By Daniel Richardson
MORROW, Ga. – Even before walking into Clayton State’s gym, the sound of some 50 athletic high school basketball prospects marveling at each other while trying to throw down dunks greets you.
It’s a Sunday morning – last Sunday morning to be exact and while most are congregating at a local church or around a television to take in some football, young hoopers from South Atlanta have all but forgotten about a higher power or the Falcons, at least temporarily. Instead, these ballers and their parents and guardians are focused on making sure that their time spent at the EYA South Atlanta Showcase is maximized to the fullest.
Suddenly, the music of Atlanta hip-hop natives Future, Lil Baby and Young Thug is turned down and out walks Brad Martin. The owner and director of EYA sports began to gather the nearly 60 high school hoopers – both girls and boys – along with EYA trainers to center court and in order to get them started on what would be a five-hour day of workouts.
Each prospect is working in groups with a trainer on contested shots, handles, driving and 3-on-3 drills for 12 minutes before rotating. Parents and coaches sat in chairs circling the gym, while scouts meander in and out.
Media members with cameras float from station to station, capturing the work the players are putting in.
It’s a laid back environment, but you wouldn’t be able to tell, the way the players are locked-in, knowing exactly why they’re there in the first place – to improve their games and get turn recruiters heads with an eye to the next level even as the next season is just weeks away.
Martin is just as focused.
With a close eye on his phone and the constant moving parts around him, the former Morrow High basketball player is in a perpetual state of motion.
Even with a career that saw him have success at Dakota State University and overseas in New Zealand, Martin says that EYA, the South Atlanta Showcase and the impact it’s had on southside talent is unmatched on his list of accomplishments.
“One thing about all of our players and kids at this age, and even the collegiate players – they don’t really care about what you did,” Martin told Crescent Buzz. “As long as you can do what you did, you can show them that you can communicate with them on that level. And you can reach them, and you can impact what they need to do for where they are trying to go in basketball.”
Martin says what he’s able to do through EYA is major because of where he gets to do it – in a South Metro Atlanta area that often gets overlooked as a hotbed for hoops talent.
“For me, this is even [bigger than anything I’ve done], because this is something that I never had when I was growing up. I didn’t have a situation or a platform where I could showcase who I was to [show] myself or reach the goals that I wanted to reach in basketball. Everything that I did was pretty much out the mud.”
This year’s South Atlanta showcase was the fifth annual, with each year getting bigger than the previous. This year, Martin is figuring in new features to continue the growth of the exhibition, like adding in live streaming to appeal to a new audience.
Martin acknowledges that early on, he couldn’t predict the showcase’s success in terms of helping multiple players find homes at Division I programs.
However, he knows having a steady stream of participating athletes talented enough to receive national recognition places a standard on the program that Martin says can be daunting to continue to replicate. But the exposure of southside prospects is worth the effort of building the program to its highest peak.
“The biggest accomplishment will be mainly getting kids from this side of town exposure,” Martin said. “Getting kids in situations that normally they wouldn’t be in if they went to certain other camps, because depending on the camp, and depending on the type of camp, certain kids that are here can get overlooked. That doesn’t mean that they really can’t play, but just they need a platform that’s strictly made for them.”
Nearly two hours in on Sunday afternoon, and the athletes get about an hour break to relax and hydrate before the second half of the showcase.
As the athletes return from the break, it was evident they weren’t the only ones feeling the urgency of this skill-sharpening moment.
Shamir Wingfield, a point guard who made the trek from Westover High (Albany) sits with his sister who attends neighboring Monroe High. They both listen to their uncle who is imploring them both to “think like point guards” and “use the screens.”
Parents’ raised voices pierced the air as they could be heard coaching up their kids to increase intensity and aggressiveness. Everyone in attendance seemed aware of the opportunity that the South Atlanta showcase represents: Play well against the competition in the city and gauge where the improvements must come, and pique the interest of someone who is in the position to extend a collegiate offer.
Some athletes at the showcase like Sandy Creek senior and Texas Tech commit Daija Powell had already achieved the latter. Yet Powell could still be found in the building working on her game.
Most of the players are on the AAU circuit and are familiar with each other and the level of competition present.
Martin says that the grassroots component of his showcase and programs adds EYA’s appeal opposite other camps in the city.
“The way that you keep the homegrown talent [on the southside] is organizations like ours,” Martin said. “We have the scouting.We have the resume with top elite players that came to the program. We have the resume of having a summer program that does really, really well, too that has over 30 kids that are planted in the Division I level. That’s not even talking about all of the kids in the program, but it’s a 100% turnaround from that AAU program.”
Once the 5-on-5 games begin – each having one 10-minute frame – the players know what time it is. It’s the chance to show the creativity in their game, and an opportunity for others to show that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
As one player makes a defensive stop and drives to the other end to get the points on the break, a coach makes a tick on his roster. That’s a player just raised his profile with his effort.
Martin makes it clear that the players in his EYA program know how much of a grind it is to make it the next level, and they each take that process very seriously.
“They understand that the grind is hard, they embrace it, sometimes they might want to quit, but they keep pushing forward through it,” Martin said. “Overall, if you truly looked at it, I mean, it’s tough to get to that next level, but just me personally with the kids that I’ve dealt with, I haven’t had that issue.”
The impact of EYA on the southside becoming visible, even for Martin in regular life, is surreal. Seeing an ordinary individual in an EYA t-shirt while he’s out running errands is still “strange” to him.
As one parent put it to Middle Georgia Prep head basketball coach Aaron Tribbey, “People sleep on basketball on this side of town.” Martin and EYA Sports are working every day to change that notion.