Jalen Jordan graduated from high school in Conyers, Ga. last year.
He is now one of a group of 19 boys basketball players in the first class of the National Top Sports Institute (NTSI), which is located at Scotland Campus.
Why would Jordan decide to come to Franklin County?
"I want a better opportunity in life, and I know where I’m trying to get to," Jordan said. "I want to play at the college level and this program will help."
The reason Jordan is confident he'll get help is because the man running the NTSI program, Chris Chaney, is as experienced and successful as you can get at doing just this sort of project.
Chaney said, "We’ve done this for a long time and know how to do it. We’re building it the right way. We will be at the top tournaments and we’ll get our name out there, so people will know who we are next spring and summer."
NTSI is not to be confused with SPI (Scotland Performance Institute), which held court at Scotland Campus last year. It was the same type of program, but couldn't keep the pieces together and left after one season.
Under Chaney's direction, NTSI expects a totally different outcome.
In his career as a prep basketball coach, Chaney's teams have won 685 games. He's had 18 of his players either play in or be drafted by the NBA, and over 130 have gone on to play Division I basketball.
He was voted the National Coach of the Year in 2003, 2005 and 2006 after winning national prep titles in those years, and earned three Maryland private school titles. His team in 2005 at Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute was 40-0, won by an average of 40 points, had 15 players go D-I and five of them reached the NBA.
That's an impressive resume.
And now he's starting all over again at NTSI. His roster this season includes 13 players from the U.S. and six international players. All are in their first year out of high school and are looking to better themselves in order to play basketball in college.
Chaney said, "We have a lot of diamonds in the rough - some pretty good D-I talent, and a lot of D-II and D-III, too. They all can play at the college level, but which level? We try to get them as prepared as possible. The more they succeed, the better we look."
Chaney said he believes NTSI can thrive at Scotland.
"I heard about the campus last year, and when we found out it could be open, we explored the opportunity," he said. "It’s like a college campus; in my experience, I see it as a golden opportunity. The kids can really concentrate here.
"The kids are away from home and are playing for a new coach. They’re getting elite training and playing a national schedule. We’ll get them ready for the next level."
Since his arrival in September, Jordan has spent a lot of time in the gym and in the weight room at Alpha Gym, and he's worked on improving his study habits. Many of the players are taking college courses online.
"It’s really different from high school - now I can be in the gym all the time," Jordan said. "It would feel weird not touching the basketball. I can see the improvement. I’m stronger, I can jump higher and I’m playing more efficiently."
Jordan said it has not been hard working with players he did not know: "If you’ve played basketball, then you already have that in common. And everybody is sacrificing by being away from their families.”
Some are not even in their home country.
The vast network of connections Chaney has built up over the years helped him find players for NTSI. For example, a former player of Chaney's also played for John Calipari when he was at Memphis, and that player's cousin is at NTSI. Another former player is coaching the Syracuse women's team, and one of his players' brother, Lawrence Slim, came all the way from Amsterdam in The Netherlands.
Slim said, "I have to learn a different language, and the game is a bit different with the style of play. It’s much faster here, but every week it gets better and better. It’s more competitive here. You know you’ll be playing with good kids every day."
Chaney's first class was put together quickly. Some kids were recruited, some came through his connections and several were placed on the team by colleges who want to see the kids improve.
"We started slowly this year, but we will build to be one of the elite prep schools in the country," Chaney said.
NTSI played last weekend at the National Prep Showcase in Connecticut. The Lions lost to Brewster Academy, ranked No. 3 in the country, 92-62, as Jordan scored 21 points and Rasheed Browne had 11. NTSI also fell to No. 10 Tilton School, 71-62, with Browne putting up 18 and Jordan 12.
It will play a schedule of around 35-40 games through mid-March. NTSI is scheduled to host an eight-team tournament on Jan. 19-20 at Scotland.
"We’re not worried about wins and losses this year," Chaney said. "We just want to make sure they’re ready to play in college. We have a good group of guys, good kids. They’re not really big names, but they have potential and want to get noticed."
In future years, Chaney does expect to have those big names that he's been associated with.
“I enjoy coaching the best of the best,” he said.
The NTSI file
What: National Top Sport Institute is a prep school with a boys basketball team.
Where: Scotland Campus (the old Scotland School)
Coach: Chris Chaney
Assistants: Jacob Stiles, Richard Presendieu
Roster: 19 players, which includes 2 from PA, 11 others from the U.S., 3 from Australia and 1 each from The Netherlands, Columbia and Venezuela