Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Leadership Role Expected Out Of Rhody-Bound Butts

Roughly twenty minutes before an arduous workout at Village Academy High School in Delray Beach, Fla., 6-foot-7 forward Leroy Butts arrived carrying a pair of beet-red Air Jordans.

The flashy kicks are not all Butts, a post-graduate headed to Rhode Island, will carry this season.

 As an elder statesman amongst a flurry of new faces, Butts will carry the leadership mantle. He'll carry a bulk of the offensive load, utilizing versatility as a weapon.

A wiry forward with a knack for interior scoring last season, he'll also carry a new offensive arsenal.

Butts spent the entire summer working to refine these tools, developing a fluid 15-18 foot jumper and becoming more comfortable putting the ball on the deck.

At the collegiate level, survival is dictated by day-to-day progression. Those capable of expanding, adjusting with new elements to their game each year?

They tend to last. They tend to stand the test of Division-I time.

"I think he'll definitely take on a bigger role for us offensively," said Elev8 head coach Chad Meyers, who inherits a bevy of wings and interchangeable guards this season.

"For 'Roy, the biggest thing is we want him to be a leader. He knows what we expect. He knows how hard we have to practice this week. He's been tremendous so far with his workouts, bringing energy. I think if you look back 12 months ago, when he got here and to where he is now, he's a totally different person."

Working on ball-handling as well as stepbacks with Ganon Baker, Butts said, helped him embrace the new role.

He's also more comfortable from mid-range and beyond, toting a funky left-handed slingshot. Butts, a D.C. native, played with the D.C. Premier on the AAU circuit.

"Creating space for my shot selection and just being more versatile with the ball in my hands has helped," said Butts, who de-committed from Rutgers before deciding on Rhode Island in late June of 2014.

"The coaches, they expect me to be a leader. They want me to be great. They want me to bring the right effort and be way better than I was last year as a senior, being a post-grad. The summer was about grinding, getting in shape. I was grinding. Doing extra things, chasing 50-50 balls and rebounding and working more on my ball handling."

Last season, Butts was a supplementary scorer behind Kobie Eubanks and high-rising Jamal Gregory. Buckets came mainly on hustle points and from short range, as he was able to slither his way into the paint and take big rim-protecting forward/centers out of the paint.

This season, he'll be tasked with creating his own shot. Elev8 will likely implement a two-man game with Cal-commit Tyson Jolly operating from the outside.

Winter nights in sun-soaked South Florida rarely include Blockbuster nights or indoor activity. Butts, however, was sequestered in his dorm room watching Rhode Island games online.

"Just seeing myself in their offense helped sell me and it made me more comfortable picking Rhode Island," said Butts, a D.C. native.

"Seeing the bigs being more mobile on the perimeter, more inside-out, they get a lot of touches from the guards. At a lot of schools you just don't get that."

Helping steer Butts to Rhode Island was David Cox. A D.C. and Maryland area recruiting presence, Cox joined Rhode Island following stops at Georgetown and Rutgers.

His clout with the D.C. Premier (previously known as D.C. Assault) enabled Cox recruit Butts thoroughly.

A Lanham, Md. native and cerebral passer at William & Mary in the mid-1990s, Cox kick-started his coaching career with the Assault.

"The entire coaching staff made me feel like family," said Butts.

"I wanted to go somewhere where I could fit in and play right away and do what I do best, which is just help the team win."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Cook Brings Monstrous Post Presence To Elev8

Consider Levi Cook a basketball old soul.

 As a young kid, the Glen Daniel, W.V. native was enamored with highlight films of hometown stars such as Jerry West, Randy Moss and Jason "White Chocolate" Williams.

His focus shifted, however, when his grandfather implored him to take note of Shaquille O'Neal during the Shaq/Kobe Lakers heyday.

Shaq's supreme interior manhandling quickly garnered Cook's undivided focus. It also put everything in perspective, as the 6-foot-10, 286-pound Cook was always considerably bigger than all of his classmates.

Emulating Shaq's inside game and sustaining his identity as a true big, Cook's game flourished. With big, soft hands, he's become increasingly adept around the rim.

Finishing with authority while learning to alter, change, and manipulate shots defensively, there's no confusion about where the big fella belongs on the court. Yet with deft interior dishing ability and an innate awareness for reads, one of Cook's more appealing attributes is his basketball IQ.

