Mission for Free Tuition: Success Academy Making A Difference In The Lives of Youth Through Hoops and Academics

Photo courtesy of Rickey Rivers.

By David Cordova

In the present day, a lot of Catholic schools are closing down due to debt and low enrollment and many public schools have a lot of low graduation rates. One alternative option for students that are looking for something different is charter school education.

Charter school education is thriving due to the fact that the students in those schools are reported to due twice as well as students in both the Catholic and public schools.

There is one movement that is thriving out there and that is the Success Academy Charter Schools, which have been in existence since 2006. One of their campuses in Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts, which opened in 2014, resides in the same building of what used to be Norman Thomas High School on East 33rd Street in Manhattan.

In that school, there is a new basketball program that is building student-athletes into successful people. “Man, our mission is for free tuition. Our goal is to try to get these guys an opportunity where they can get college scholarships so they can get into college for free. That’s the goal,” says head coach Rickey Rivers.

When asked about the difference in charter school education as opposed to that of public and parochial schools, Rivers replied, “The charter schools’ focus seems to be more on academics and everything, the athletics seems to take like a backseat to the academics. Guys in our school are required to keep an 80 GPA, and these guys are in the charter league and we find a lot of kids that kind of get lost, sometimes you find some hidden gems in there, and I think we have a few hidden gems that’s working on their game and craft and their skills, but the charter league is a different experience.”

Lamine Cisse penetrates to the basket. (Photo courtesy of Rickey Rivers)

Two hidden gems that many don’t know about that are suiting up at Success Academy is freshman Drissa Traore and sophomore Lamine Cisse, both of whom are promising prospects that have a chance to play Division I basketball someday.

“We have a bunch of guys that are looking to develop their skills, to improve and to get better each game,” says Rivers about the program. “But Drissa Traore is definitely one of a prospect at 6-7, developing the skills from a post player into a wing, you see some evidence in his game that he’s trying to work on his wing skills, so that way he can kind of be a wing prospect.”

Rivers also adds about Traore that, “He’s always played with his back to the basket, he’s starting to step out and his focus was to develop his wing skills and develop his perimeter shot a little bit more. He is working on that, his skill level is developing to where he’s not shooting the three, which we didn’t see him doing in the past, so he’s shooting the three-point shot. [He] still has to get more repetitions, but taking his IQ from being a post player in middle school to now being a wing player in high school, using his charter school situation as a development. We work on pull-up jump shots, being able to read and react, looking at defenses different than he did in middle school and he also has to improve his ball-handling skills to get his shot up.”

Drissa Traore plans to make a move on offense. (Photo courtesy of Rickey Rivers)

At the present time, this Success Academy squad is playing in the New York City Charter School Athletic Association, where they are now 4-2. “Our team is comprised of all freshmen and sophomores. We’ve got one senior that’s out there that supports us, but primarily we’re freshmen and sophomores. so we’re a JV team at the varsity schedule,” said Rivers.

So far, they’ve played city programs such as South Shore, Westinghouse and Boys & Girls and Eagle Academy on the junior varsity level and have competed against them. Now, as Rivers says, it’s all about making the adjustment to the next level: varsity.

“Guys are understanding that as freshmen and sophomores, they need to bolster their body up a little bit to compete with the skill set. The pace is a little faster, so these guys are practicing and making the adjustment,” said Rivers about his young program.

As these young players mature into veterans, the question is what’s next in the future for the program? “My goal is with the guys from here is to kind of hopefully improve them to where they can understand how to compete and how to win as a team and how to compete in this space for college scholarships, how to play the game, so that they are recruitable and as that starts to happen, you’re talking about a group of kids who are just happy to play the game of basketball, and now you’re developing them to where they’ll hopefully become prospects.”

As these kids get older, Rivers plans on making Success Academy a household name around the city for basketball. “So as that happens, I think it’s like a one to two year process, I think this program will start to mature in a year and a half, then I’d like to see us playing a heavy non-league schedule, going independent, being able to compete against some of the top programs, not just in the city, but outside of the boroughs, so I plan to get on the road with these guys.”

Anthony Perez shoots a free throw. (Photo courtesy of Rickey Rivers)

But then of course, being a young program comes with growing pains. “Right now, we’re not ready yet, we’re young, we’re still developing and making a lot of young mistakes and fixing those things, but talent-wise, through hard work and work ethic, through the support and the resources we have for Success Academy is incredible, because the program comes with heavy resources, so we’re able to train and prepare for a lot of our days that some kids may not have access to, so I just wanna see these kids get better, the real grit and determination. The grit is how well they do in the off-season to prepare for next year.”

As these youths mature and get better, there’s no doubt that the tri-state area will hear more of the program from Success Academy High School of Liberal Arts in Manhattan.


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