Sunday, September 16, 2018

Florida's The Nation Christian Academy Now One Of Country's Largest Growing Programs

An uptick in numbers has resulted in an infusion of scalding new talent at The Nation Christian Academy in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Boasting numerous intriguing, multi-positional forwards and a gaggle of highly touted recruits, the second year program has the potential to break into the national conversation this season.

 The timing also makes sense, as the program joins Florida's prestigious and traditionally powerful SIAA conference this season.

Following a topsy turvy year marred by 11th hour transfers, the SIAA conference has restored national credibility as one of the country's toughest and most unforgiving conferences. With The Nation jumping into the conversation of "who's who" and featuring a number of hotly pursued talent, the program could potentially ascend the national mountaintops.

Head coach Mike Woodbury said having a standard program that preaches accountability and the basic principles of basketball and operates the correct way has directly impacted the buildup. With a brick and mortar school and an academically enriched program, they pride themselves on doing things the right way and holding each student athlete to a high standard in day to day activity.

 The Nation Christian Academy now holds 60+ student athletes in the basketball program alone.

"We're rich with talent, both old and young, 2019 guys and underclassmen," said Woodbury.

"Coaches are not only excited about our upperclassmen. I truly believe our sophomore class is one of the best in the country right now. I've already got wings and elite guards who are garnering national attention. The reality of it is we say we are going to do it, and we follow through with it. We teach skills conceptually that are transferable to the next level."

 Woodbury continued, "The work is tireless, but getting to know the right people and the right guys nationally and internationally have really boosted our program. I've been fortunate to be surrounded by unbelievable people in my coaching staff and my supporting staff."

Exactly when The Nation fled obscurity and earned national visibility is traced to January of 2018, when they cultivated a unique and multi-dimensional talent in Abdou N'Diaye. A long 6-foot-10 forward who guards nearly every position on the floor and possesses a guard's skill set, N'Diaye blossomed as a stretch four in a short period time.

After a less than memorable stay at now defunct CGM Academy in Arizona, N'Diaye transferred to The Nation. He averaged  a team-best 27 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks and ultimately chose Illinois State over Wichita State, UNLV, Ole Miss, and a barrage of others.

"That took us from nobody to somebody really quick," said Woodbury.

"I got a call from a friend who needed to place a young man who had just witnessed his prep school close down in one of those tragedy stories you hear about. Abdou flourished, he evolved as a mega recruit very quickly. Gregg Marshall was here. Georgetown and UNLV came here, the list goes on and on. With the recruiting class we were able to put together this year, in a relatively quick period of time, that speaks for itself."

Headlining the program is a versatile returning piece in 6-foot-7 Marvens Petion, a hyper-athletic wing. With his open court finishing and defensive tenacity and instinctive style, Petion has the potential to author a breakout year in the aforementioned SIAA.

"The kid is a freak," Woodbury explained.

 "He's grown to 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot, a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He defends like an absolute maniac. He defends the 1-3, rebounds the heck out of the ball and his outside game is gradually improving. What's noteworthy about Marvens is he plays above the rim at all times. The most unique part about his game is that he's still new to basketball. He was a soccer player before he came into this country. The game is still new to him and that's where he's got upside, because he's a sponge. He accepts responsibility. He comes in with his hard hat every day."

Woodbury may have actually found N'Diaye's understudy in the 7-foot Mamadou Gueye. Though raw and still grasping the nuances of the post game, Gueye has displayed a deft outside touch and an ability to knock down shots from 15-18 feet out with consistency.

 The program now has 11 players who are 6-foot-7 or above, including 6-foot-11 Center Justin Johannesen. With his toughness and ability to thrive in the pick and pop game, Johannesen has the opportunity to be breakout prospect on the mid major market.

 One year after going eyeball to eyeball with 2018 NBA draft pick Anfernee Simons and IMG Academy and turning in a marquee and memorable performance, Class of 2019 guard Idressa Bivens has garnered offers from Ole Miss, Florida International, Northeastern, and FGCU.

 With his shot creation and knack for creating space, Bivens has the look of a prolific scoring off guard. He's capable of guarding either guard slot and will handle the chore of clamping down on a number of high-scoring guards in the SIAA and beyond.

Class of 2021 prospect Mohamed Sow's ability to shoot it from deep, mid range game, and explosive off the dribble attacking at 6-foot-8 recently earned him a scholarship offer from Ole Miss.

 His fleet of foot and how well he spaces the floor and rebounds at his position have been eye-widening thus far. Woodbury is equally psyched about the stock risers he's got, citing the rapidly improved and hot shooting 6-foot-7 guard/wing Indrek Sunelik.

"He's a lanky wing who came in a little bit under weight," Woodbury assessed.

 "He shoots the absolute snot out of the ball. Every time he shoots the ball it looks like it is going in. He's going to be the most impactful and underrated player to come out of the SIAA this year. He'll have the high and mid major guys checking in on him by the end of the month. He came in under the radar and hungry. He's in speed and strength class every day, he's got the desire and want and will to be one of our better players."

With a 7-foot sophomore in Chidera Nsude and a 6-foot-9 freshman in Yves Noah, it's fair to say the youth movement is promising in Port St. Lucie.

Florida has traditionally been a veritable breeding ground for top-shelf talent. It's no secret, flop house programs and shady post-graduate institutions that tend to pop up and shut down at the 11th hour have not exactly given the state a pristine prep image. Woodbury said the goal and initiative is for his program to ultimately help alter that perception.

"What differentiates us is that we have college placement for every kid," Woodbury explained.

"We can assure them not only the opportunity to get better and play but the opportunity to get recruited. It's not easy to get Division-III guys recruited. Hey, it's easy to get Georgetown there. It's not easy to get Babson here. That's a Division-III national power."

Coaches from Georgetown, Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic, Maine, and countless other programs have already been in to see the steady crop of Division-I talent the multi-team Academy has to offer.

While registering its presence nationally, Woodbury has increased the strength of schedule with opponents such as Putnam Science (CT), who they'll play during the National Prep Invitational in Rhode Island during late November. Woodbury said every SIAA game is equal in importance.

"Here is the one thing you can always expect to see from us," said Woodbury. "Beyond being very good and talented, we're going to play defense. We will compete day in and day out. Every night is going to be a battle in this conference. The SIAA is loaded with talent. The kids have to understand it cannot be a faucet plug. You can't just turn it off and turn it on. You have to bring it every night in this conference or you get exposed."