Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
For many years, there have been plenty of top-flight grassroots programs on the New York City basketball scene that have turned out some great players. And now, there’s one other program that’s making a splash on the AAU scene.
The program in question is the Wiz Kids, a program based out of the Baychester section of The Bronx that has been one of the city’s best programs with under-the-radar talent before joining the Adidas 3SSB circuit this year.
In 2001, the program was started by Clarence “Mugsy” Leggett, a former professional basketball player with the Harlem Rockets and the Harlem Wizards, and a mentor to many youth in the urban community for over 30 years. Since its inception, many of their alumni have gone on to play collegiate basketball and have gone on to graduate from college. Some of them have gone on to play professional basketball overseas and in the NBA G-League.
Amongst their alumni are players such as Dwight Hardy (St. John’s), Dayshon “Scoochie” Smith (Dayton), Omari Lawrence (Kansas State), Rasheem Jenkins (Florida A&M), Jarrid Famous (South Florida), Brian Williams (Tennessee), Sherrod Wright (George Mason), Jeremy Hazell (Seton Hall) and John Dewey (Sam Houston State).
Currently, they have two standouts that will be playing Division I basketball next season in Dashawn “Rams” Davis (Mississippi State) and Jalen Nesmith (Jacksonville).
For many years, the Wiz Kids were seen at various local tournaments such as the UDC Tournament, the Gun Hill Basketball Classic and even the Gauchos Roundball Classic. But in recent years, they have transitioned into playing in tournaments out-of-state, in places such as Springfield, Massachusetts, New Jersey and even Augusta, Georgia.
This year, because of their ascension on the grassroots scene, they got to be a part of the Adidas circuit. Although they went 3-5 through their first eight games on the 17U level, they definitely have gotten noticed.
During The Battle in the Apple Classic in May, which took place St. John’s Preparatory School in East Elmhurst, Queens, they took on programs from the Nike EYBL such as the New York Rens and Strive For Greatness, in which their players got to showcase their talents against two of the top-flight prospects in the Class of 2023 in UNC commit Simeon Wilcher and LeBron “Bronny” James, Jr., both of whom are rated at No. 10 and No. 40, respectively, in the ESPN national rankings. Although the Wiz Kids went winless in both games, they showed that they could compete against the best programs in the nation.
It all starts with 6-foot-4 guard Ian Jackson, a rising junior at Cardinal Hayes, the defending CHSAA “AA” champions from last season. Jackson is also rated as the No. 3 recruit in the Class of 2024 by ESPN, and holds collegiate scholarship offers from high-major schools such as Kentucky, UConn, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Seton Hall and St. John’s just to name a few.
Then there’s also another rising junior from Hayes’ in 6-foot-4 guard Elijah Moore, a player on the radar of some college coaches due to his torrid play on the Adidas circuit and during the CHSAA June Team Camp at Iona Prep in New Rochelle last week.
Other gems for the Wiz Kids are rising seniors such as 6-foot-5 forward Don Colon-Lewis (Xaverian), 6-foot guard Jaidan Hill (Monsignor Scanlan), 6-foot-7 forward Moussa Camara (Thomas Jefferson Campus), 5-foot-7 guard Nick Padilla (Dwight School) and 6-foot-8 forward Tarique Foster, a recent graduate of Cardinal Hayes, who will be attending prep school next fall at a school to be named later.
And there’s also some younger special talent in the program, such as three underclassmen guards from Cardinal Hayes, such as rising sophomore Maurice “Mo” Henderson and rising juniors Jeremiah Peoples and Jaquan Ellis, who led the Cardinals to the CHSAA “AA” junior varsity championship this past season. Another underclassmen is Tavien Tyler, who spent his freshman season as a member of the undefeated Mount Vernon Knights squad who went 24-0 and won the New York State Federation championship.
All in all, things are looking up for the program, as they have Adidas’ 3SSB’s third session next weekend in Rock Hill, South Carolina and also the 3SSB Championships in California during the week of July 20-24.
There’s definitely more in store for the Wiz Kids. The best for the program based out of John Philip Sousa Middle School in Baychester is yet to come. They’re no longer just a local program competing in tournaments, but rather a program on the rise on the grassroots scene.