This quality allowed Cook to ascend the ropes of the nation's premiere bigs. Though he served primarily as a supplemental piece alongside 6-foot-11, 245-pound Thomas Bryant (Indiana) at Huntington Prep (W.V.), Cook said he's bettered his defensive play and physical condition.

Providence, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, and VCU are all currently potential suitors for Cook, who de-committed from West Virginia last fall.

 Cook will spend a post-graduate season at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla. Elev8 graduated 6-foot-11 Spanish wunderkind Yankuba Sima (St. John's) last season. They return with 6-foot-8, 205-pound Rhode Island-commit Leroy Butts. Flanking Cook in the paint will be 7-footer Sam Alabakis from Australia.

 In a modern-day era where teams feature high-rising, quick-footed bigs who adapt to multiple positions, Cook is very much a throwback.

With Elev8 embracing the ideology that speed kills, Cook's physical development is a major factor. Once he develops a consistent mid-range jumper, he'll create matchup difficulties. Yet as a key interior cog, Cook has the size and the manpower to steer foes clear of the driving lanes.

"Obviously the first thing is getting him at full strength and getting him healthy," explained Elev8 head coach Chad Myers.

"Right now, he's coming back off his ACL injury. He's actually just trimmed down from I think about 310 to 286 with the surgery, taking care of himself, and eating right. Once we get him healthy it's going to be full go."

Keeping Cook close to the rim, the focus is refusing to let him get stretched out on ball screens. His ability to work within the confines of the system, without demanding too many touches. He can dictate an offense scoring primarily on point-blank and hustle points, which caters to Elev8 given its surplus of shooters.

"Hopefully he'll push guys out on the perimeter because of his size and they'll be a little scared to go in there," said Myers.

Cook's relationship with Myers, he said, helped sell him on Elev8. The main focus, however, is getting better on a day-to-day basis and winning the last game of the post-season.

"I'm just here to win a national championship," Cook said.  "I've been close twice. I'm not here to sit the bench. So I'm just here to do whatever the coaches need me to do as best as I can."

While his teammates will adjust to multiple roles, Cook is very much entrenched in the paint.

"The signature aspect of this year's team is going to be versatility, interchangeability, players being able to play multiple positions," explained NBA trainer and Elev8 coach Cody Toppert.

"It allows us to open up the floor even more than we did last year."

NBA trainer Ganon Baker, at the forefront of Elev8's year-round basketball focus, feels Huntington Prep (W.V.) prepared Cook for the rigors of high-level prep basketball.

"The biggest thing we have to do is make him feel comfortable and confident coming back after the ACL injury," said Baker, who is currently working with Kevin Durant.

"Mentally, he knows what to expect. Obviously, any player coming back from an ACL injury is going to be hesitant. Our coaching staff, our medical staff, we just have to get him into a good routine everyday. Where he's getting better, getting confident, shedding some weight and improving his skill-set, making sure he isn't too rusty."

When the topic turned to expectations, Baker didn't flinch.

"We expect our (Red) team to get to the national championship again and we're going to try to win it all," Baker said.

"We don't have as many high-level, household name players as last season, but I think we're just going to be a better team."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

IONA The Next Chapter For Spring Valley's Mitchell/McGill Tandem Photo

It was nearly 10 years ago, yet Kai Mitchell recalls the first time he approached Rickey McGill. It was at a Rockland County CYO tournament.

McGill and Mitchell,  a potent inside-outside punch during their career at Spring Valley HS, were up against each other as opponents.

Each possessing ahead-of-their-time talent, the game shaped into a sheer one-on-one battle between the two of them. Mitchell would pull off a move, McGill would counter with one of his own. It was as advanced a duel as you'll witness at the youth basketball level.

Fast forward to 2015. McGill is at Iona, where he'll have the opportunity to bolster an established backcourt. The Gaels feature an NBA prospect in 6-foot-4 A.J. English, as well as a high-scoring and bolt-quick sophomore in Shadrac Casimir.

Mitchell, whose jack-of-all-trades stock appealed to Iona during a largely underwhelming recruiting process, will follow. He'll undergo a post-graduate year at St. Thomas More (CT) to shore up his academics, entering as a Class of 2016 recruit.

Time flies.

