‘Jersey Takes Over’: NJ Hoopers Eclipse New York’s Shadow

Elliot Kado was born in Brooklyn but has no recollection of living in the area. When he was 3 months old, his parents packed their things, tied him to a car seat, and left for New Jersey.

Growing up in West Orange, Gift became a fan of the Jets. His Swedish mother and Haitian father had a hard time understanding the popularity of American professional football, but they indulged their son’s obsession – up to a point. He was allowed to paint his room in Jets green and white, but was not allowed to play sports. His mother thought it would be too dangerous. Instead, she invited her 7-year-old son to try out for the basketball team.

Ten years later, Cado became a star at Bergen Catholic High School and was ranked in the top 10 recruits in the class of 2024. And he’s part of an elite group of New Jersey high school basketball players who are arguably among the top talent in the state. ever produced. He will move to Link Academy in Missouri for the 2022/23 season.

In addition to Gift-No. 7th player in the country according to version composite ratings recruiting site 247 Sports – sophomore class includes: no. one Naasir Cunningham (Overtime Elite), no. 33 Dylan Harper (prep Don Bosco) and no. 42 Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic). As well as juniors a year ahead of Cadeau & Co. include: No. 1 Dajuan Wagner Jr. aka DJ (Camden High School), no. 3 Mackenzie Mgbako (Gill St. Bernard’s), no. 12 Simeon Wilcher (Rosella Catholic), no. 20 Aaron Bradshaw (Camden) and No. 48 Akil Watson (Rosella Catholic).

“It was a great time to grow up playing basketball in New Jersey,” Kado said. “The competition and friendship among the elite players here is like nothing else. I don’t feel like there’s another state right now that can compete with New Jersey in terms of basketball talent.”

While New Jersey has been home to some of the greatest players of all time, including Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry, it has historically struggled to escape New York’s basketball shadow. Over the 76 years of the NBA 419 players hailing from New York, compared to 146 from New Jersey, Basketball Reference reports. And on the lists for the 2021-2022 season. the difference was just as stark: 33 New Yorkers and just 12 New Jersey residents. But in the Classes of 2023 and 2024, New Jersey has the top 10 recruits compared to the two from New York.

“I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone,” said Billy Armstrong, who graduated from the Catholic University of Bergen in 1994 and now coaches Kado. “But when I played here, the talent was not at the level it is now, that’s for sure. This is my 11th year as a varsity coach and I can say that the talent has really grown over the last four or five years. There is pride here when New Jersey is mentioned as the best basketball state in the entire country.”

Armstrong also played college basketball at Davidson and professionally overseas. He cited the tenacity and stamina required to live in the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast as one of the reasons why so much talent has emerged in his home state. He also believes that there is a momentum effect in the game. Players love Karl-Anthony Towns as well as Kyrie Irving gave kids growing up in Garden State some New Jersey stars to look up to. And these young players have competed against each other for years, strengthening each other’s game and getting them noticed by recruiters and college coaches.

Since the first 247 rankings were published a year and a half ago, DJ Wagner has been ranked #1 in the rankings. 1 player in the class of 2023. The son of former NBA player Dajuan Wagner, the DJ is a highly skilled combo defenseman. His play and attention to his hiring helped his teammates. Bradshaw, who plays with Wagner at Camden and their amateur athletic union team, the New Jersey Scholars, started out as a 3-star recruit. Now it’s 5-star, with offers from blue-chip programs like Kentucky, Michigan, and UCLA.

“These kids have been playing with and against each other for a long time,” said Scholars coach Jason Harrigan. “And when a really special kid comes into the class – a kid like a DJ – his rivalry extends to everyone. He helps to raise the level of the game for the whole class, and he is also helped to raise his game.”

The level of talent combined with the recent loosening of regulations that allow college and high school athletes to earn sponsorship money, opened up unique opportunities for many players in the state. Cado, who is a dual citizen and plays for the Swedish national team, is represented by Roc Nation and already has a five-figure endorsement thanks to the so-called Name, Likeness and Likeness Deal, or NIL And Cunningham, No. 1 player in 2024, recently signed with Overtime Elite, a prestigious professional development program in Atlanta. He became the first player to sign with the program without a salary while retaining college eligibility.

“Every kid growing up in New Jersey dreams of being a pro,” Cunningham said. “When I was little, I didn’t even know what collegiate basketball was. I was just thinking about the NBA, NBA, NBA. But as I got older, I started thinking more about going to college. With OTE, I receive professional training and education, and I have the opportunity to keep my options open. Also, I can still make money with NIL”

The New Jersey coaches, of course, prefer the players to stay closer to home. And they say the NIL is helping them convince players to stay in their high school all four years.

“These players are proud of New Jersey,” said Dave Boff, who coaches Wilcher and Watson at Roselle Qatar. “The fans are looking forward to a player who rises in the ranks from rookie to senior season. And the players get to take advantage of the opportunities that their talent provides, while still sleeping in their own bed.”

When he talks to college coaches about what makes this crop of New Jersey basketball players so desirable, Boff constantly hears one theme: toughness.

“College coaches see that the guys from New Jersey are confident, they have swagger, and they are not afraid of physical basketball,” Boff said. “When we go to national games, our players are always surprised by gross fouls. In New Jersey, the judges let our guys beat each other up a little, and our guys welcome it. They know they make each other better.”

Leaving home was not an easy decision for Cunningham, but he hopes to make it easier by recruiting other New Jersey players to join him in Atlanta. After all, each of these players hopes to advance to a higher level sooner or later, whether it be college basketball, OTE or NBA.

“Jersey is taking over,” Cunningham said. “Everywhere you look in New Jersey, there is a high-level basketball player everywhere. And soon we will be all over the country. It’s important to us to show what our state is and make sure it continues to be successful in the future. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation.”