After a year away, the Basketball Academy returns to a college campus, Morgan State, for the 17th annual event that combines academics and service learning with three days of top-notch high school boys and girls basketball Thursday through Saturday.
Last January, The Basketball Academy games had to be moved to Lake Clifton and the academic components to Mervo after a new NCAA rule banned basketball tournaments run by non-scholastic entities from Division I campuses. The rule aimed to prevent college programs from gaining a recruiting advantage by colluding with organizers to bring events such as AAU tournaments to their campuses.
Despite its academic components, The Basketball Academy got caught in the new rule's web, because even though it was sponsored by the Baltimore City Public Schools, it was also sponsored by the 100 Black Men of Maryland and the Baltimore Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, which the NCAA deemed not to be educational entities despite their community service missions.
Last year, Bob Wade, co-founder of The Basketball Academy and coordinator of athletics for the Baltimore City Public Schools, was confident the event would return to a college campus. He said organizers would do whatever it took.
"We had to prove that we were an educational entity," Wade said, "and to strengthen our argument, we came under the umbrella of the Baltimore City Public Schools. It's now called the Baltimore City Public Schools Basketball Academy."
The other sponsors remain, but with the City Schools as title sponsor, the NCAA approved the Academy as a scholastic event.
The Basketball Academy actually originated as a way to counter programs similar to those the NCAA ruling aimed to stop. Wade came up with the idea after watching promoters hold such events as the Charm City Classic simply to make a profit.
The intention behind the non-profit Academy has always been to give high school athletes the experience of being on a college campus for much of the day.
"The objective is for these kids to move on to the next level and that's on a college or university campus," Wade said. "Being able to interact with the environment on a college campus — walking to and from workshops and classes, eating on the campus — gives them a feel for it prior to completing their high school requirements."
Milford Mill boys coach Mike Silverman agreed.
"Having the ability for these kids to see the college lifestyle, see the college community is important," Silverman said. "One of the reasons we're in this business is to help young people develop in all phases, including academics and their future endeavors. For them to see the way they maintain their lifestyles every day at the next level is important, because at the high school level, it's the same routine, but in college you're more on your own."
The student-athletes take classes on such topics as SAT preparation, financial literacy, social media, gang awareness and/or bullying. Some will also volunteer at local elementary schools or visit the Great Blacks in Wax Museum or the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.
Basketball is the most visitble component, giving some of the players their first taste of the game on a college court in a big arena which, for some of the higher-profile games, can draw huge, raucous crowds.
While most aspects of the Academy ran smoothy last year at Lake Clifton's two gyms, fans had to be turned away from the marquee boys game, No. 2 Milford Mill's upset of No. 1 Dunbar, because there weren't enough seats. With Morgan's Hill Field House seating about 4,200, that's not a problem.
There won't be any No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns at the event this year after it featured two last year, including the No. 1 Aberdeen girls defeating No. 2 Digital Harbor. However, 13 teams from The Baltimore Sun's top 15 boys and girls polls will participate, and the Aberdeen and Digital Harbor girls will meet again.
Some of the biggest boys games include No. 5 Milford Mill vs. No. 10 Edmondson on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. and No. 8 Poly vs. No. 14 Randallstown Thursday at 8 p.m. On the girls side, No. 1 Aberdeen faces its stiffest competition since losing last season's All-Metro Player of the Year Bri Jones to a torn ACL when the Eagles take on No. 5 Digital Harbor Thursday at 6:45 and No. 4 Poly Saturday at 1:45.
Baltimore City Public Schools Basketball Academy
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Where: Hill Field House, Morgan State
Tickets: $10 per day, children under 5 free; on sale at participating schools
No. 4 Poly girls vs. Western Tech, 3
Patterson boys vs. Owings Mills, 4:15
Digital Harbor boys vs. Woodlawn, 5:30
No. 5 Digital Harbor girls vs. No. 1 Aberdeen, 6:45
No. 8 Poly boys vs. No. 14 Randallstown, 8
Woodlawn boys vs. Patterson, 3
No. 15 Patterson Mill girls vs. No. 9 Milford Mill, 4:15
No. 6 City boys vs. Potomac, 5:30
No. 13 Lake Clifton boys vs. Kent County, 6:45
No. 10 Edmondson boys vs. Riverdale Baptist, 8
No. 2 Dunbar boys vs. Largo, 9:15
No. 9 Milford Mill girls vs. No. 5 Digital Harbor, 10 a.m.
Owings Mills boys vs. Digital Harbor, 11:15 a.m.
Western Tech girls vs. No. 10 City, 12:30
No. 1 Aberdeen girls vs. No. 4 Poly, 1:45
Kent County boys vs. No. 8 Poly, 3
No. 14 Randallstown boys vs. No. 6 City, 4:15
Eleanor Roosevelt boys vs. No. 13 Lake Clifton, 5:30
No. 5 Milford Mill boys vs. No. 10 Edmondson, 6:45
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Riverdale Baptist boys vs. No. 2 Dunbar, 8