McGill is a high-motored guard with competitive juices coursing through his bloodstream. Proficient at attacking and leaning on a mid-range game, McGill's a consistent 3-point shot short of all-league expectations. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard shed feast-or-famine tendencies from his junior year as a seasoned senior, gaining his license to kill during high-pressure moments. McGill cemented his clutch characteristic by draining a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as Spring Valley defeat edSaugerties, 65-62, in the New York State Class A regional.

 At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Mitchell's frontcourt passing, sneaky athleticism, and high basketball IQ fits into Iona's style.

Having brought tiny Rockland County to major relevance in 2014-15, both players will acclimatize to a higher level. It will be leaps-and-bounds above any tier they've experienced.

McGill's upside is yet to be determined. He relishes a challenge. Akin to a boxer who waits for the opponent to initiate before exploding with counterpunches, his competitive edge is sustained. He'll play to the point of punch-drunk fatigue, as well.

At Iona, McGill will be in a situation where he's pushed everyday. He'll have the opportunity to get 500 shots everyday. English averaged 20.1 points and 5.1 assists last season and is now bench pressing 300 pounds.

 Casimir, a 5-foot-10 guard out of Stamford, Conn., took many by surprise as a freshman. He erupted for 40 points in just his fourth college game, a 126-76 trouncing of Delaware State.

 He averaged 14.5 points on the season, streaky during some sequences and a blurring hard-to-guard threat during others. The summer workload has helped Casimir develop more point guard-like instincts.

With this caliber of backcourt strength set, McGill will have to ascend the ropes all over again.  Tenaciousness is one of the freshman's stronger attributes, one likely to vault him into meaningful minutes.

"Rickey can really guard any guard position," said Andy Borman, who coached McGill and Mitchell on the AAU circuit.

"If he's going to carve out a valuable role at Iona, as ironic as it seems I think it's going to be done on the defensive end of the ball. If he's the type of guy who says 'let me guard their best player' and he steps up and embraces that challenge, I think he can help them right away. This is probably the first time in his life where he's walked into a situation where he wasn't the best player on the team right away."

Becoming more adept as a point forward helped pave Mitchell's path to Iona. He had minimal interest heading into his senior year, mainly because he was forced to play out of position in high school. Enhancing his all-around game, developing a reliable 16-18-footer, and showcasing a deft passing ability for a big helped alter his image.

Another year under his belt will help him physically, mentally, and academically.

"What we've done by sending him to St. Thomas More is provided him with a structured environment, with probably the best coach in the Northeast in Jere Quinn," explained Borman.

"I don't think Kai would have been ready for that setting last year. I think he's ready. He's going to take full advantage of it. I think he's in a great spot to be successful."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unsung No More, Miami's Johnson Has Survived The Hard Route

Tyler Johnson stood in the bowels of American Airlines Arena, flanked by a small entourage that included a trainer and two fans. It was February.

The then 22-year-old Johnson was still in the embryonic stages of meaningful NBA minutes.

Bolstered by a throwback 32-point performance from Chris Bosh, Miami stormed out of a dreadful 14-point deficit to stamp a 109-95 win over the hapless Knicks.

Clutching a jug of water and drenched in sweat, Johnson was approached by a Heat team employee.

"I'm sorry, this area is reserved for players and families only," said the employee, failing to recognized the undrafted Johnson as a newly-minted roster-filler.

Hey, in all fairness, it surely wasn't the first time someone has overlooked Johnson.

Unsung and lightly recruited out of high school, the Mountain View, Calif. native received minimal Bay Area interest.

This is despite possessing deceptive hops, pulling of electric displays of athleticism which won over crowds throughout California's hoops proving grounds.

Adversity can evolve into a real demon, should you allow it to.

Rather than internalizing setbacks, rather than wallowing in mounting frustration, Johnson converted the agony into insatiable competitive hunger.

Johnson upped his workload. A kid who once motored through the monstrous sand hills of San Francisco regularly, he ramped up with the unrequired work.

As a three-year starter at Fresno State, Johnson evolved into the program's most decorated alum on this side of Paul George.

While preparing for the pro ranks, Johnson was again dealt a dose of adversity. Just three teams--the Lakers, Warriors, and Heat, to be exact--extended Johnson an invitation for workouts.

Refusing to let his lifelong dream diminish, Johnson had a small window to prove his value.

