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High School Hoop Stars Gather for ESPN RISE’s Boost Mobile Elite 24

High School Hoop Stars Gather for ESPN RISE’s Boost Mobile Elite 24

By Cindy Mercer

For the forth year in a row the nations top twenty four high school basketball stars gathered in New York City for the ESPN RISE’s Boost Mobile Elite 24. Participants were selected for this two day event from diverse areas of the United States by a committee of high school basketball experts from “ESPN RISE” magazine and ESPN Scouts, Inc. Player performance at AAU tournaments, national summer camps and other talent evaluators were also utilized in deciding who participated in the event. This year’s teams were coached by the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings and the Kings’ Tyreke Evans. Love, Jennings and Evans are all alumni of the Elite 24. Other NBA players who have participated in the past are Michael Beasley, Jerryd Bayless and Jrue Holiday.

I decided to highlight this years standouts; Jared Sullinger of Northland HC Columbus Ohio, Tristan Thompson of Findlay Prep Henderson Nevada and Perry Ellis of Wichita Heights HS Wichita Kansas in their quest to be the best of the Elite.

Day one consisted of a grueling mix of combine workouts, scrimmages, panel discussion and interview sessions held at The Sports Club/ LA. Under Armour set-up the combine and training sessions with Denver Nuggets conditioning coach Steve Hess putting the players through their paces. The combine tested and measured each ballers strength, agility, speed and jumping skills. Competition was fierce as each player strove to out do the other, then regroup later for a little good nature ribbing. These sessions were designed to not only measure each player’s abilities but to also share with them workout tips and reveal ways to stay physically and mentally strong. Training and mental strength are the keys to becoming even better players.

It was during the panel session that the Elite 24 gained the most knowledge and valuable insight that will carry them from high school, through college and then to the NBA. Moderated by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, the panel consisted of Kevin Love, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, the UFC’s Quinton Jackson and legendary “NY Post” sports writer Peter Vecsey. Each panel member discussed with participants how to handle press and the thought process that goes into deciding to play for a European team or the NBA. They also discussed how to handle the attention that their level of competition brings. But it was probably one little piece of advise that Peter Vescey imparted to the players that will help them successfully navigate the waters of fame—know your history. He stressed that knowing the history of the game and knowing the players who paved the way for them will help them become better players. Study their moves, reach out to them for guidance, and know the history of Rucker and other prominent tournaments. Said Vecsey “You should really get to the history of the game to understand how honored you should be, to be playing up at Rucker.”

Earlier in the day, players gave back to the community by conducting a basketball clinic for the children of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx, NY. They interacted with each child by setting up skills stations then demonstrating basketball moves and evaluating the children abilities.

It was during the children clinic that I was able to speak with Jared Sullinger, Perry Ellis and Tristan Thompson about their Elite 24 experience. For Perry Ellis, this was his first time visiting New York City. He enjoyed seeing all that the city had to offer and was really excited about the midnight visit to Madison Square Garden the night before. “I like the City a lot, I have never seen so many people in one place” said Ellis. Tristan Thompson participated in the Elite 24 last year. He has traveled extensively and sites France and New Zealand as his favorite countries. Said Thompson “I like to travel meeting new people and seeing new things. My passport is full of stamps.” Jared Sullinger also played in Elite 24 last year and is very involved with the community back home in Ohio participating in numerous community service activities there. “It’s cool; I do it all the time in my neighborhood. I help local kids with basketball” said Sullinger.

All three stated that they were honored to be selected to play in the Elite 24 and feel that they are blessed by God to be able to play at this level. I was really impressed by these young men and the fact that they and all of the Elite 24 were awake very early in the morning to work with children whom they did not know. There was a sense of dedication to others and awareness that due to their talents, they hold a very special place in society. And that status almost insists that they become role models—and they were living up to that.

Skip to My Lou vs. The Goat

Day two, the sky was cloudy and dark but the energy level was high at legendary Rucker Park. Crowds lined up hours before tip off and no one seemed to mind when a light rain began to fall. Crowds continued to file into Rucker as the sky final broke open and a steady stream of rain began to fall. The Elite 24 arrived and began to warm-up after the rain briefly stopped and the court was dried by ESPN and Rucker staff. The Knick City Kids performed to the delight of the standing room only crowd. The Boys & Girls Choir of Harlem Alumni performed a beautiful rendition of the national anthem and then…torrential downpour.

After an almost two hour delay an announcement was made that the game would be moved to the New York Gaucho’s Gym, Bronx, N.Y. A good call since thunder and sharp lightening was now in the mix. A little over an hour later crowds had gathered at the new indoor location in the Bronx. Unfortunately due to the venue change and time factors the “ESPN RISE” All American Slam Dunk contest was canceled. This did not seem to matter to the crowd, the place was packed to the rafters! Not only had most of the Rucker crowd traveled to the Bronx to see the game, but residents of the neighborhood surrounding the gym were also in attendance.

Team “Skip to My Lou” (White Squad) coached by Tiny Morton, Rajon Rondo and Tyreke Evans took to the court against “The Goat” (Orange Squad) coached by Peter Vescey, Kevin Love and Brandon Jennings. The teams’ names paid homage to Rucker legends Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston and Earl “The Goat” Manigault. The crowd was enthusiastic at tip- off. Their intensity building as the game went on. I might be stating the obvious, but it is truly amazing to witness greatness at its earliest stages. You cannot help but feel that when you are watching these young men play, you are witnessing history and are possibly in the middle of an “I was there when” moment.

By halftime “Skip To My Lou” was ahead 59-58 and the crowd intensity was off the charts, almost to the point of delirium. The players were in full form. It was then that I witnessed the pure joy of playing basketball. Yes, one day some of these players will have huge NBA contracts and all of the drama that comes along with that, but not on this night. With the music booming, the Boost Mobile girls gleefully lobbing tee shirts into the crowd, the gym almost literally rocking and ballers pushing it to the limit for the sake of competition–I saw joy. What a night! In the end “Skip to My Lou” defeated “The Goat” 133-120. Doran Lamb and Tobias Harris were co MVP’s. Probably not the last time for these two– history in the making!