Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
For many years, there have been plenty of great AAU teams on the boys side in the state of New Jersey, such as the Roadrunners, Sports U/Team Izod, Team Rio and formerly, the Playaz.
Now, there’s a new program on the scene that’s making noise. The name of this team is the New Jersey Scholars. The program, which has been in existence since 2019, has been steamrolling through the Nike EYBL circuit this spring on all three levels (15U, 16U & 17U).
Their first year playing in the EYBL was slated to be in the spring & summer of 2020, but unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed any chance of that happening. The following summer, which was last summer, was when the program first came on the scene.
Prior to playing on the EYBL circuit, the Scholars dominated in three Hoop Group sessions, they went 11-2 and beat programs such as Team Rio, Rhode Island Elite, NJ Shoreshots, NE6 & WER1, and only losing to Team Rio University and Team Takeover.
Unfortunately, once the EYBL schedule rolled around in July at the Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta, South Carolina, the program struggled, going 7-7.
However, times are different now as the EYBL is back under a normal schedule, as they have the rest of the spring and then the summer to go.
During the first session two weeks ago at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, Florida, all three Scholars teams went a combined 12-0.
On the 17U squad, there is definitely plenty of firepower, as there are two nationally-ranked players in the Class of 2023 in 6-foot-3 guard Dajuan “D.J.” Wagner, the No. 1 recruit in the ESPN Top 100 rankings and forward 6-foot-7 McKenzie Mgbako, the No. 3 recruit, who is also verbally committed to play for the perennial national powerhouse, Duke.
Wagner, who plays at Camden High School and Mgbako, who plays at Gill St. Bernard High School, are two of the premier players in the state of New Jersey and definitely have earned their national rankings with their torrid play.
Four other players from Camden, 7-foot center Aaron Bradshaw, rated the No. 20 in the country, 6-foot-6 forward Cornelius Robinson, 6-foot-8 forward Dasear Haskins and 6-foot guard Cian Medley, are all significant contributors for the Scholars as well.
Other players to look out for on the 17U squad is 6-foot-2 guard Davion Hill (St. John’s Neumann [PA]), 6-foot-7 forward David Tubek (Dream City Christian [AZ]), 6-foot-11 forward Tichyque Musaka (North Carolina Good Better Best Academy), 6-foot-6 guard Davin Francis (South Shore [NY]) and 6-foot-5 guard Kyrone Alexander (South Shore [NY]).
On the 16’s, there were some gems on display with 5-foot-11 guard Khaafiq Myers (Neumann-Goretti [PA]), 6-foot-4 forward Jaylan Hornsby (Overbrook), 6-foot-2 guard Tarik “TJ” Robinson, Jr. (Bishop Walsh [MD]), 6-foot-6 guard Teron Murray (Camden), 6-foot-3 guard Eric Mejia (Central Pointe Christian [FL]).
The 15U team had some gems as well, such as 6-foot guard Olin Chamberlain (St. Joseph’s Prep [PA]) and 6-foot-2 guard Jaron McKie (St. Joseph’s Prep [PA]), 6–foot-6 guard Brendan Oliver (Newark Academy) and last, but not least, 6-foot-5 guard Darryn Peterson (Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy [PA]), who is rated at No. 4 in the ESPN Top 25 for the Class of 2025.
This weekend, during Session 2 at the Pacers Athletic Center in Westfield, Indiana, the Scholars 17’s finally lost their first game, a 86-61 loss to Drive Nation, which leaves them at 7-1, but they’re still one of the favorites. As of this writing, the 16’s went 2-1, which leaves them at 6-1 on the E16 circuit. The 15’s are still rolling, with wins over Brad Beal Elite, the Oakland Soldiers, Bates Fundamentals and BABC, leaving them at 8-0.
All in all, there is plenty of talent to go around in all three classes. It’s safe to see that the future is bright.
On the EYBL (17U) front, if all goes well, the Scholars could be the first team from New Jersey to win a Peach Jam championship since 2014, when the Playaz beat Team Penny for the championship. If that were to happen, the Garden State will definitely have something to talk about moving forward.