Isaiah Briscoe of St. Benedict’s puts up a shot past Tim Coleman of St. Anthony during the Newark National Invitational, Feb 1, 2013. Briscoe repeated eighth grade and is now entertaining multiple college scholarship offers. (Saed Hindash / The Star-Ledger)
By Matthew Stanmyre/The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on July 08, 2013 at 8:36 AM, updated July 08, 2013 at 11:42 AM
Over time, high school basketball players and their families have tried just about everything in their pursuit of college scholarships. Year-round training regimens. Specialized coaching. Countless hours commuting to the powerhouse program with the famous coach. Jumping from school to school for the right fit.
But just when you thought you had heard everything, comes the latest trend: Top players are begging their parents to spend an extra year in middle school.
All four of New Jersey’s top-rated players in the 2014 and 2015 national recruiting classes — Karl Towns of St. Joseph’s of Metuchen, Quadri Moore of Linden, Isaiah Briscoe of St. Benedict’s Prep and Malachi Richardson of Roselle Catholic — repeated a grade in middle school for one reason or another. And four of the five players on this season’s Star-Ledger all-state freshman/sophomore team (including Towns) also stayed back a year.
Coaches and parents say some players repeat grades for understandable reasons: Either they have a late birthday, need time to mature or could use an extra year to work on their academics before high school.
Others say the decisions are made purely to gain an advantage.
“It’s not because a kid is not doing well in school or is too young for his grade,” said Bob Hurley, coach of St. Anthony High of Jersey City. “It’s just because you’ll be one year older in high school and you’ll be that much better of a player.”
Either way, most agree this is now the “it” thing for young superstars.
“This ball is rolling downhill,” said Dave Telep, a national recruiting analyst for ESPN. “The genie is out of the bottle. It’s no longer a trend — it’s an accepted practice within high school basketball.”
As an eighth-grader at Kawameeh Middle School in Union County, Briscoe had natural instincts on the court and a gorgeous jump shot, but his body had yet to fill out. Often, he said, he played against bigger, stronger opponents who had already repeated a grade. After games, he would ask his dad to let him stay back a year.
“We were playing against a lot of kids that had that extra year, and it really came to show down the stretch,” Briscoe said. “You can tell who’s more experienced. At the end of the summer, (me and my father) both came to an agreement that I should get an extra year in eighth grade so I could dominate and work on my body more and just elevate my game before I get to high school.”
After his eighth-grade year at Kawameeh, Briscoe repeated the grade at Good Shepherd Academy in Irvington. The extra year paid off.
Briscoe, who is in the process of transferring from St. Benedict’s, has sprouted to 6-4, and his body has filled out to 212 pounds. Now 17, he’s the No. 15-rated player nationally in the 2015 class — one behind his original grade. Already, he has more than a dozen major Division 1 scholarship offers.
“It was just a good thing, and it worked out for everybody,” said George Briscoe, his father. “Now it’s safe to say he’s in line for a scholarship. Wouldn’t you say so? There was no loss.”
In New Jersey, a student-athlete is eligible to compete as a high school senior so long as he turns 19 after Sept. 1 of that school year. An athlete can only play sports for four consecutive years — meaning that if he wants a year of seasoning without being penalized, he must do it before reaching high school.
And players repeating grades is not restricted to New Jersey. At least three of the top 12 players in the 2013 class nationally — Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh and Wayne Seldon — repeated a grade. The No. 2 overall rated player in 2012, Nerlens Noel, also repeated.
Those high-profile repeaters also have helped create the latest wrinkle to the repeating trend: Players reclassifying up a year during high school, in most cases back to their original grade. The past two years, stars such as Towns, Noel, Seldon, Vonleh, Wiggins and Dakari Johnson — who began his high school career at St. Patrick High in Elizabeth — have each reclassified to graduate high school sooner.
Towns, for example, will skip his junior year when school starts in September, and move from a sophomore to a senior. The 7-footer from Piscataway said he’s taking six classes online this summer and studying for about three hours most days to make up the difference.
“Me and my family talked about it, and it just felt like it was the best decision for me basketball-wise, to go and move to the next grade,” Towns said. “Especially with this year’s recruiting class, I think almost all top 10 players did it and they all reclassified up. It’s one of those things that just seems to be happening now.”
Coaches say players who reclassify often are the same ones who originally repeated a grade to gain an edge. Once it is determined they were good enough to move to the next level, they reclassified.
In the case of Towns, he repeated seventh grade when he transferred from a public school to a private school and the course requirements were different, he and his father said.
But now, with his basketball stock soaring and a scholarship to Kentucky locked up, he will reclassify to begin his senior year in the fall after just having finished his sophomore year this spring.
“It will get him closer to his dream of one day playing in the NBA,” said Towns’ father, Karl Sr. “Let’s be realistic: He’s left a legacy already at St. Joe’s from what he’s already accomplished. There’s not much more.”
Coaches say the repeating trend has been going on for more than a decade — if not even longer. But the past five years, the fad has ramped up.
For instance, last season the St. Michael’s CYO AAU team from Union City won the 14-and-under state title. Afterward, Hurley said nearly the entire team repeated the eighth grade.
“It’s a microwave society,” Hurley said. “Everybody wants something, but they’re not necessarily ready to work for it and earn it.”
Hamilton Park Summer Basketball League schedule for Friday, July 12 Hamilton Park Summer Basketball League schedule for Thursday, July 11
Video of the Day
Video: Tent living in Ocean Grove – simple but cherished
Sandy Recovery Scorecard
Track progress of the storm recovery taking place in 15 N.J. towns.
Still have damage inside your home? Share your photos with us
View the Sandy Recovery Scorecard »
Most CommentsMost Read
461 Cory Booker, other N.J. figures react to Zimmerman verdict
290 Victor Cruz apologizes for controversial tweets about George Zimmerman trial
236 Your comments: New Jersey reacts to the Zimmerman verdict
192 Despite long criminal record, plea deals limited prison time for Millburn home invasion suspect
160 Angry over Trayvon and the Zimmerman verdict? Protest our gun laws: Editorial
See more comments »