“Jersey Conquers”: NJ Hoopers transcends the shadow of New York

Eliot Cado was born in Brooklyn, but he does not remember living in the borough. When he was 3 months old, his parents packed up things, attached him to a car seat, and moved to New Jersey.

Growing up at West Orange, he became a fan of Cado Jets. The mother, who is from Sweden, and the father, who is from Haiti, had a hard time understanding the popularity of American professional football, but they obsessed with their son – at some point. He was allowed to paint his room in jet colors in green and white, but he was not allowed to play sports. His mother thought it would be very dangerous. Instead, he suggested that his 7-year-old son try on a basketball team.

Ten years later, Kado is the star of Bergen Catholic High School and the top 10 recruits in the 2024 class. And he is part of an elite group of New Jersey High School basketball players who may have been among the best contingent of talent in the state. Ever produced.

In addition to Cadeau – the 7th player in the country, according to the composite website 247 Sports’s composite ranking – the sophomore class includes: No. 1 Naasir Cunningham (Overtime Elite), No. 33 Dylan Harper (Don Bosco Prep). ) And No. 42 Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic). And a year before Cadeau & Co. Juniors are: No. 1 Dajuan Wagner Jr., who is a DJ (Camden High School), No. 3 Mackenzie Mgbako (Gill St. Bernard’s), No. 12 Simeon Wilcher (Roselle). Catholic), №20 Aaron Bradshaw (Camden) and №48 Achilles Watson (Russell Catholic).

“It was a wonderful time to grow up playing basketball in New Jersey,” Cado said. “Competition and friendship between elite players are not like anywhere else here. I do not feel that there is now another state that can compete with New Jersey basketball talent.

While New Jersey was home to some of the game’s all-time greats – including Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barr – historically it has struggled to escape the shadow of New York basketball. In the 76 years of the NBA, there were 419 players from New York, compared to just 146 from New Jersey, according to Basketball Reference. And in the list of the 2021-22 season, the difference was just as sharp: there were 33 New Yorkers, compared to only 12 in New Jersey. But in the 2023 and 2024 classes, New Jersey has the top 10 recruits out of just two from New York.

“I do not want to show disrespect to anyone,” said Billy Armstrong, who graduated from Bergen Catholic School in 1994 and now coaches Kado. “But when I was playing here, the talent was not at the level it is now, it is undeniable. This is my eleventh year as a university coach and I can say that the talent has really grown over the last four or five years. That’s the pride of it when New Jersey speaks of being the best basketball state in the whole country. “

Armstrong also played team basketball in Davidson and professionally overseas. He pointed to the resilience and rigor needed to live in the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast as part of the reason why so much talent has emerged in his home state. He also thinks there is an effect of momentum in the game. Players like Carl-Anthony Towns and Kairy Irving have given children raised in kindergarten a few New Jersey-born stars. And these young players have been competing with each other over the years, enhancing each other’s games and helping them get the spotlight by recruiting service and college coaches.

Since the first ratings of 247 were published a year and a half ago, DJ Wagner has been considered the No. 1 player in the 2023 class. The son of former NBA player Dachuan Wagner, the DJ is a highly skilled combined guard. His play and attention span made his teammates stand on their own two feet. Bradshaw, who plays with Wagner at Camden and their Amateur Athletic Union team at the New Jersey Scholars, started with a 3-star recruit. He is now a 5 star, with offers from blue chip programs such as Kentucky, Michigan and UCLA

“These kids have been playing with each other and against each other for a long time,” said Scholars coach Jason Harrigan. “And when you have a really outstanding kid in the class – a kid like a DJ – his competitiveness interferes with everyone. It helps to raise the level of the game for the whole class and they help him to raise the game as well. ”

The talent level, coupled with the recent easing of rules that allow college and high school athletes to earn sponsorship money, has created unique opportunities for many players across the state. Kado, who has dual citizenship and plays for the Swedish national team, is represented by the Roc Nation and already has five-figure approval through name, image and similarity deals, or NIL And Cunningham, the number one player. In 2024, he recently signed with Overtime Elite, a prestigious professional development program in Atlanta. He became the first player to sign the program without pay, retaining collegial authority.

“Every child raised in New Jersey dreams of becoming a professional,” Cunningham said. “When I was little, I did not even know what college basketball was. I was just thinking about the NBA, the NBA, the NBA, but the older I got, the more I started thinking about going to college. With OTE I get professional training and education and manage to keep my options open. In addition, I can still make money with NIL.

New Jersey coaches, of course, prefer players to stay close to home. And they say the NIL helps them convince players to stay in high school for four years.

“These players are proud of New Jersey,” said Dave Boff, who coaches Wilchers and Watson at Roselle Catholic. “Fans are looking forward to having a player who rises from freshman to senior season. And players should take advantage of the opportunities that talent gives them while they can still sleep in their own beds.

When he talks to college coaches about what makes this New Jersey basketball crop so desirable, Buffy constantly hears one theme: Strength.

“College coaches see that the New Jersey boys have self-confidence, gossip and are not afraid of physical basketball,” Boff said. “When we go to national games, our players are always surprised by a lie. The referees in New Jersey allowed our boys to bump into each other a bit and our boys welcome that. “They know they are improving each other.”

For Cunningham, leaving home was not an easy decision, but he hopes to make it a little easier by recruiting several other players from New Jersey to join him in Atlanta. After all, each of these players hopes to jump to a bigger stage sooner or later – be it college basketball, the OTE or the NBA.

“Jersey is conquering,” Cunningham said. “Everywhere you look today, the tide of protectionist sentiment is flowing. And soon we will be all over the country. For us it is a demonstration of what our state is and to make sure it continues to succeed in the future. This is not pressure. That is the motivation. “

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