and then, when it comes back to the reality of the high school season, (he) goes back and is playing for our team and (he) isn’t really doing well compared to the other 12 kids on the basketball team and isn’t going to play as much as he thinks because the AAU coach told him he should be starting. And they start a controversy with our high school coaches. It happens all the time.”
The conflict might be unavoidable. Athletes and their parents have turned to competition outside the school district because that’s where the vast majority of college recruitment takes place, even for Division II and III programs.
Many athletes consider activity outside their high school program essential. They believe it will further their individual development and their ability to thrive for the varsity and for the club teams that most often fuels their college recruitment.
“I play club and there are a lot of kids there being recruited,” said John Hufnagel, a sophomore who started on Iona Prep’s lacrosse team as a freshman. “If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be far behind those kids. Doing this keeps me up to speed with them. The other kids I’m going against are working 10 times as hard. I have to keep that in my mind so I know that I have to work 10 times harder than them.”
That is a common theme.
“You have to be there, playing all the time,” said Tatiana Cruz, a junior on the Suffern girls soccer team who’s played club with World Class FC and Players Development Academy. “It’s really demanding. Without travel and the high-level experience, I don’t think you’d be able to play in college because it’s very demanding and it’s very different so you have to be ready.”
Exploding business of travel and club teams
Statewide, 37,394 boys and 33,866 girls play at the high school level in Section 1, which includes public schools in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties, and parts of Dutchess. Statewide, the number of participants at NYS Public High School Athletic Association teams is 575,903.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, participation in team sports is down 4 percent since 2009, but the demand for spots on travel rosters is climbing.
Just ask Nick Daniello.
He had nearly 500 boys lacrosse players show up for tryouts late last month, all them hell bent on getting one of the 185 spots available on seven Prime Time squads. It probably had something to do with the fact that 19 players on the organization’s premiere teams graduated and joined Division I teams.
The gauntlet can easily determine a kid’s future.
“I think all of them have to play some kind of competitive travel lacrosse, whether it’s for me or somebody else,” said Daniello, who played at John Jay and is an assistant coach on the school’s varsity team. “It’s really important if you play for a traditional high school power. The days of picking up a stick in the spring and playing like a star are over. The talent I’m seeing at the younger ages is really good. We cut really good players. It’s gotten that competitive.”
Regardless of the sport, parents get used to writing checks right from the start of this process.
Defending the high cost of this world are entrepreneurs and coaches like Anthony Yacco.
“It requires a lot of money to run the organization,” said Yacco, a former minor league baseball prospect from Putnam County who now runs 4D Sports Performance Center in Mahopac. “You pay for professional baseball coaches, a nutritionist, a speed and strength coach, uniforms, league fees, insurance, administration fees. It’s a costly operation and parents are willing to foot the bill.”
Many clients will even pay for weekly individual pitching or hitting lessons at $100 a pop.
Not every club team has a strength and conditioning program, which provided another niche for industrious personal trainers.
“When we first got into the market, we felt like we really had to educate people on what they needed to do and who we are and what we could do to help someone,” said Brian Fee, the owner of Velocity Sports Performance in Elmsford. “Now, people are starting to seek us out. They know that, if they want to make the travel A-team, they have to start doing something to get to where they want to get to.”
“They know that if they want to make the travel A-team, they have to start doing something to get to where they want to get to.”
— Brian Fee, owner of Velocity Sports Performance in Elmsford
And no matter where a kid plays, parents have to pay for a lot of equipment. A top-shelf bat runs $450. A quality lacrosse helmet is $280. A pair of durable hockey skates go for $550. Those items are often quickly outgrown and have to be replaced.
“The interesting thing about this space is it’s going to get corporatized over the next few years,” Farrey said. “Right now it’s largely dominated by mom and pops. You’re now going to see a number of large players get into the space. Equity firms and media companies are waking up to the huge market that is youth sports and developing products that are going to meet the demand of this market better than it has been met in the past.”
It’s a significant investment, a risky investment, and it rarely pays off in the end.