"I remember coming out of pre-draft, I was working with (Elev8's) Cody Toppert and Ganon Baker and all of these guys around me kept going off to pre-draft workouts," recalls Johnson, who averaged 18.5 points during 13 games in Sioux Falls before darting his way into Miami's rotation in mid-winter.

"I only ended up going to three workouts. Everybody else is getting like 15-16 workouts. They were coming back like, 'ahh, I don't want to go to another workout.' I still hadn't gone to one yet."

Shades of Johnson's recruiting process resurfaced. Again, teams mistakenly passed on Johnson.

Few even put eyes on the explosive 6-foot-4 off guard, rather than simply gauging the NBA readiness of his high-flying game.

There's no confusion about who Johnson is or where his game belongs now.

When Johnson arrived at the doorstep out of Sioux Falls, he looked fresh from some epic post-prom party on one of California's cold-watered beaches.

 Young, unproven, and very much a question mark, few understood Johnson's upside.

His true coming out party would occur in early March, as the short-handed heat cruised to a 115-98 victory over the Suns.

With Bosh out for the season and the elusive, hard-driving Goran Dragic seizing the reins of the offense, Johnson exploded for 26 points.

Flushed into a three-guard rotation, Johnson overcame an ugly spill in which he landed badly on his ankle.

Attacking the rim with full throttle explosion, soaring by unsuspecting defenders, and putting his left hand to use from mid-range and beyond, Johnson's full arsenal was evident.

"When I did get my name called, I was going to be ready," Johnson said.

"It's better to be ready and not get an opportunity than to get an opportunity and not be ready."

Johnson's opportunity emerged while Miami was in the midst of some soul searching.

Prior to losing Bosh, the evolution of transcendent big man Hassan Whiteside whipped through Miami like wildfire.

Like Johnson, Whiteside landed in Miami following wilderness-like obscurity.

A constant double-double threat virtually overnight, Whiteside's journey included stops with Sioux Falls and the Iowa Energy of the D-League.

He played professionally in China and Lebanon.

 Both unknowns and presumably unpolished, Whiteside and Johnson have established themselves as youthful faces of the franchise.  More significant roles are anticipated in 2015-16.

"For Tyler, taking the next step is going to be expanding his role from just a sparkplug to a guy who is going to be able to play extended minutes consecutively and have production really in all aspects of the game," said Toppert, who has helped push Johnson's development.

"It will mean dropping assists, playing in the pick-and-roll, coming off pin downs, filling the corner, knocking down shots and also creating closeouts, attacking the basket and making good decisions. He's an excellent rebounder, offensively and defensively. He proved he can play great defense both on and off the basketball."


Who is Tyler Johnson?

Where did he come from?

 Where did he develop such extraterrestrial bounce?

These questions would have never surfaced, had Johnson's road been simpler. Johnson took the hard route, one filled with redundant potholes and detours.

His whole career nearly, he's had a hill to climb.

Johnson was barely 5-foot-9 up until his junior year of high school.

 His status on the Division-I recruiting market? Schools located smack in his own backyard didn't even offer.

"If I had an offer from Santa Clara, I probably would have gone," said Johnson.
"I didn't get an offer from USF, nobody in that area. Nobody in the Bay really. St. Mary's came in late, but they kind of passed up on me too. Every time we played them (at Fresno State), I had that little bit of edge. I prepared a little more, just so I could show them what they passed up on."

At Fresno State, Johnson averaged 15.9 points, 7.3 boards, and 2.9 assists as a seasoned senior starter.

His prodigious bounce opened eyes, with an increase in consistency enhancing his professional stock.

As a Cali-bred kid, Johnson relished the opportunities against top-tier competition.

 Entrenched in hyper-intense battles with local area products such as Jeremy Tyler and Aaron Gordon kept his NBA focus alive, his game levitating with the stage.

 Johnson's mother, Jennifer, serves in the Air Force.

His childhood idol was Kobe Bryant.

And so Johnson learned his goals would have to be attained the old fashioned way--through gritty, hard work.

"Tyler was never handed anything," said Toppert.

"Anything he wanted, he had to take. There's a lot of kids out there today who think because they played on a Nike AAU team and Nike gave them a pair of shoes, that they're a sponsored athlete. Or Adidas gave them a pair of shoes, they're a sponsored athlete. What's been bred and built in grass-roots basketball is a mentality of entitlement. Guys think they are entitled to being good."

