Fledgling New Jersey Academy hoping to compete with Montverde, Oak Hill for national basketball championships | Zagsblog
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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.
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Sunday / October 13.
  • Fledgling New Jersey Academy hoping to compete with Montverde, Oak Hill for national basketball championships

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    WEST WINDSOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Tarik and Akil Watson and Elliot Cadeau are talented middle school basketball players who attend the New Jersey Basketball Academy at Kyrie Irving’s alma mater, The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J.

    Within a few years, they could be spearheading a new high school program that hopes to challenge national powers Montverde Academy (FL), Oak Hill Academy (VA) and Findlay Prep (NV) for national championships.

    All three players are considering enrolling at the fledgling Princeton Arts & Sports Academy (PASA) that will launch this September with a basketball program featuring multiple teams and plans to add soccer, swimming, tennis, golf and various arts programs in future years.

    “Yes, right now I am considering it,” James Watson, Tarik and Akil’s father, said after the Academy held an introductory press conference on Monday. “I’m looking into it.”

    It will be a fully acredited school and basketball academy for boys and girls in grades 9-12 and postgraduate students. It remains unclear if the basketball program will be in any way affiliated with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). Tuition for the school has not yet been announced but it’s expected to be in the mid-five-figure range similar to other elite New Jersey private schools. The top basketball players would likely receive scholarships.

    The school sits on 54 acres and if they purchase nearby land it could be expanded to 80 acres. It is expected to have about 75 students when it opens this September, and could eventually house approximately 300 as dormitories are built nearby. The school is near public transportation and is only 7 miles from Princeton University.

    “I like the idea of having a school like this,” James Watson added. “The biggest thing right now for me is the educational component, making sure that that’s up to snuff. There’s no need to go to Duke and you flunk out the first semester so the educational component is very important, as well as getting the needs met for kids that are playing at this high of a level who are looking to go Division 1.”

    Michelle Cadeau, Elliot’s mother who works at The Patrick School, also loves the idea of the new school.

    “This is like a dream come true for a lot of us parents, especially if our kids are high-level basketball players,” she said. “It’s been hard to find a place that has the same academic rigor as basketball development.”

    Since we first wrote about the school last week, some 40 people have reached out to Chris Chavannes, the principal and head coach of The Patrick School who is involved in the start-up but won’t coach the new program. Former Rutgers coach Mike Rice has been linked to the position, while legendary former St. Anthony’s coach Bob Hurley turned down the opportunity. Chavannes said the coaching search is wide open at this point.

    “We want to have somebody who’s very experienced,” Chavannes said of the coaching search. “We’ve gotten a number of phone calls from people out of the country, people from the United States that are now coaching overseas that want to apply. And we had a number of people from colleges as well as high school coaches from Oak Hill and IMG. We probably had about 40 people contact us last week that are now interested.”

    The Patrick School currently features a high school team that plays a state and national schedule, a national team that plays a prep schedule and several Academy teams comprised of younger players. Chavannes said the new Academy would also feature multiple teams, and his hope is that many of the more talented players from the Patrick School end up in Princeton, where they would compete at the highest level.

    “There will be multiple teams because IMG has 15 teams down there, Montverde has several teams,” Chavannes said. “Even at The Patrick School right now you have so many kids in the building that play, that we want to make sure we provide an opportunity for the kids to experience TPS basketball. And so we’ll create as many teams as we need to create to give those kids an opportunity. But there will be one national team. Not all the teams will do what that national team is going to do.”

    Sources said Nike has already expressed an interest in sponsoring the basketball team and other sports programs. It’s also possible Irving, the Boston Celtics guard who has sponsored and funded the basketball team at his alma mater, could be involved in some capacity.

    The Academy is the brainchild of Chinese businessman Jack Li, who reportedly spent spent more than $20 million in 2014 setting up the Sino-US Science, Culture and Sports Association (SUSCS) at this same site in Princeton. Li is working closely with several people, including Martin Whitfield, a Plainfield, N.J. native and former player at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

    The main building that will house the new Academy is separated into two areas: half is the Wilberforce School, a K-12 Christian education school with fully-equipped conference rooms and a large multimedia room; the other half is the Windsor Athletic club, with an indoor swimming pool, a basketball court and gyms. There are also three large tennis bubbles on the grounds that could be used for indoor training for various sports in cold weather.

    “We want to do something special, we want to do something unique,” an excited Li told a room full of people, including many Chinese, on Thursday.

    Dave Lipman, who is on the Board of Directors at The Patrick School and is working with the new Academy, said his hope is that it could one day become New Jersey’s version of IMG Academy, which sits on 450 acres in Bradenton, Fla. and is a nationally respected brand.

    “IMG began as a tennis camp run by Nick Bollettieri. It then grew and has changed ownership four times,” Lipman said. “They now have eight sports on 550 acres in Florida. It has 1,000 student-athletes, half of them are from overseas. They are now owned by the William Morris Agency, they’re for-profit, because not only do they develop the stars of the future, they handle their contracts and endorsements and everything else.

    “So it’s become a big business. I think over the next 5-10 years, the way we look at basketball at all levels is going to change and we hope to be at the forefront of that change.”

    James Watson is intrigued by what the Academy has to offer his two sons. He said several elite basketball schools in the state have already reached out, but he likes the idea of being part of a trailblazing program that could eventually challenge the Montverdes and Oak Hills of the world.

    “This is the blueprint,” he said. “I think right now they have the opportunity to set the blueprint for the region and be the ones who said they were the first to do it. And I think with the talent that’s here and the talent that’s already at The Patrick School, they can start really competing and knocking all those teams off. The talent is here, the level is there, they have the student-athletes to do it.”

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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.