Monday, August 14, 2017

Class of 2019 Guard Elame Embracing Challenge Of 'Prove It' Season

Many kids have extraordinary goals. Few, however, possess the inner desire and work rate and perseverance to follow through on them. Nicolas Elame, a bouncy and hard-driving 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard from France, is one notable exception.

For as long back as he recalls, Elame expressed a desire to pursue his basketball dreams in America.

The culture and gung-ho spirit behind the NCAA tournament was an enticing factor. There's also the attraction of the NBA, the league in which French hoop luminaries such as Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, and Tony Parker found fame and longevity.

After displaying an advanced skill-set as a defensive catalyst laced with quickness, along with the bouncy athleticism that aligns with the American game, Elame wasted no time. He discovered a pathway to citizenship in the United States through a club coach. And so he took the first step in pursuit of his dream.

It did not come easy. The one major roadblock, at first, was adapting to a new and complicated language on the fly.

In instant-hit fashion, Elame was asked to incorporate this loose feel for English to American education classes. This is without a translation system and without much available assistance. The time management concepts, which are even more critical in college, could be overwhelming to some.

 Elame also had to bid adieu to his friends back home and assimilate to an entirely new inner circle of fresh faces. Now speaking English fluently (with the accent of course detectable) and picking up on sophisticated SAT words, Elame even had to adapt to a host family. He's an out-of-country guest in a barren, mountain-dotted setting.

 An adoptive family played a role in keeping Elame's American hoop dreams intact. He's currently enrolled at Bella Vista Prep in Scottsdale, AZ.

These daunting challenges and frantic changes certainly are not suited for everyone. Yet they are exactly what Elame, who loves the hyper-competitive style of the American game, could have asked for.

This year, with Bella Vista Prep maximizing its exposure in the prestigious Grind Session, Elame will again embrace the inevitable challenges.

Grind Session, which has beefed up its schedule and talent pool significantly this season, provides the opportunity to matchup the elite of the elite in high school and post-graduate basketball. It presents a grand stage for the five-star recruit and the under-the-radar recruit just looking to secure that one Division-I offer.

It gives prospects the opportunity to play before a national audience, underscored by the 50-60+ Division-I coaches located in the stands.

"This year I'm looking to establish myself as an all-around playmaker at guard, a guy who can score and pass the ball and defend with the best of them," said Elame, who now has major confidence in his once-lacking mid-range jumper.

"It's really a prove it year for me. I'm launching up shots every day, getting into the weight room and making everything a priority. The main reason I chose Bella Vista is because it's a disciplined program that holds its players to high expectations. The structure is serious, they run it like a college program. We have an extremely competitive schedule and there is a great deal of exposure that I could gain. This is what I'm hoping for."

Elame was thrown to the wolves during his first month in the United States. In his very first open gym, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Florida head coach Mike White were in attendance. While both coaches were recruiting other players, Elame recalls an intense rush of chills. It wasn't a familiar case of a starstruck teenager as much as it was a reminder that his dreams were somewhat in reach.

This was the opportunity he had longed for and prayed for. Elame played to his capabilities that night, applying tight on-the-ball pressure and going hard to the rim.

He would soon realize, however, just how significant the key differences in the American game were.

There was a constant quick pace and freakishly athletic, high-rising opponents on every court. The frontline here on the American prep scene were tremendously bigger and more intimidating. Every night, there seemed to be 7-foot rim protectors waiting for his trademark slashes from both angles.

And so Elame invested more focus into a progressing catch-and-stick game and his development of a smooth 20-foot jumper. He's become cognizant a reliable jumper is akin to eating in importance. Especially as a scoring threat playing both guard positions.

During Elame's first game at Christian Life Academy in Houston, Elame broke through traffic for a wowing one-handed dunk.

The play, which gained mega-views on social media, provided an early spark. Elame averaged 13 points as a steady supplementary scorer, playing primarily off the ball. While Elame added sturdy defense, he soon found himself at odds with his coaching staff.

"We didn't see to eye to eye on a few things and we basically decided to go in a different direction as far as my pursuit of a scholarship," Elame said. "It was nothing personal. I just needed a different situation based on what I had to offer, basketball-wise."

While frustrating, the setback did nothing to deter his focus. After all, he traveled all the way from France just to chase the same dream he'd be entertaining since age seven.

This summer, Elame gave an efficient account of his abilities. Elame poured in a game-best 19 points in leading Texas Hardwood Prospects to a 54-45 victory over Elite 17U in the GASO championships, attacking the rim and showcasing the new touch.

"My defense was always the best part of my game, so when I got here I realized I had to focus on my shooting," Elame said. "I've been putting in consistent work all summer and applying the no days off attitude and I'm starting to see the results."