Never entertaining doubt or backing down from a challenge, Johnson admired Kobe for his infectious swagger.

 He didn't mind the number of adversaries or enemies Kobe made along the way, either.

Kobe's gym fiend mentality and cocksure attitude resonated with Johnson.

 "I didn't grow up in the Mike era, so it was just Kobe's demeanor and the way he approached the game," Johnson said.

"The fact that he wanted to win so bad, that's what appealed to me. He doesn't care about anything else but winning. They say 'he's a jerk,' or he's this or he's that. A lot of people hate on him because they can't do the things he's capable of doing. Whenever somebody can't beat you physically they're going to try to verbally tear you down."

The Grind Is Real

Johnson doesn't let a lot of room in his life for distraction.

With three physical workouts a day and two basketball workouts a day, he knows where he has to be come October.

He'll continue to sharpen his shot, sharpen his reads, and provide a high-energy option Miami seems to eat off of.

Cutting and snaking to the rim helped him extend his stay in the league.

 Training with Toppert, he's not only matured physically but mentally as well.

After all, as Johnson has acknowledged, the most daunting challenges at the highest level of play are strictly between the ears.

Currently, Johnson is pushing himself through a painstaking workout regimen at Elev8 in Delray Beach.

 His focus has shifted to precise actions he'll have within the Heat's offensive playbook.

 Becoming more fundamentally sound and adding on to his all-around game, Johnson said his focus is now one day at a time.

Getting better each day, progressing, and keeping his goals intact are all that matters.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Depth, Inner Toughness Pivotal In Houston/LA series

From the outside looking in, the Houston/Los Angeles Clippers series preached the potency of collective resilience.

Unbridled, passionate toughness and augmented physicality also played a monstrous role throughout the series. It added a layer of thrill and entertainment value, as well.

For more than a fleeting moment, finally, the hard-hitting and physical NBA brand of the 1980s and 1990s resurfaced.

 The rough-and-tumble game was back. There was purified and good-natured excessive aggression,  cold hard stare downs. There were plenty of extracurricular shoves for good measure. Matt Barnes assumed the role of playground bully, relentlessly trying to infect James Harden's on-court psyche.

 It was refreshing to see. It replaced an immensely softer modern day game-- one in which blood rivals are suddenly tight friends, buddying up on social media and training together in the off-season.

Every bucket must be earned on this stage, where foes are no longer to be confused with friends after the calendar strikes April 29.

I half-expected to see Charles Oakley and Ewing clotheslining the shit out of Scottie Pippen just as Pip blurred out on a fast break.

 Or , even better...I envisioned a wild skirmish for a loose ball erupting in a bench-clearing Derek Harper v.s. JoJo English style melee. 

The sight yellow-clad security guards locking up a super-heated John Starks' arms and  resurfaced in my memory. All the were spilled over in this series, as the magnitude of post-season basketball was expressed.

We're talking  all 12 rounds. Bar room brawling toughness. Tat-drenched Brooklyn Dyke-esque toughness, with nary an iota of fear traceable.

L.A. was stacked in waves and waves and waves. They possessed an overwhelming amount of oceanic depth, fortified by veteran leadership. 

-Buoyed by a suddenly all-empowering scorer in Blake Griffin, the Clips decimated Houston's frontline. 

-Griffin's rapid offensive evolution was notable. He unveiled a suddenly-reliable mid-range game, complete with the nifty new step back in his enhanced toolbox.

Compute this with the sky-rising athleticism his game's always been predicated on, BG shredded Houston's front line on thorough forays to the rim.

The depth surfaced, as a seasoned LAC bench was pivotal. Battle-tested spark plugs Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes became sturdy knockdown options during crucial transitions. They refuse to engage the idea of being on a race against time.

Both Crawford and Barnes were key figures on that beyond abysmal 23-59, 2005-06 N.Y. Knicks team. 

That dysfunctional, piecemeal core floundered mightily. The collapse ended up destroying Long Beach, N.Y. product Larry Brown's would-be warrior-like return. 

Smeared by the very ugly, very public verbal feud between Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown (Supranowitz must have been washing down 10 Xanax each morning just to keep his head from exploding), this was intolerable basketball. 

In fact, that forgettable Knick team was actually worse than the 2014-15 triangle clusterfuck, considering the 05-06 team's pieces.

