A Family Admired
The classic black and orange jerseys, the screaming parents, and the high level talent. These are the things that immediately catch your eye when you watch Team Takeover. The AAU program is well known across the nation, and has built a very strong reputation for themselves since gaining a Nike sponsorship in 2008. Since then, Coach Keith Stevens, who founded the organization, has mastered the craft of developing young men. Both on and off the court. Yes, he churns out the top basketball players in the DMV year after year, but after attending Team Takeover’s 16U and 17U practices this weekend, I realized it’s much more that. Stevens, along with the rest of his coaching staff are dedicated to teaching. Every time the whistle blows, all eyes and ears are on the Coach who is talking. Every time the whistle blows, it’s a teaching point so no one makes that mistake again at the next level. There’s a saying, “Surround yourself with people who are on the same mission as you” and that instantly popped into my head while watching the Team Takeover practices. Although some players may be high school rivals or fighting for playing time this summer, they surrounded themselves with a family that makes each and every one of them a better player and a better person, one step at a time.
Team Takeover got its national stamp of approval back in 2010 when they won the inaugural Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League). The team featured three NBA players in both of the Grant brothers, Jerami and Jerian, and Victor Oladipo. 2010 was also the year I started playing competitive AAU basketball, and I can tell you first hand, Takeover was an instant powerhouse at all levels. A successful AAU program like this one is almost like a chain of admiration. The little kids want to be like 16U and 17U guys playing on the Nike circuit, and the guys on the Nike circuit want to be the next NBA superstar, the next Victor Oladipo.
This past Saturday, I made the early morning trip up to Cesar Chavez School in Washington, DC to catch the 16U and 17U practices. The 16U team is filled with some of the areas best sophomores, and Paul VI freshman Trevor Keels. Head Coach Doug Martin focused on the teams half court and transition defense for a good portion of the practice, but with the team split into two squads, each squad was able to get valuable reps on both sides of the ball. When I asked the team what Coach emphasizes the most, they all chimed in with answers that had to do with communication and effort on the defensive end. There’s no doubt that this team is offensively gifted, Garrett Johnson, Myles Stute, Dimingus Stevens and Josiah Freeman are all snipers from behind the arc. Point guards Canin Reynolds and Chuck Harris do a great job of finishing at the rim, setting up their teammates, and just making winning plays. Wings Trevor Keels, Jamal Barnes and Ishmael Leggett use their athleticism to their advantage, and play the crucial “Do-It-All” role on the offensive end. While big men Paul Smith and Dowar Jioklow clean the boards and everything inside. The coaches are also holding their players accountable on and off the court, Johnson and Harris told me that they will have an “Hour and a half long study hall” and the coaches “Take their phones Saturday morning, and [the players] will get them back Sunday after their final game,” on the weekends they are away for tournaments. Harris added in a joking manner that “[The players] might have to find a way to get around that.” In all seriousness though, this team has the potential to do some serious damage on the 16U circuit, and I have no doubt that they will.
Meanwhile, the 17U team is on a revenge tour. Last year the Takeover team made it all the way to the championship game at Peach Jam (Final session of the EYBL that you must qualify for) but didn’t bring their A game, and fell short to the Oakland Soldiers. They got to “Avenge” the loss against the Oakland Soldiers just a couple of weeks later in The 8 Championship Game (Another Nike tournament separate from the Peach Jam) but make no mistake, they are gunning for that Peach Jam championship. This year’s team returns three players from last year’s team, Anthony Harris, Justin Moore and Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson told me that in last year’s championship game “[They] thought they could keep their magic [From the comeback semifinal win] but it didn’t work out” he added that now they know they need to “Play harder right from the jump.” The EYBL is generally considered the toughest circuit for high school players, and Moore told me he’s most excited about “The matchups, getting to go up against the best of the best every game.” Takeover is regarded as one of the favorites to take home this year’s EYBL crown, I’m sure Coach Keith Stevens doesn’t let that get to his players heads, but that claim is definitely validated as this team is loaded with talent. They are led by three guards who are nationally ranked in the 2019 class in Justin Moore, Anthony Harris and Casey Morsell, who recently committed to Virginia. They also have a pair of 5-stars in the 2020 class in point guard Jeremy Roach and the dominant 7-footer Hunter Dickinson. Side note: I don’t believe rankings define players by any means, I am just trying to give some context as to how talented these players are to someone who has never seen them play before. Anyway, those five players alone would cause enough problems for most AAU programs in the country, but Team Takeover runs deep. Forward Terrance Williams is coming off a breakout sophomore season at Gonzaga as he can shoot and rebound with the best of them. Guards Jahmir Young and Josh Watts can score from anywhere and always make the good basketball play. While fellow big men Charles Thompson and Josh Oduro bring versatility to the paint.
I think it’s safe to say that both of these teams will have “good” seasons on the circuit. But when you wear “Takeover” across your chest, expectations much higher than “good” come along with it. So expect these kids to be pushed to their limits as people, on and off the court. And with hard work, dedication and talent on your side, allow the results to fall into place.
Note: I wanted to give a special thank you to Coach Doug Martin (Head coach of the 16U team). I was connected with Coach Doug a couple of months ago, we kept in touch, and he offered me access to the teams and the program. I am extremely grateful for how supportive Coach Doug and the rest of the Takeover staff are of what I’m doing. I look forward to catching their games on the circuit this season.