Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Sophomore Studs Scottie Lewis, Bryan Antoine Attract Calipari, Mullin, Pikiell and Slew of High-Majors
TINTON FALLS, N.J. — Up until last year, the plush and sprawling Ranney School here in Monmouth County wasn’t on anybody’s radar as far as New Jersey high school athletics.
Put it this way: I’ve covered sports in New Jersey for close to 20 years and I had never been to the school before Thursday night. Never even heard of the place until last year.
But pretty soon everybody in the New Jersey basketball world — and maybe the national prep scene — will know about this place because of two sophomore basketball players named Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis.
They are the reason Kentucky head coach John Calipari, St. John’s coach Chris Mullin, Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell and assistants from Villanova, Georgetown and Seton Hall were seated in the school’s gym for an open workout Thursday night.
“It’s obviously amazing, you know? Lewis told me after the workout. “The fact that we’re sophomores and getting this kind of attention from college coaches, we just live in the moment and have a great experience.”
Calipari has long recruited New Jersey, landing players like former No. 1 NBA Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns from St. Joe’s-Metuchen, Isaiah Briscoe from Roselle Catholic and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,Dakari Johnson and (potentially) Nick Richards from St. Patrick’s. But now Calipari and Barbee — along with a slew of other high-major coaches — will be making regular stops in the Ranney gym.
“[It tells me ] I’m on the right track,” Lewis said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and allow Bryan to push me and I’m going to keep pushing him.”
“It’s great to see Coach Cal, Coah Mullin out there but to have it with my teammates is just amazing,” Antoine added.
The 6-foot-4, 169-pound Antoine is ranked No. 8 in the 2019 ESPN 25, while the 6-5, 185-pound Lewis is ranked No. 16. Both figure to grow a few more inches, too.
Most recently, they picked up scholarship offers from Kansas, Washington and Miami to go with a slew of other high-major offers. Having recently taken unofficial visits to Seton Hall, St. John’s, Rutgers and Colgate, they are planning visits to Kentucky and/or Kansas in the next couple of months.
They were also invited to the Florida-Duke game in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 6.
“Both sides invited us, so we’re trying to figure out which side we’re going to go on,” Lewis said with a smile.
Lewis and Antoine have also been invited to a USA Basketball mini-camp in October.
As the inevitable hype and attention sprial across the next three years, those close to the boys will have to keep them grounded.
“They’re actually pretty good with the egos and the body language and stuff like that,” said Ranney coach Tahj Holden, a native of nearby Red Bank, N.J., who won a national championship under former Maryland coach Gary Williams in 2002.
“But they’re still young kids, so on occasion you gotta talk to them and kind of tell them it’s OK to not make every shot or it’s OK to have a bad day. It just depends on what you’re going to do on the next play. That’s a lot of what we’re trying to teach them, just go to the next play. You can’t do anything about what just happened, except go get it back, go play a little harder.
“They’re good enough that they’re going to figure it out, and I’m just trying to nudge them in the right direction.”
Holden hopes that the attention the boys — and the basketball team — bring will ultimately help the school, which has a $31,000 annual tuition rate.
“For a school that doesn’t have the basketball tradition, I think it’s a good thing, it brings some attention to what we’re trying to do on the academic side and the athletic side,” he said. “So for us as a whole, it’s a good thing. For these guys, they’re going to have the opportunity to go pretty much where they want to go for college.”
In addition to Holden, Brian Klatsky, the director of the Under Armour-sponsored Team Rio AAU program, and Team Rio coach Mike Rice are playing a big role in the boys’ development. Rice, the former Rutgers coach, speaks to them almost daily on the phone.
“Let’s just say I have mentors in my life like Tahj Holden,” Antoine said. “Coach Rice, he’s a high level coach, a great coach, keeps me level-headed. Same thing with Coach Tahj, I see him every single day in school so he tells me no matter how many offers I get, just keep it level-headed.”
For the animated Rice, that involves some yelling and teasing during workouts.
“Oh, yes,” Antoine said with a laugh.
Rice, who coaches both at St. Pat’s and with Team Rio, says he’s rarely seen young players with as much upside as Lewis and Antoine. But he also enjoys being around them, as evidenced by his constant verbal back-and-forth that pushes them to get better.
“Besides being an elite athlete, the ball skills and the decision-making, people talk about a full package and it truly is [for Lewis],” Rice said. “And I can say the same thing about Bryan Antoine. And to get them at the same school, and to get them to where they’re better teammates and better human beings than they are players. They’re top-10 players in the class so it’s enjoyable to be around them and coaching them.”
Rice has recruited his share of talented young players, but is hard pressed to remember guys with this much upside.
“I’ve seen athletes, Andrew Wiggins,” Rice said. “But their skillset sets them apart. The best thing about both of them, they’re bodies are just going to get better and stronger, so they have such a big upside….And I think that’s why you see the highest level coaches in the gym because there’s only a handful of these guys, and I mean a handful. There’s only a handful that have the grades, the academics. There’s not a long list that they recruit from — the bluebloods — and right now they’re trending very upward.”
The goal of Lewis and Antoine is to trend upward enough to make Ranney relevant in the ultra-competitive New Jersey basketball scene, which has been dominated by schools like St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick’s and Roselle Catholic most years in the Tournament of Champions.
“Yes, for sure sometime in the next three years hopefully get a TOC championship,” Antoine said. “Hopefully play against St. Anthony’s, St. Pat’s.”
This year the schedule will get a bit harder, with games against St. Anthony’s, Hudson Catholic and Newark East Side.
As for the recruiting and the college coaches and the media hoopla, that’s not going away anytime soon.
“It’ll be crazy,” Holden said. “It can only get crazier, right? I don’t think we’re going back in the opposite direction anytime soon.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.