Athletes of Tomorrow: A Group of Gems Stands Out In the EYBL

Photo courtesy of Position Sports/Nike/Jon Lopez

By David Cordova

The good thing about sports is that you never know when the obscured will rise from nowhere. Most people favor the marquee names, but then never seem to think that there’s always a person or a program that can make their name or a statement with a good performance.

One program that is a true example of that is none other than AOT. The program, which stands for Athletes of Tomorrow, is based out of the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area and has fast become one of the premier programs on the Nike EYBL circuit in the span of a year.

“The mission is to try to win every game that we play,” said program director and coach Omar Cooper, “And just take it one game at a time. You know, I always tell people, ‘When you’re on a mission, when you’re trying to reach your destination, you have to take it a minute at a time,’ so we like to focus on the now, as opposed to the latest, so we’ll be able to see what every game, every minute, every second, every day, we see where the that takes us when the journey is over.”

The program was founded in 2009, and was built for kids who didn’t get a chance to compete for other programs. “You know, when I came into this for AOT, it was just to give these kids an opportunity that nobody else would give them,” explains Cooper, “Nobody would take them on their teams, they went to tryouts and got cut every time. They went to AAU teams to try out, and they’d get cut, so I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to just form my own program for them, so they could have a place to play.”

And that plan worked to fruition, being that they are one of the programs that have plenty of talent around Atlanta’s hoops scene. When asked about the basketball climate in Atlanta, Cooper replied, “Basketball is good in Atlanta, it’s good, it’s competitive, you know, everybody’s training, everybody’s working, everybody’s pushing each other to be better, so it’s a really good thing.”

The player that has a lot of the country’s eyes on him from AOT, is the founder’s son, Sharife Cooper, a 6-foot-1 rising junior that is one of the best point guards in the nation in the Class of 2020. The younger Cooper is a pass-first point guard, but can also score in bunches.

When asked about his son, the elder Cooper replied, “He’s a good kid, straight-A, B student, you know. Always thinks of others before he thinks of himself, he takes losing very hard, he hates to lose more than he likes to win, so that’s the mentality that I like him to have, so he works hard and I’m proud of him.”

Other notable players on the AOT squad are 6-foot-7 junior shooting guard Brandon Boston, 6-foot-6 senior forward Brandon Suggs, 6-foot-10 senior power forward Babatunde Akingbola, 6-foot-10 senior power forward Jared Coleman-Jones, 6-foot-6 senior forward Isaac Okoro, 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard Charles Smith IV, 6-foot-3 junior shooting guard Alyn Breed 6-foot-1 junior point guard Quinton McElroy and 6-foot-1 senior point guard John Wright.

On the subject of Wright, Cooper replied, “He’s very, very, very witty with the basketball. He’s going to show you guys what he’s made of probably when the Peach Jam comes.”

One of the best things about AOT is the fact that they have a cohesive group, being that eight of the players all attend McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, while Boston attends another Atlanta-area powerhouse, Norcross High School and Wright is from Fayetteville, North Carolina. However, when they step on the court, they all play as one unit.

Last summer, AOT steamrolled through the Nike E16 circuit and went all the way to the Nike Peach Jam finals, where they would lose to the CP3 All-Stars. When asked about the team’s run to the championship game, Cooper replied, “It felt terrible, we lost, that’s it. I felt terrible.”

But this year, AOT has made big strides on the EYBL scene, as they went 13-3, first place in Division D through four sessions this spring, and earned another berth to the Peach Jam, which will be played July 11-15 at the Riverview Park Athletics Center in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Sharife Cooper has been dominant, leading the way with 20.9 points and 6.7 assists, while Okoro followed with 17.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists, then Boston, the sharp-shooter and lethal scorer, added 14.9 points. Akingbola, the enforcer in the paint, scored 3.9 points per game, but led in other important facets with 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Plus, the talent is so deep on this team, that any player on this team can have a big game at any moment.

When asked about AOT’s rise on the circuit this spring, Cooper replied, “It feels good, the competition is great. They say the Nike circuit is the top circuit, so to play against the top kids, you know, compete on a day-to-day basis is good. Iron sharpens iron.”

This year, the mission to win it all at the Peach Jam. When asked about the plan for this year’s event, Cooper replied, “One game at a time. One game at a time, everybody stays healthy, use June to get better. You know, like I said, sharpen up the knives, and see if we can go there and compete and take this chance, take this as an opportunity as a chance of a lifetime and see if we can capitalize [on it].”

As for the future for AOT? “I never looked forward to fourth grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, I don’t look forward to now. Just one day a time.”

Just the name, Athletes of Tomorrow, says it all. The kids that used to get cut by the other programs, are now the ones on top, and will plan to stay there. But like Omar Cooper reiterated, it’s a process. All it takes, is one day at a time.

Highlights of Athletes of Tomorrow:

Courtesy of OST 247.

Courtesy of Take Flight Hoops.

Courtesy of Ultra Films.

Courtesy of Take Flight Hoops.

Courtesy of OST 247.

Courtesy of Take Flight Hoops.

Courtesy of OST 247.

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