Chad Cook remembers sitting on the sideline at the Augusta Convention Center during The Skill Factory’s 15-under Peach Jam qualifier games, his first chance to see in person local players from Augusta he'd heard so much about.
While watching, Cook, a high school basketball guru in the Augusta-area, overheard other kids commenting that TSF's players were “small town" but still dominating some of the nation's best talent. Cook speculated those players were from bigger cities like Atlanta.
“It’s like these guys aren’t from the big time, they’re not the chosen ones,” Cook recalled them saying. “... The TSF 16u and 17u (players) were especially proud of their 15u teammates because they had come to this point of success from a totally different place than the other teams.”
Cook said the support extended from beyond the in-person spectators. Support for The Skill Factory’s E15 team grew around the area, so much so that Cook said TSF became the adopted favorite team of nearly everybody who followed Nike's tournament the past two weeks on social media.
It was already a win for Augusta to have a team of local players built by a local coach qualify for Peach Jam. But then they won the tournament, losing just one game in two weeks.
In the words of former Glenn Hills star Jerel Stephenson, who helped lead the Spartans to a 2008 state title, “It was the most impressive accomplishment of any local group in AAU basketball,” Cook paraphrased.
Cook thought back when Elijah Crawford, Lavonta Ivery, Jahkiaus Jones and Marcellus Brigham were rising eighth graders. He said he would see coach Julius Patterson, a Burke County native, post about how he had the best players in the nation.
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Cook was skeptical at first.
But now it’s official: Patterson's team proved it on the biggest stage in grassroots basketball. The achievement should inspire current and future high school players in the area to build something at home, according to Josey varsity girls coach Jawan Bailey.
“That’s what we fight for. We really fight to get Augusta a respectable name as far as basketball goes,” Bailey said. “We always talk about this area is under-recruited and how coaches only stop in Atlanta when they come to Georgia and skip over everything else. We’ve always fought to really put a stamp here as far as the basketball talent.”
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Bailey says Augusta can return to the national spotlight it once had when Vonteego Cummings, Ricky Moore and Will Avery dominated and succeeded at the high school level.
The area has already proven through the Georgia High School Association that it can succeed at the state level. Since the 2015-16 season, an Augusta-area team has played or won a state title. In North Augusta, S.C., the Yellow Jackets' girls team won four consecutive state titles from 2016-2020.
But some of those players opted for Atlanta or areas in the Carolinas for recognition past the state level.
“We’ve had kids who have had that same talent level, but they feel like they have to go to Atlanta or they have to go somewhere in Carolina in order to get the recognition they deserve,” Bailey added.
“So, to see Elijah (Crawford), and the two kids from Thomson and the kid from Laney, hopefully they stay where they are and continue to build and continue to become nationally recognized so they can let kids that’s even younger than them know, you can do it right here.”
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It helps that Crawford, Ivery, Jones and Brigham are rising sophomores. At 15 years old, they’ve already succeeded at the national level. They showed that you can build something special in Augusta. They showed you don’t have to have a big market to get national recognition.
According to Bailey, it takes the entire basketball community to back its players.
“I think the big thing for the Augusta area is getting on the same page and all understanding it’s about getting these kids everything they need to be great,” Bailey said.
With The Skill Factory’s success the past two weeks, they’ve once again proved that you don’t need a team sponsored by an NBA player to make a name for yourself. All you need is a coach to believe in you and put you in the best position possible to succeed.
“The head coach (Patterson) is one of ours. The head coach is somebody that you can go to your local gym and see playing pickup basketball. It’s not like he’s some big time NBA player; it doesn’t always have to be that, it can be one of us,” Bailey said. “It could be the normal, average guy that gets behind them and gives the inspiration that these kids need to believe in themselves to do things at the national level."
Source : https://www.augustachronicle.com/story/sports/high-school/basketball/2021/07/28/the-skill-factory-national-nike-eybl-peach-jam/5399398001/1205