The next big thing in basketball might be right under our noses.
Raise your hand if you watched a game last year in Napa at Prolific Prep High featuring 6-foot-7 Josh Jackson. Some hoop prognosticators call him the next Kobe Bryant and a likely No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He is now a freshman at Kansas.
If you follow high school basketball in northern California, the household power names are Archbishop Mitty, Bishop O’Dowd, St. Joe's of Alameda, Jesuit, Monte Vista, De La Salle, St. Francis and Modesto Christian.
You probably never heard of Prolific Prep in Napa because it isn’t an actual brick and mortar school. Its founder Jeremy Russotti called it a PO box. It exists as a home for 13 hyper-talented high school hoopsters though many actually attend classes at Justin Siena High School in Napa.
Business has been so good for Prolific Prep that they are expanding internationally to Canada. Prolific Prep will add two new basketball teams this fall, both in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. One will be a high school team called Prolific Prep North and the other will be a post-graduate team called Prolific Prep Post-Grad. The original team in Napa will go by Prolific Prep West whenever two of its programs are in the same event.
"We chose Canada because it allowed Prolific Prep to expand internationally," Russotti said. "There are a lot of talented players around the world that want to come to Prolific Prep and expanding to Canada allows us to help more kids."
For the second year in a row, Prolific Prep will be involved with “The Grind Session” and all three teams will be a part of the national circuit.
“The Grind Session” is an international high school basketball showcase that lets the best teams and players in North America compete against each other. Last year, out of 33 teams, Prolific Prep fell just shy of the championship game after an upset loss in the semifinals to eventual champion Victory Rock Prep of Florida.
There are a number of “pop-up powers” in high School throughout the U.S. These schools come and go and put their talented graduates in jeopardy of NCAA sanctions. In the class of 2017, three of the top 15 players are attending high schools that did not exist five years ago.
These schools are similar to premier travel soccer and baseball programs for grade school kids.
Since AAU programs are not well regulated, their coaches are open to all levels of enticements by any number of factions, including the battle for the soles of the next big thing from the shoe companies.
Pop-up school growth is a hard nut for the NCAA to regulate since they morph so quickly. It’s difficult to investigate which schools provide the proper educational guidelines. Many of the players’ families and advisers want to make the jump to the NBA for a payday as soon as possible.
That jump from high school to the NBA is much shorter than it used to be. From 1990 to 2000, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft spent an average of three years in college. Since 2010, every No. 1 pick has been one year and done with their college experience.
The greatest downside is that many hometown high school programs and their fans may never get to see the best players from their community. Those high flyers are moving to other parts of the country to get ready for a career in the NBA.