“The coach says he improves. The coach says he gets better. But when you’re paying a guy $2,000 a season, it’s going to be hard for him to criticize you or you’re not going to come back.”
— Joe Casarella, North Rockland athletic director
“They get pitching coaches or goalie coaches or shooting coaches who get paid a lot of money. It’s become a big-time money maker for other people,” said North Rockland’s Casarella. “The coach says he improves. The coach says he gets better. But when you’re paying a guy $2,000 a season, it’s going to be hard for him to criticize you or you’re not going to come back.”
Specialization at an early age?
The path encourages specialization. A majority of the endangered three-sport athletes compete at high schools with fewer than 500 students. Those who play at larger schools, especially traditional powers like Mount Vernon basketball, Lakeland field hockey or Yorktown lacrosse, almost have to join the parade of club athletes in order to keep up.
“I’ve seen the older kids and their drive. I see what it takes to be a state champion, what you need to do in practice to be successful,” said Kelsey McCrudden, a junior on Lakeland field hockey, which has won seven straight state titles. “Every year, I was one of the younger kids and the older kids would take me out to the turf and teach me new tricks. It just kind of builds from there. That just keeps getting passed down in the program.”
Even in programs with a far less competitive culture, athletes have begun to strive for more. Josh Schultz, a recent graduate of Irvington High School, played his way onto the team at Western New England. Schultz had spent the last three years playing club lacrosse, but he started a strength and speed training program at Velocity this year to better prepare for college.
“It’s definitely so competitive and it almost makes you nervous that you have to prepare that much more to be as good as everyone else,” Schultz said in June. “I definitely see myself getting faster and stronger in ways I didn’t even know.”
Just a few weeks later into the summer, Schultz was even more convinced.
“I’ve lost a couple of pounds. I’ve gotten faster. I’ve worked on the technique of lifting,” he said. “Now I’m going (to college) knowing I’ll be ahead of the game.”
Schools aren’t likely to reverse direction and revamp a system that caters to the best athletes in each district. None of them have the money to expand current programs, much less restore teams cut when the recession put austerity budgets into play.
So, like any marketplace driven by supply and demand, the caveat is obvious: buyer beware.
“If you want your kid to get involved in sports and you’re going to pay whatever it takes,” Nardone said, “and you’re going to pay that all the way through high school; if you keep track of all that money — and I mean everything, from the cost of playing to the travel, to the food, to everything else involved with that journey — from 5 year old to 18 year old, if you look at that figure, you’re going to be astonished at how high it is. If you could put that same money away — do it both, if you’re in that perfect world financially — it’d be incredible how much you could pay for that college education. I think it’s be astonishing because the number is off the charts.”
ABOUT THE PROJECT: Journal News/lohud sports writers Josh Thomson and Mike Dougherty, along with photojournalist John Meore, fanned out this past spring and summer to investigate the growing world of youth sports in the Lower Hudson Valley for this series, Pay to Play.
tdunhamusatodayMatt Tauber, right, runs high school and college athletes through a work out at LIFT on the campus of SUNY Purchase in Purchase on Tuesday, June 7, 2016.Former New Rochelle standout Richie Prunesti went toe to toe with New Jersey Devils defenseman Steve Santini (right) when they were in high school. They also played on the same New York Applecore club team. The clashed in January of 2011 at Brewster Ice Arena.Richie Prunesti was the Westchester hockey Player of the Year in 2011. He continued to play junior hockey but was eventually worn down by the grind. " I was missing my friends. I was tired. I was looking for a chance to relax. I quit. That might be the biggest mistake I ever made. Looking back on it now, I would give anything to get back in.”High school and college athletes work out LIFT on the campus of SUNY Purchase in Purchase on Tuesday, June 07, 2016.Yorktown High School athletic director Fio Nardone photographed on July 19, 2016.High school and college athletes work out at Velocity Sports Performance in Elmsford on Wednesday, June 01, 2016.Matt Tauber, right, runs high school and college athletes through a work out