On Friday the latest incarnation of Tony Squire’s AAU program arrived in King of Prussia, Pa. for the Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest.
Twenty-five years ago, Squire founded the program to provide a structured athletic environment for the youth of the Richmond, Va. area. However, Squire’s focus was not only on athletics, but also on the importance of education. His program stresses that educational achievement off the court is just as important as physical achievements on the court.
“You can’t make it in our society without a good foundation,” Squires 15U coach Kevin Johnson said. “Nowadays it seems people are deemphasizing the importance of a college education, but I feel it helps you grow as a man.”
Over the past quarter century, in addition to helping produce excellent basketball talent, the program counts Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire among those who have played for the Squires at one time or another, the program has helped over 400 young men earn scholarships to colleges and another 150 earn scholarships to prep schools.
Now it may be too early to tell if any of this year’s 15U Squires team contains future NBA players, 15 of the 16 players on the roster will graduate in the class of 2015 or later, it appears that the program is in good hands in regards to seeing an increase in its scholarship numbers.
“Our motto is,” Johnson said with a chuckle, “a degree for free.”
And that motto, and the programs emphasis on academics, has not been lost on its players, who are routinely asked to show coaches and administrator of the program their grades and progress reports throughout the school year.
“I hope to be the valedictorian of my class and go to school at the University of North Carolina,” said Jermaine Matthews, a rising sophomore from Hermitage High School in Richmond.
While Matthews apparently has his academic priorities in order, he is no slouch on the basketball court. The 6-foot-6 Matthews started last year as a freshman for the varsity and possesses the ability to play strong in the post and grab rebounds on both ends of the floor.
“I play well in the post,” Matthews said, “but I still need to work on my perimeter defense.”
Other players on the Squires roster also share Matthews’ goals of high academic achievement coupled with success at the Division I level of NCAA basketball.
“I’d like to play collegiate ball,” said 6-foot-2 guard Trey Pride, a member of Glen Allen (Va.) High School’s Class of 2015 and, like Matthews, a starter on his high school team as a freshman. “But it is also important to keep up a high GPA.”
“I hope to get a scholarship to the University of Richmond,” said 6-foot-4 Grayson Midulla, a teammate of Pride’s and also a member of the class of 2015. “I like coming to events like this because it gives us a lot of exposure.”
It’s funny that Midulla mentioned exposure because so did John Pride, a coach in the Squires program and Trey’s father. Of course Pride’s exposure for the boys is not limited to collegiate coaches.
“When we make our schedule we look for tournaments which host some games on college campuses,” said the elder Pride. “This gives our boys exposure to the campus setting. At events like this we are sure to take the boys for a walk around the campus.”
For that reason it seemed like a no-brainer for the Squires to come to this Hoop Group-sponsored tournament. Not only for the quality of basketball but also since two of the sites, Cabrini College and Philadelphia University, would give the kids a chance to soak up the college atmosphere.
“We like being invited to events like this,” Johnson said. “It helps our kids to broaden their horizons.”
Follow Pete Febbraro on Twitter:@pfebbraro