The only piece of potential of team was the rookie triumvirate of Nate Robinson, Channing Frye, and David Lee. 

The trio brought a refreshing level of electric chemistry. 

They provided a much-needed energy injection, pumping a microscopic morsel of life into a pulseless, left-for-kill Garden.

Robinson had the spurt-ability and high-energy style. This rendered him an explosive scorer at times, albeit a trigger-happy one.

The team wallowed well under the mediocrity line.

 Frye came out of Arizona with a bang, pulling off theatrical finishes. Yet the quiet kid never panned out in the big city, flaming out under New York's pressure cooker. 

Lee became the fan-favorite and indisputable program poster boy. A high-flying hustler who developed a dependable 18-footer mid-way through his N.Y. stay, Lee's evolution into a steady double-double threat had NYC buzzing and praying for an NYK revival. 

Back to the clips/rockets...

 -The good ol' NBA days resurfaced when Dwight Howard committed that loud flagrant foul on Griffin. This heated exchange occurred during a powerful drive to the rim, during the final stages of a jarringly ugly blowout. It was clear, at this juncture, the exasperation/negative energy was soaring. 

 With that, Houston found an inner strength--one only elite teams are capable of tapping into. They discovered a resolve. A mental moxie. This helped them stave off LAC's offensive superiority and overwhelming veteran presence.

Bouncing out of a 3-1 ditch and storming back from a 19-point deficit (on the road) requires a hardened level of mental stability.

As any coach or fake AAU handler worth their salt will tell you, quelling the run is the first step to jolting out of this maddening funk.

If the opponent is runnng roughshod on your squad, ramping the ballooning spurt up to the point of humiliation, you can't let your interior aggravation or a deafening crowd bother you. Your primary focus must be solely the next possession.

Your mindset must be on a quick route to the rim, the easiest way to rattle off a 6-0 mini run. Anything to overcome the rash of turnovers or sloppy play and quell the exasperating drought.

If you can keep cutting the deficit by playing on instinct, chances are you will lessen the damage. You will increase the likelihood of staging a potential comeback and rally.

Do you have an inner strength? Is your winning mentality strong enough to resurface, even during intensified turbulence or in the midst of an agonizing blowout?

These questions will help you cultivate your identity in a highly-pressurized situation. Young ballers take note...

Even while watching games, you must make a personal connection to what's going out there on the floor so you would understand your role in a particular situation.

Friday, August 21, 2015

St. Andrew's Ralby Takes Game To Johns Hopkins

St. Andrew's (Fla.) senior Noah Ralby entered the 2014-15 campaign with a first-rate education in the playmaking point guard role.
Beyond watching his older brother Max, once one of South Florida's most prolific point guards and currently playing at NYU, he recalls watching Steve Nash thoroughly dissect defenses during his Phoenix Suns heyday.
Ralby was a middle school runt when Nash helped resurrect the Suns, earning back-to-back MVPs in the process. Ralby recalls studying the pocket passes and the pick-and-rolls, enamored with the crafty Nash's ability to shred defenders off the bounce.
As much as he embraced the role of knock down shooter, seizing the space to get his shot off, the dish-first Ralby has always prided himself on bettering his teammates.
He went to work at his handle, shot creation, finding his teammates on a variety of reads, preparing himself for vital leadership aspects that parallel one's senior season..  
Well-schooled in the veteran leadership department, Ralby was quick to heap praise on a pair of tight-knit senior classes from the past two seasons.

Soaking up vital lessons from the past while finding his own locker room voice, Ralby became instrumental in the most pivotal leadership compartments.
The onus was on him to rally the team and set the tone in the huddle. Ralby was tasked with the chore of leading by action, commandeering the ball handling duties and turning the opponent over, sparking transition leak-outs.
Ralby most notably seized the leadership reins against King's Academy, scoring 30 points, tearing down six rebounds, and kicking in six assists.
St. Andrew's influx of of bigs, four of whom are 6-foot-8 or taller, allowed Ralby to facilitate the inside-outside game while engineering a sped-up transition attack.

