Many of you have heard me elude to the NCAA's First Team Program in many of the stories on this site. As the spring and summer grassroots basketball scene approaches, I thought it would be a good time to expand my discussion about this program. Although the NCAA has been criticized a great deal over the past several years, by most accounts, their First Team initiative is a home run. For the most part, First Team, now in conjunction with iHoops, a boarder NCAA initiative, was designed to serve as a four-year education and mentoring program aimed at potential D-I college basketball prospects. The program targets rising 9th and 10th graders and selects student-athletes based on several criteria, including college potential, academics and citizenship. Once selected for the program, young adults are invited to annual summer conferences at various locations around the country, where for 3-4 days they participate in programing aimed at preparing them to become college studen-athletes. From year-to-year, there are about 200 plus kids with in the four classes participating in the program. (Junior class pictured above)
In addition to the summer conferences, student athletes receive follow-up visits and information from First Team reps thought out the year, including in-school visits with guidance counselors to ensure its members are taking the right number and type of courses, which will lead to college eligibility. To remain eligible for the program, members must maintain a set GPA and be on track to graduate with their class. Make no mistake, the First Team program is bigger than basketball, and in fact, there is very little basketball played at the conferences; it's more about preparing kids for the next level though guest speakers, classes and lectures. With that said, the conferences are not about all all work and no play, as the kids are flown to destinations like Orlando, Florida, put up in 5-star hotels, fed like kings, geared up in First team apparel, and treated to field trips and social outings, all sponsored by the NCAA and at no cost to the parents or players. The program is about five years old and boasts alumni such as Daequan Cook, OJ Mayo, BJ Mullins, Walter Offit, Bill Edwards, and Bobby Cappbianco. Some of the current members of the program include: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, Kyrie Irving, Trae Golden, James Bell, Ray McCallum Jr., Jayvaun Pinkston, Joshua Smith, Carl Jones Jr., Nick Kellogg, Juwan Staten, Kevin Gray, Marcus Davis, Zach Joseph, Tony Wroten, Austin Rivers, LaQuintin Ross, Julian Royal, Brandon Kearney, PJ Boutte, Jamal Branch, Carlton Brundidge, Percy Gibson, Trevor Cooney, George Marshall, Stevie Taylor, Treavon Jackson, Kyle Molock and Seth Rosenbauer. At this point, I'm sure you want to know how kids are selected. In Ohio, there are several First Team representatives who travel to tournaments and selected events looking for talented players and prospective members. Not only are the reps looking for college-level potential, they are looking for good kids who conduct themselves in a manor consistent with First Team's mission. In fact, I have seen them bypass on a number of talented players based on the way the players carried themselves on and off the court. In addition, First team reps receive input and recommendations from a host of individuals from around the county about potential members. Look for First reps at the Buckeye Prep Elite Showcase evaluating 8th grade players for their program.