By LARRY VAUGHT
Aspire Academy has a team full of talented players led by Charles Bassey, the top-ranked player in the 2019 recruiting class by some recruiting analysts.
Aspire moved from Arizona to Louisville this year and coach Jeremy Kipness says the team is still “building a relationship with the community” starting with DeSale High School where the players attend classes.
“Our boys are totally immersed in the student body,” said Kipness. “We’ve gone to a football game as a team. The DeSales faculty and students have been so welcoming. Everything is about preparing our boys for the next level in all areas. From high school to college just as a regular student is the biggest transition in your life to that point. We want them to learn to be efficient with their time. If there is extra time, be productive. We want them to understand when the ball stops bouncing, they need an incredible foundation.
“Every couple of weeks we bring in guest speakers on financial planning, temptations in college, how to stay the course to help us to show our student-athletes this is just a small piece of life but if you make the most of it other doors will open.
“We are a non-profit foundation. Having the community of Louisville on board and believing in us helps us sustain longevity. There’s no better place for us to be than Louisville and Kentucky.”
The team has a diverse makeup with players from varying backgrounds and locations. However, the basketball talent is there.
Here’s a look at the players on the team other than Bassey, a player already receiving tons of big-time college offers:
— T.J. Smith is a 6-9, 190-pound senior from Matteson, Ill. He has six Division I scholarship offers and interest from numerous other schools including Louisville, Purdue, Dayton and Xavier. “He is a 6-8 shooting guard who can play the 2 or 3 or if need be the 4. He’s a terrific shooter with great leadership skills. Once he improves his ball handling, he’ll be tough to handle,” Kipness said.
— Landon Spangler, a 5-10 junior point guard from New Albany, Ind., joined the team to improve his overall play. “He only knows one level and that is playing as hard as you can every play,” Kipness said.
— Senior Sean Flanigan, a 6-2 shooting guard from Georgia, is coming off a knee injury that has left him an unknown to many schools. “He just has to prove to himself he can play at this level. He can shoot. He’s deceptively athletic,” Kipness said.
— Sophomore Jordan Persad, a 6-1 point guard, played at St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio last year with Bassey. He has interest from Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State, Murray and others. He’s from Trinidad and Tobago by way of Toronto. “He shoots the lights out. He can really score the ball but his best attribute is the way he plays defense and getting in the lane to make plays for himself or teammates,” Kipness said. “He played for the Tobago national team and set a record with either 55 or 57 points in a game. He has the ability to light it up.”
— Junior Jalen Johnson was a football and basketball standout at Hopkinsville High School but the 6-1 combo guard came to Aspire to elevate his game. Kipness calls him a “dog” who doesn’t take a play off and is going to eagerly go after the opponent’s best ball handler.
“His skill set is better than many expect. He shoots well off the dribble and has a great midrange game. Once he shows he can compete at the highest level, he’ll have some high major schools after him,” Kipness said. “He was the starting quarterback and point guard at Hopkinsville. He just came here to show he wanted to make a full-time commitment to basketball.
“Our program is just like a college program with study sessions, team meetings, film work. It’s intriguing for him to go through that. He will play here, too. We push the pace and use a lot of players. Jalen’s energy is really unmatched. We will rely on him heavily from the start.”
— Ousmane Ndim, a 7-0 senior center from West Africa, has a slew of Division I offers and Kipness says his energy and make him a “great piece” in the team’s press because he’s vocal and will let everyone know where to be.
“His energy level and motor are something else,” Kipness said. “He has some big-time offers but I don’t think his offensive game has reached its full potential. It is still expanding day by day. As great as Charles Bassey is, practices are a dogfight.”
— Junior power forward Prosper Obidiebube of Nigeria played with Bassey in Texas last year. He is still recovering from anACL injury and is not close to 100 percent yet.
“He is going to be a very, very special player,” Kipness said. “He’s the most athletic player on the team when he is healthy. He’s somebody that can shoot the ball and high majors will be all over him.”
— Senior small forward Jacobi Gordon has verbally committed to California but had a bevy of big-time offers. “He is a special talent. Very crafty, score at all three levels. He can really shoot off the dribble. He is a long, active player and will be a huge piece on the perimeter for us.”
— Nygal Russell, a 6-4 senior combo guard, is being counted on to control the game for Aspire.
“He’s under valued,,” Kipness said. “He’s been overlooked. He had a terrific career at a school in Houston. He put up great numbers but when he puts them up against top 25 teams like you have to with Grind Session, people will see him doing it against top players and see his ability.”
— Sekou Sada Kalle is a name to remember. He’s a 6-10 power forward from Mali, West Africa, who should benefit immensely from practicing with Bassey.
“He is just a kid who wants to learn everything, and he is a quick learner,” Kipness said. “He has great energy and his offensive skills are improving. He’s young but he’s going to be really good.”
— Souleymane Doumbia, a 7-foot senior center, is what Kipness considers a great shot blocker.
“He has a huge wing span. He can block a shot and go coast to coast for the dunk,” Kipness said.