Though the sudden uptick of interior presences shut off the driving lanes to a degree, Ralby seized the shooting space to his advantage. Packing some range onto his beyond-the-arc game certainly helped.
"I went to a lot of recruiting camps over the summer and that really gave me some perspective," said Ralby, who will prolong his career at Johns Hopkins University.
"Of course, I had the luxury of  being able to learn from a number of seniors who came before me. I was able to apply all of the learning experiences and the know-how I picked up from those guys."
He also picked up a steadfast 12-month devotion to the game.
Pushing Ralby's development has been Yogev Berdugo, the head honcho of Step It Up Basketball.
"He brings an intensity and an emotion that just makes you go as hard as possible," said Ralby of Berdugo.
"When I first went to (Bergudo) it was my freshman year, after my J.V. season and I could barely make it through his workouts. I'll be handling the ball and he'll be guarding me as tough as possible, slapping my wrists until they're red as can be. He's helped me with ball-handling, shooting, and my athleticism as well. What he's really instilled in me is a mental toughness and also a physical toughness as well."

He continued, "I owe a lot of my progression to Yogev's training and Step It Up."
With 5AM workouts and a new commitment to making fitness a lifestyle, Ralby is readied for the rigors of the NCAA experience.

While Hopkins' prestigious academics held the considerable weight in Ralby's decision, the opportunity to earn meaningful minutes from the get-go was an influential factor.
"They graduate four guys this year and then six guys next year, so I'm excited about the opportunity to contribute immediately," Ralby explained.
"Prior to the summer I e-mailed maybe 15-20 schools. Coach (Bill) Nelson saw me at the showcase at Brandeis. I take pride in the fact that this is one of the best schools in the country academically."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cal-Signee Jolly To Make Up For Lost Time At Elev8 Photo

Tyson Jolly's world was enveloped by darkness.

Putnam City West's then-junior guard went from one of Oklahoma City's most electrifying playmakers to a young man plagued by restless uncertainty. There was a dreadful fear of the unknown.

It had all unfolded so rapidly.

After sustaining a nasty spill during a game, the seven blood clots found in Jolly's lungs forced the 6-foot-4, 200-pound combination guard to shut it down for the season.

His legs were also hampered by this case of pulmonary embolism, rendering him immovable for the final 13 games of his junior year.

 The timing couldn't have been worse. Putnam City West had reeled off 18 straight wins, with state championship aspirations well in view.

Jolly now had to come to grips with an issue well beyond basketball.

Pulmonary Embolism, which he survived, was initially categorized as life-threatening. Jolly has vivid recollections of lying in a hospital bed, struggling to manage the high-speed thoughts circulating his mind.

 They jolted him out of sleep, breaking into his solitary dreams relentlessly.

When the thoughts intensified, he was up all hours of the night. Jolly, who didn't play organized basketball until the ninth grade, was just starting to flourish as a defensive catalyst and balanced scorer.

He's made tweaks to his health. He bounced back as a senior, averaging 20.1 points, 9.1 boards, and 3.1 assists en route Putnam City West's berth in the class 6A state semifinal.

Jolly no longer entertains fear. Setbacks and adversity will likely never affect Jolly the same way.

"It was a life-changing experience, especially not knowing if I was going to be able to play basketball again," said Jolly, who will spend a post-graduate year at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla.

"It made me stronger. It made me more mentally focused. It made me more humble about the game. It made me appreciate being able to play everyday, being able to put in work everyday. It showed me basketball is not forever, it can be taken from you any day. Don't take it for granted at any time."

A combo guard buoyed by an innate knack for scoring on the drive, Jolly will adjust to operating a quick-paced offense rife with Division-I talent.

The uptick in in-house competition at Elev8, where NBA players are regular guests alongside trainers Ganon Baker and Cody Toppert, has kept Jolly focused.

"Competing everyday in practice will help him contribute more right away (at Cal)," said Elev8 head coach Chad Myers.

"He'll know what it takes to be successful against other elite players. He'll know how to practice every day. As far as him contributing at Cal, it could be dependent on some of the guys who are there. I think he's very aware that guys like Jaylen Brown could be there for a year. So he might have to step in and shoulder the load right away."

                                        Cal-signee and NBA prospect Jaylen Brown

Adapting to more of a game management role has flipped Jolly's focus to a merry-go-round of ball-handling drills.

With more emphasis on making the right reads, learning how to pick apart a defense, coming off screens and guarding the one-spot more effectively, the transition won't come without steady labor.

"I don't like to be classified as a particular position, because I'm just a competitor," said Jolly, who narrowed his choices down to Cal, Arizona State, Gonzaga, and Creighton before choosing the Golden Bears.

"I'm a winner. I always pride myself on stepping up to competition. If you beat me, I'm going to work on it and make sure I beat you the next time."

Bert Knows Best

When Putnam City West coach Lenny Bert first discovered Jolly as a twig-thin freshman, he noticed a high-caliber athlete in need of thorough coaching. Football was Jolly's first labor of love. His only real experience was pickup games.

There were plenty of run-ins, heated exchanges, and ongoing jawing sessions along the way. Freshmen with the privilege of playing varsity minutes are supposed to keep their mouths shut and their eyes open.

Jolly learned this the hard way, packing on considerable mileage from all the laps Bert made him run in four years.

"He was my first real basketball coach," said Jolly. "He turned into an uncle to me. He was there for me at all times. When I got sick, he was there in the hospital with me everyday, praying over me."

 Bert's initiative was to morph Jolly into a leader, with nary the slightest void in his work ethic. By tweaking his shot and his shot selection, working on aspects such as passing and timing, and instilling life values in him, Bert molded Jolly into a proven product.

Jolly now understands the immense value of having Bert as a mentor. More importantly, he's had someone who constantly forced him not to settle, imploring him to shatter his expectations.

"He pushed me everyday," said Jolly. "If I'm not working, if I'm not going hard enough he's letting me know. He'll make me run extra. Do this extra. He taught me everything I know about basketball."

Late Bloomer

Returning from an illness of such, magnitude kept Jolly off the Division-I map. While relegated to the role of spectator--and at times, de facto assistant coach under Bert--Jolly missed a critical evaluation period.

As a senior, his stock soared in sudden, quick-hit fashion.

It began with interest from Tulsa, UTEP, and Oklahoma. Then, Larry Brown and SMU expressed interest.

The true turning point occurred during a tournament in Las Vegas, when Putnam City West met Long Beach Poly Tech at the Tarkanian classic.

The Patriots withered under Long Beach Poly's wall-to-wall pressure. Jolly mustered a meager four points in the first half, with defenders draped all over him.

"I was getting every shot I wanted, I was just rushing them," Jolly said.

"Or not taking my time, spotting up and hitting them. Coach Bert told me just relax, to calm down and take my time. I was moving slower, because I had been away from working out."

Finishing through traffic and creating space off the dribble, Jolly erupted for 24 second half points en route to a win.

Against a Bishop Gorman team front-loaded with 7-footers, including prized class of 2015 recruits Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman, Jolly kicked in the game-winning assist.

After Gorman blew a crucial layup, Jolly dished to sophomore Nick Robinson for a layup. It was bedlam in Vegas, with Putnam City West pulling off an improbable upset during one of the nation's top-level tournaments.

Jolly's profile skyrocketed, with interest from Cal and Gonzaga heightening.

"I just started getting my vibe back," said Jolly. "My confidence soared and it led into the next couple of games."

Elev8ing the Brand

Elev8 is where lofty expectations are in and excuses are out.

 Each player, no matter the team and skill-set, is held to a high standard.

Partly at Baker's hoops guru status on an international scale, partly at the NBA and over-the-pond pro clientele Elev8 is evolving.

Recognized for his versatility, Jolly will headline a diversified incoming class on Elev8 Black.

"The signature aspect of this year's team is going to be versatility, interchangeability, players being able to play multiple positions," explained Toppert.

"It allows us to open up the floor even more than we did last year. Obviously we've got a big guy in the middle in (6-foot-10, 300-pound center) Levi Cook. We've got (7-footer) Sam Alabakis from Australia coming back. Those are two guys who can hold it down in the paint. With the other positions we've really got stretch fours, guys who can play on the perimeter and make decisions with the ball in their hands. As we saw the Golden State Warriors do, going small-ball can serve its purposes. Especially at this level."

With a more highly-decorated class, nothing is guaranteed as far as meaningful minutes go. Jolly is cognizant the respect must be earned. Similar to last year's featured scorer, Alabama-bound guard Kobie Eubanks, Jolly will be empowered as a prolific scoring threat.

"I think the two biggest things with him is he's unselfish and he's a competitor," said Myers of Jolly. "Being unselfish, being able to play with other elite players is huge for us. He doesn't always need the ball in his hands. Not only just his tenaciousness and toughness, but his competitive nature to want to win every drill is what we love."