at LIFT on the campus of SUNY Purchase in Purchase on Tuesday, June 07, 2016.North Rockland athletic director Joe Casarella photographed in the gymnasium of North Rockland High School on July 19, 2016.A college coach uses a radar gun to determine the pitch speed of a pitch by Stephen Hill of Carmel during the Perfect Game Invitational Baseball Tournament in Marietta, Ga. July 12, 2011. Hill plays for the World Yacht Clippers, which is comprised of high school baseball players primarily from Lower Hudson region. Thousands of the best high school baseball players in the nation gathered for two weeks to play games in front of college and professional scouts in the hope of receiving scholarships to colleges or being pursued major league organizations. ( Seth Harrison / The Journal News )Scouts use radar guns to determine pitch speed during the Perfect Game Invitational Baseball Tournament at the East Cobb Baseball Complex in Marietta, Ga. July 11, 2011. Thousands of the best high school baseball players in the nation gathered for two weeks to play games in front of college and professional scouts in the hope of receiving scholarships to colleges or being pursued major league organizations. ( Seth Harrison / The Journal News )Strength and fitness training becomes more important as teens begin to play at a more competitive level. High school and college athletes work out LIFT on the campus of SUNY Purchase in Purchase on Tuesday, June 07, 2016.Aundre Hyatt (21) boxes out during an Elite Youth Basketball League tournament at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on Saturday, April 16, 2016.North Rockland Athletic Director Joe CasarellaClifford Schultz of Tarrytown photographed during a club lacrosse game at SUNY Purchase on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Schultz's son, Josh, worked out at Velocity in Elmsford to get in shape to play college lacrosse.Yorktown High School Athletic Director Fio Nardone
After his very public complaints about his sons’ high school coach at Chino Hills (Calif.), LaVar Ball is coaching son LaMelo in AAU.
Playing for Big Ballers, LaMelo had 38 points Saturday in the team’s first game at the So Cal Spring Tip Off event, which is the season opener. This is LaMelo’s debut with the program; he just completed his sophomore season for Chino Hills.
Older brother Lonzo was also at the event in support of his family.
According to the Big Ballers AAU website, LaVar and Tina Ball “founded the organization in 2013, out of their love for the game of basketball. LaVar and Tina enjoy training and mentoring youth to play the sport on a highly competitive level.”
Big Ballers is also the name of LaVar Ball’s planned sports empire and agency that will represent his three sons.
Here are LaMelo’s highlights from Game 1:
XXX SPALDING HOOPHALL CLASSIC- CHINO HILLS VS. HIGH POINT CHRISTIAN_SPALDING HOOPHALL CLASSIC_8846.JPG S BKO, BKH USA MAjabarnett13
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – You’ll have to excuse Urban ASAK (Texas) forward Brock Cunningham, but he hasn’t had time to peruse the adidas Gauntlet stats lately, he’s been busy dropping buckets and taking names in actual games.
So it’s 100 percent authentic when he wears a perplexed frown and asks a follow-up question to the initial question: How does it feel to lead the Gauntlet in scoring?
“Are you serious?” Cunningham said. “I am?”
Cunningham tops the list, pumping in 23.5 points per game through two sessions, a substantial jump from the 14 points he managed during his high school season at Westlake (Austin, Texas).
“I had no clue I was leading,” said Cunningham, who checks in at No. 3 overall in the Gauntlet for rebounds at 10.8 per game. “That’s pretty nice. I still think I need to shoot the ball better, but I’ll keep working on it. The biggest thing for me isn’t scoring though; it’s defense.”
Yes, you read that right; Cunningham leads the league in scoring and, no, that wasn’t his primary focus.
“My biggest goal was to attempt to play lockdown defense and to win,” Cunningham said. “Scoring, for me, comes after I play good defense so once I get that down, maybe I’ll score more.”
Cunnigham’s rise doesn’t surprise Urban ASAK coach Mike Murphy at all.
Last July, Cunningham finished off the summer ball season with a preview of things to come this season averaging 22 points per game at a tournament in Vegas.
“He’s got great footwork, he knows where to be and he knows how to chase down rebounds,” Murphy said. “He’s also got range out to be about 30 feet. He’s an elite player, there’s no question. It’s just good to see that other people are starting to give him the credit he deserves.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY