Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint
By David Cordova
Throughout the last few years, the Metro Classic has been one of the premier events throughout the country, as plenty of high school teams in the state of New Jersey and beyond, descend on the Garden State for a couple of days of great play.
Now in its eighth year of existence, the event has brought about some of the best of the best, including Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves), D’Angelo Russell (Golden State Warriors), Chieck Diallo (Phoenix Suns), Deandre’ Bembry (Atlanta Hawks), R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks), Chris Silva (Miami Heat) and Eric Paschall (Golden State Warriors).
“Well, I’m a Jersey boy, and I think about what’s special about being from New Jersey is we think that we’re the best in the country,” said Pryia Roy, the founder/director of the Metro Classic. “And that’s what the Metro Classic exemplifies, to give the top Jersey teams a chance to compete against national powers, like Huntington Prep and Montverde Academy, so that’s what it’s about.”
On what makes the event more unique than any other high school event out there, Roy added: “The players, the coaches, the rivalries that have developed, the camaraderie, but what really separates it, are the charities, the organizations like, this year, we have the People’s Pantry. In previous years, Newark Beth Israel Hospital, last year, we did Tim Tebow’s charity, so that’s what separates us, because it’s bigger than basketball.”
Through the first seven years of the event, the games were held at Kean University in Union, New Jersey and had sold out affairs for every game. This year, the event has a new home: the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River, New Jersey, which is located on the Jersey Shore.
When asked about the change in location, Roy added: “The first seven years we were at Kean, we loved our hosts there, it was great. We moved to Toms River because we needed a bigger venue, we needed a larger capacity and we also needed better parking. This facility, as you can see, is amazing.”
During Session 1, which took place during the weekend of Jan. 10th-11th, there was a lot of elite schools in the building, such as The Skill Factory Academy (GA), Blair Academy, The Patrick School Gill St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop McDeVitt (PA), Archbishop Carroll (PA) and Linden.
On the girls side, there were teams from Manchester, New Hope (MD), Montverde Academy (FL), Rutgers Prep and Trenton Catholic doing battle.
But if there was one team on the boys side that stole the show, it was the Eagles of Montverde Academy, the No. 1 team in the country. On that squad currently, are players signed to schools such as Florida State, North Carolina, Michigan and Oklahoma State.
“[In this event], you’ve seen some great teams [and players like] Karl Towns, Ben Simmons, R.J. Barrett, Isaiah Briscoe, we can go down the list,” says Roy, “I have to say, though, that this [year’s] Montverde Academy team may be the biggest and best collection of overall talents ever. We have eight Top-50 players on the same team, which has never been done. Eight different players in their class in the top 50. Look it up. [If] this team finishes it’s job and wins the national championship in New York in a couple of months, they’ll be [the] undisputed best team ever.”
This coming weekend, Feb. 7thand 8th, will be the second session of this event, as the anticipation is high, due to some major teams coming into the area. In addition to the return of in-state powerhouses such as The Patrick School, Gill St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas is Camden, Wildwood Catholic, Rutgers Prep, Marist, Elizabeth and out of state teams such as St. Thomas More (CT), Lewisville (TX), Long Island Lutheran (NY), The Phelps School (PA), Huntington Prep (WV) and Sierra Canyon (CA).
A player being introduced to the atmosphere of the Metro Classic is Dajuan “D.J.” Wagner, Jr., the son of former NBA player and Camden legend, Dajuan Wagner. As a high school senior in 2000-01, he scored 100 points in a game. The younger Wagner, who is already one of the best freshmen in the nation, is definitely a can’t miss prospect.
When asked about Wagner, Roy replied, “It’s really special to have a Wagner name back in South Jersey, and I think what we’re going to be looking forward to is an East Coast-West Coast rivalry with Bronny James in California and D.J. in Camden, and we want to have that matchup next year at the Metro Classic if we can get it.”
Last, but certainly not least, the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers is the other big name squad that the Metro Classic is bringing in this year. At the present time, they are the No. 14 team in the ESPN Top 25 national rankings as of yesterday.
This year’s team has a very talented squad in seniors Brandon Boston, Jr. (Kentucky commit), Ziaire Williams, Zaire Wade and Terren Frank (TCU commit) and great underclassmen such as junior center Harold Yu, sophomores Shyheim Odom and Amari Bailey and freshman guard LeBron “Bronny” James, Jr., the son of NBA All-Star, LeBron James.
Everywhere they have gone this season, they have created plenty of excitement, as they have played against teams in sold-out, filled-to-capacity gyms and sold-out arenas in places like Dallas, Columbus and Minneapolis, places that housed teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
What’s also unique about the event is that three of their games will be televised on ESPN. Two of those will be matchups that Sierra Canyon is participating in. On Friday night, they will be playing against Gill St. Bernard and on Saturday night, will be the matchup against Long Island Lutheran.
When asked about having ESPN covering games at the Metro Classic, Roy replied, “You know, ESPN brings high school basketball to another level, it brings it to the casual fan. And I think what’s really great about having it on ESPN is that it brings it to New Jersey. As you know, we think New Jersey has the best basketball, [and] we get to show it off, and we get to show it off in front of the whole country, and that’s what makes it special.”
What’s next in the future for such a great event as the Metro Classic?
“We want to have high-level girl teams, as you saw, we brought in the national champs in New Hope Academy [from] Maryland to play. We want it to be equal, not only great boys teams, but great girls teams. And the future? The future [for the Metro Classic] is as big and as bold as is basketball, which is endless,” said Roy.
This weekend will be a big weekend for the event, as ESPN will be present and tickets have already been sold out for both days. And to the millions of viewers watching the games, there will be a glimpse into what basketball in New Jersey has to offer.