The Jacksonville Nets have built a powerhouse
“No Net left behind.” is the Jacksonville Nets’ Coaching Staffs’ motto. 17u Coach Karim Shepherd explains, “No kid is denied the opportunity to be mentored, or denied an opportunity in our brotherhood [Nets].” The Jacksonville Nets strive for success not only on the court, but in life. From 8u Michael Caswell (pictured below) who was named as one of the "Best players in AAU", to stud James Monroe,who has college recruits dropping their jaws, with his leadership and outstanding play. What makes this program so fascinating, is the talent level of the Nets is not only limited to athletics. How many AAU teams have Ivy League recruits; The Nets' Devonte Skykes and Chris Walton, along with a few underclassmen have interested a few Ivy League teams. Not only for their skills on the court, but for their class room work off the court. However, the thing that makes this team a prestigious AAU program, is that they get busy on the court.
In early July 2010, the Jacksonville Nets traveled to Atlanta for the annual D1spects' Power 48 Showcase. For the Nets first showcase outside the state of Florida Shepherd explained, “We wanted to bring the kids in, and let them get a feel for it. Get the maximum exposure as possible, that the [Nets] players needed.” The Nets went 5-1 during the weekend, only losing a nail biter to the 17uAtlanta Celtics. Shepherd told D1spects:
“The talent level at D1spects’ [showcase], was the best talent we seen thus far. Collectively as a group the 17u ATL Celtics, 17u Mark Trail, 17u CC Crunch was loaded with talent. All games back to back were competitive. No pushovers, but that’s what we wanted.”
Even though, their depth of talent might tell otherwise, the Nets are still a relatively new AAU program. In only a few years, The Nets have transformed the Bold New City of the South ways of playing basketball.
The Nets were founded back in 2003, with only two travel teams, 11u and 15u. Coach Shepherd explains, “I had a lot of these kids since they were 11-years-old. Seeing how they have developed into young men, and going to college on scholarships, says a lot about what we accomplished.” Using the adage of “it takes a village,” the Nets are real strong in the community when it comes to building their program. With the support of several local businesses in Jacksonville, the Nets have expanded their program. By continuing to mentor and develop the kids, on and off the court. What started with only two teams, the Nets now presently have seven respective teams, ages ranging from 8-16, including a senior team. Coach Shepherd credits the foundation of the Nets program to the help from the community, and “a lot of personal sacrifices from everybody within the organization.”
Coach Shepherd explains “We have a group of coaches within the nucleus, that do whatever it takes to help the kids grow in life, and the game of basketball.” Shepherd praises the coaches for the smallest things they [coaches] do, that is beneficial to the Nets program. Whether it’s opening up gyms early in the morning for training, fundraisers, work within the community, helping kids whose parents are not in the best financial shape, or taking them to Wednesday night bible study, Shepherd explains “We try to keep them around positive role-models." The Nets strive for success, by using basketball as a source for education. The Nets also have a tutoring program, to guide kids scholastically. Coach Shepherd tells D1spects, “Not everybody goes pro, but everybody should be able to get into college. Whether it’s [Division] D1, or D2 level, everybody should get a college education.” With the backing of the community and sacrificing of the coaches, the Nets have become Florida’s most elite AAU basketball program.
In recent years the Jacksonville Nets, have already won the 12u and 16u Florida State Championship, and runners up in the 15u division. Coach Shepherd, credits their success to the programs’ developing, and mentoring kids around the community. He states “Sometimes you meet kids that are not ready for travel ball. But you still want to build them up; bringing them along with the program as they learn they become better.”
It’s hard to tell what players needed assistance, as the 17u Jacksonville Nets already have players committed to playing at the collegiate level. Matthew Hezakiah and Pierre Bland both committed to Florida State College. JuniorsDerek Mitchell committed to Florida State University and Jared Henry will attend South Carolina University, both on football scholarships. While, Juniors James Hunt and James “Tre” Monroe are still undecided, however, during the D1spects Power 48, they displayed a number of reasons of why schools are after them. With so many schools heavily recruiting them, their decision becomes even more difficult to make. Monroe, can open up the court with his speed, and can consistently nail shots from anywhere on the court. While the 6’7 Hunt is a high flyer with a strong upper body, he uses his size to his advantage as a slashing swingman, who plays strong around the rim. It’s safe to say the talent pool in Jacksonville is well represented.
The Jacksonville Nets are a prime example of what a strong community, fully committed staff and parents, with a willingness to succeed; can produce a strong program benefiting the kids. Coach Shepherd praises D1spects and Ihigh.com efforts. For allowing the Nets to gain maximum exposure, Coach Shepherd strongly states “tough competition, really helped our kids in all areas of their game. Especially against the [17u Atlanta] Celtics.” As the Nets concentrate on nationals, they looked to build on their 15u team; Coach Shepherd praises all his teams but adds “our future is pretty bright, especially with the 8u and 14u teams looking strong.” The Nets also have a 16u team that won State last year, and should be even stronger this year. Even with early success of winning championships, Coach Shepherd proudly states:
“The wins and championships are great for the program, but seeing how our community is supporting us [Nets], and the players’ benefiting from the program defines Jacksonville Nets. We are able to help kids, when they need us most. That’s what’s special to me.”
With the talent they displayed at the Power 48, and the depth of their roster. The Jacksonville Nets Elite level of play and AAU dominance is here to stay.