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   Napa’s Prolific Prep ignores skeptics and begins its first season with one of the country’s best players “” who you won’t see in...

   Napa’s Prolific Prep ignores skeptics and begins its first season with one of the country’s best players “” who you won’t see in any CIF games. 

Story by Ronnie Flores | Photos by Phillip Walton

   Jeremy Russotti is not much different than other basketball junkies who got a taste of college basketball, reflect on the experience and realize it should have been much more. 

   “I was an okay player at best,” said Russotti, a grad of Analy High in Sebastopol who then played at Sonoma State. “I wasn’t mentally prepared and I never had a trainer. I’m a better player now at 39-years-old than I was in college.” 

   Russotti has been more successful in the business of basketball than actually playing “” and much of his drive stems from not wanting today’s players to repeat his playing experience. He’s developed basketball products and resources that are in high demand across the country and abroad. 

   Fourteen months ago, Russotti took on the toughest challenge of his basketball career when he decided to begin an after-school basketball academy in Napa County after years of discussion with good friend and former college coach Philippe Doherty. After years of positive results convinced the basketball community that Russotti’s progressive skill training curriculum worked, he and Doherty aligned with the ideal talent to kick start Prolific Prep.   

   Josh Jackson, a 17-year-old wunderkind and the 2013-14 National Sophomore of the Year after leading Consortium College Prep (Detroit, Mich.) to a Class C state title, linked up with Russotti to mix some of his innovative training methods with his own sleek 6-foot-7 frame. Where Russotti’s previous high school and college clients had to leave Napa County to return to school, Jackson, with the backing of his strong-willed mother Apples Jones, wouldn’t encounter that problem. 

   Jackson is remaining in California to train year-round while attending Justin-Siena High School.  

   “His training focuses more on the mental part of the game,” said Jackson, who averaged 28 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists per game in 10th grade and actually starred on Consortium’s varsity in eighth-grade. “You can work out 24-7, but new moves won’t work if you don’t know when to use them. 

   “Training with him (Russotti) is making me a smarter player and I think it will help a lot. Coming here I’m playing a national schedule and against good players almost every game. Back home, the competition level got worse each year and I really didn’t like the snow.”

   Doherty readily admits he has a masterpiece-level canvas to work with. 

   “Josh is really good; he might be the best player in the United States under 19,” said Doherty, who previously coached at Sacred Heart Cathedral-S.F. and the University of San Francisco. “His IQ is so high and he’s so competitive and skilled. He’s really been blessed and his mom is a firm, honest lady who’s not swayed by what people think.”

   The grassroots basketball community is small, and rumors persist about how Jackson helped Russotti and Doherty kick start Prolific Prep. Both Russotti and Doherty are more concerned with the results their training initiatives bring for Jackson and the other 11 players on the roster than people’s perceptions of the motives for Prolific Prep’s creation. 

   There were challenges along the way, including short planning time to build a roster, the expected skepticism from some and a 6.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the city of Napa on Aug. 24. Doherty said executing the basketball academy wouldn’t have been possible without local sponsors and support of the local community. Russotti went a step further to say he isn’t sure he’d do it all over again if he knew the time and work it would take to get Prolific Prep off the ground.

   So is there a difference between Prolific Prep and other basketball academy-type programs around the country? Yes, quite a few differences actually, and its founders make no bones about it. 

   Prolific Prep is a 501(c)(3) program. It is neither a regular high school nor a boarding school such as Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy. Nevada’s Findlay Prep is not a school, either, as the players on its roster attend Henderson International School (a school that doesn’t have any 9-12 students), but Findlay Prep is a member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) and can play other NIAA schools. 

   Prolific Prep is not a member of the California Interscholastic Federation, nor can it play CIF schools. Furthermore, its roster, which hails from five different countries, doesn’t even all attend the same school. 

   “No, we don’t want to be a school,” Doherty said. “I am not a principal nor a teacher and I have no intention to be. We are an academy; we don’t have the time, energy, or resources to be a school.” 

   After helping the United States win the gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Dubai in August, Jackson became a regular student at Justin-Siena. He takes a regular curriculum (according to Doherty seven kids on the team have a 3.8 G.P.A. or higher) and attends normal school functions. Jackson attends Friday night football games and even served as a mascot. After the final school bell rings, however, his experience is anything but normal. 

   Jackson now gets the daily basketball instruction normally reserved for that short period of time during the high school off-season when elite players are not traveling to events around the country.

   “Justin-Siena has great academics, and yes, I was the mascot a couple of times,” said Jackson, who was born in California while Jones served in the U.S. Navy. “I was an Indian Chief. I always wanted to do it and it was pretty fun. People know me as a basketball player, but I do need to get away from it and take a little break once in a while.” 

   Russotti and Doherty, who serves as the team’s head coach, will take the team to Las Vegas, twice to Kentucky, to Wheeling, West Virginia, and to Dayton, Ohio for the Flyin’ To The Hoop Showcase MLK weekend, where it will face nationally-ranked La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.). The team doesn’t have a gym of its own, so its uses one on a donation basis that belongs to Grace Church of Napa Valley. The players either live in dorms at Justin-Siena or with host families. 

   Is the gym situation ideal? No, it’s not. Would Prolific Prep love to play competitive games locally to save on costs and the wear and tear of travel? Sure, it would. But there is no plan to change the model and big plans for the future. 

   “Next year we’ll be in a state-of-the art facility and all the players will go to the same school,” Russotti said. “We don’t care where the players come from and we’ll have more top 25-type players. We don’t want 10 top 25-type kids, that won’t work. We want guys who will know their roles and the best cultured kids for our progressive curriculum.”         

   If this academy model thrives, it could be a tipping point for a fundamental change in the way players with pro potential are cultivated in America. It would pattern the established model in many European countries, where the best young players live and train together year-round.  

   “We’re basically doing a European model, where school and sports are separated,” Doherty said. “There are good and bad high school coaches, but why should it be a kid’s fault that his biology teacher is his basketball coach? There’s only so much time for a young player to get their game right, only so big a window. Consider what we do as advanced placement basketball.

   “Our doors are open if people want to see what we’re doing and we actually have high school coaches who come to our workouts and take notes. They like our curriculum. If you’re insecure and think it’s about you, you won’t get it. If you don’t have an ego and see that we’re not trying to audition for college jobs, just trying to train players, you get it.”

PROLIFIC PEEPS

Below is the inaugural roster for Prolific Prep and where each player hails from. 

Name Ht. Pos. Year Hometown

Mamoudou Diarra 6’9″ F So. Bamako, Mali

Algevon Eichelberger 6’7″ PF Jr. Saginaw, MI.

Micah Elan 6’4″ PG Jr. San Francisco

Marko Filipovity 6’8″ SF Sr. Kaposvar, Hungary

Sasha French 6’10″ C Sr. Napa

Josh Jackson 6’8″ SG Jr. Detroit, MI.

Baidi Kamagate 6’5″ SG Jr. Conakry, Guinea

Kyle Leufroy 6’3″ PG Sr. Pasadena

Nick Lombardi 5’9″ PG So. Pleasant Hill

Matt O’Reilly 6’3″ SG Sr. Moraga

Amadou Sou 6’8″ C Fr. Bamako, Mali

Ryan Stewart 6’9″ PF Sr. Benicia 

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