‘Jersey Is Taking Over’: NJ Hoopers Outshine the Shadow of New York

Elliot Cadeau was born in Brooklyn, but he doesn’t have any examples of living in the borough. When he was 3 months old, his parents packed up his possessions, strapped him into his car seat and decamped to New Jersey.

Growing up in West Orange, Cadeau becomes a Jets fan. His mother, who is from Sweden, and his father, who is from Haiti, had a hard time understanding the popularity of American professional football, but they indulged their son’s obsession – to a point. He was allowed to paint his room in the Jets’ colors of green and white, but he was not allowed to play the game. His mother thought it would be too dangerous. Instead, she suggested that her 7-year-old son try out for a basketball team.

Ten years later, Cadeau is a star at Bergen Catholic High School and a top-10 recruit in the class of 2024. And he is part of an elite group of New Jersey high school basketball players who may be among the best contingent of talent in the state. has ever produced.

In addition to Cadeau – The 7 player in the country, according to the composite rankings of the recruiting website 247 Sports – The sophomore class includes: No. 1 Naasir Cunningham (Overtime Elite), NO. 33 Dylan Harper (Don Bosco Prep) and No. 42 Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic). And the juniors are a year ahead of Cadeau & Co. include: No. 1 Dajuan Wagner Jr., who goes by DJ (Camden High School), no. 3 Mackenzie Mgbako (Gill St. Bernard’s), no. 12 Simeon Wilcher (Roselle Catholic), no. 20 Aaron Bradshaw (Camden) and No. 48 Akil Watson (Roselle Catholic).

“It’s been a great time to grow up playing basketball in New Jersey,” Cadeau said. “The competition and the friendship between elite players is here unlike anywhere else. I don’t feel like there’s another state right now that can compete with New Jersey in terms of basketball talent. “

Although New Jersey was home to some of the game’s all-time greats – including Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry – it has historically struggled to escape New York’s basketball shadow. In the NBA’s 76 years, 419 players have hailed from New York, compared to just 146 from New Jersey, according to Basketball Reference. And on the rosters for the 2021-22 season, the disparity was just as sharp: there were 33 New Yorkers compared to just 12 New Jerseyites. But in the classes of 2023 and 2024, New Jersey has 10 top-50 recruits compared to just two from New York.

“I don’t want to disrespect anybody,” said Billy Armstrong, who graduated from Bergen Catholic in 1994 and now coaches Cadeau. “But when I played here, the talent wasn’t at the level it is now, that’s for sure. This is my 11th year as a varsity coach, and I can say that in the last four or five years, the talent has really taken off. There is this pride here when New Jersey is in the conversation as the best basketball state in the entire country. “

Armstrong also played collegiate basketball at Davidson and overseas professionally. He pointed to the tenacity and toughness it takes to live in major metropolitan areas in the Northeast as part of the reason so much talent has emerged in his home state. He also thinks there is a momentum effect in play. Players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kyrie Irving have given up growing children in the Garden State to look up to some New Jersey-born stars. And those young players have competed against each other for years, strengthening each other’s games and helping them get noticed by recruiting services and college coaches.

Since 247’s first rankings were released a year and a half ago, DJ Wagner has been considered the No. 1 Player in the Class of 2023. The son of the former NBA player Dajuan Wagner, the DJ is a highly skilled combo guard. His game, and his recruiting attention around, has given his teammates a leg up. Bradshaw, who plays with Wagner at Camden and his Amateur Athletic Union team, the New Jersey Scholars, started off as a 3-star recruit. He’s now a 5-star, with offers from blue chip programs like Kentucky, Michigan and UCLA

“These kids have been playing with and against each other for a long time,” Scholars coach Jason Harrigan said. “And when you get a really special kid in a class – like a kid DJ – his competitiveness rubs off on everyone. He helps raise the level of play for the entire class, and they help elevate him to his game, too. “

The talent level, combined with recent relaxation rules that allow college and high school athletes to earn sponsorship money, has led to unique opportunities for many players in the state. Cadeau, who has dual citizenship and plays for the Swedish national team, is represented by Roc Nation and already has a five-figure endorsement through what is known as a name, image and likeness deal, or NIL and Cunningham, the no. 1 player in 2024, recently signed with Overtime Elite, a prestigious professional-development program in Atlanta. He became the first player to sign a program without taking a salary, preserving his collegiate eligibility.

“Growing up in New Jersey, every kid is dreaming of getting to the pros,” Cunningham said. “When I was little, I didn’t even know what college basketball was. I was just thinking NBA, NBA, NBA but as I got older, I started thinking more about going to college. With OTE, I get pro training and education, and I get to keep my options open. Plus, I can still make money with NIL ”

New Jersey’s coaches, of course, prefer that players stay close to home. And they say that NIL is helping them persuade players to stay at their high school for all four years.

“These players take pride in New Jersey,” said Dave Boff, who coaches Wilcher and Watson at Roselle Catholic. “The fans look forward to being a player who rises from the ranks to his freshman to his senior seasons. And the players take advantage of the opportunities their talent affords while still being able to sleep in their own bed. “

When he talks to college coaches about what makes this crop of New Jersey basketball prospects so coveted, Boff consistently hears one theme: toughness.

“The college coaches see that the New Jersey guys are confident, they are swagger, and they aren’t afraid of physical basketball,” Boff said. “When we travel to national games, our players are always surprised by the ticky-tack foul calls. In New Jersey, the refs let our guys beat each other up a little bit, and our guys welcome that. They know they ‘re making each other better. “

For Cunningham, leaving home wasn’t an easy decision, but he hopes to make it a little easier by recruiting some other players from New Jersey to join him in Atlanta. After all, every one of these players hopes to jump to a bigger stage – be it college basketball or the OTE or the NBA – sooner or later.

“Jersey is taking over,” Cunningham said. “Everywhere you look in New Jersey, there’s a high-level basketball player. And soon, we’re going to be all over the country. For us, it is showing what our state is all about and making sure it continues into success in the future. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation. “

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