DALLAS – If it’s true that “everything’s bigger” in Texas, then it should come as no surprise that roughly 33 miles west of the state’s famed Dallas Cowboys star, tucked behind a tree-lined brush off of Bonnie View Road in the heart of south Dallas one of the biggest collections of high school basketball talent in the country grinds away at the Mark Cuban Center.
In all, the team from the newly formed Advanced Prep International boasts three probable locks, barring injury, for the McDonald’s All-American Game in the next two years.
Senior shooting guard Terrance Ferguson, an Alabama commit, is ranked No. 10 overall in the ESPN 100, junior Trevon Duval is the top ranked point guard and No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 60 and junior forward Billy Preston is ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 60.
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Good luck finding any team in the country that can legitimately make that claim today.
And, yet, 20 minutes in to their open run on this steamy September afternoon the only thing Bulldogs coach Ray Forsett is focused on is that the team isn’t clapping in unison following a drill.
“If everyone’s not gonna clap, no one should clap,” Forsett barks. “That’s our problem, we’re not on the same page. It’s the little things that you’ve got to be on the same page with.”
Suddenly, a deafening clap drowns out the melodic tunes of Drake and Future’s new album What a Time to Be Alive blasting through the gym’s speakers.
Just as strength and conditioning coach Tyson Williams begins another drill, coaches from Baylor and Nebraska stroll into the gym to look on.
The players know they’re there, but are too engrossed in their grind to give anything more than an acknowledging glance. It’s relative, college coaches have come out in droves to the Bulldogs’ open runs since Sept. 9, per NCAA rules.
“It’s not a big deal to us to see the coaches on the sidelines,” Duval says. “The only thing that I want to see is us getting better every day. That’s honestly the only thing I care about.”
Over the last two weeks every coach from North Carolina to Arizona to Louisville, among countless others, have made their way over to see the Bulldogs run through drills and go head-to-head during intrasquad scrimmages.
Just as another drill commences, Forsett heads across the gym to talk with Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang.
The two sit back and share laughs for a while before Forsett makes his way over to chat with Nebraska assistant coach Phil Beckner.
The scene is really laid back with a lot of moving parts.
Duval whips through ball handling drills with such precision you’d swear the ball was surgically attached to his hands, Elijah Elliott drains deep jumpers at the south end of the gym and Nysier Brooks, a Cincinnati commit, throws down a strong two-hander at the mid-court goal that seems to hype up the players even more.
Neither coach is jotting notes on strengths and weaknesses; both have seen plenty of the API players during the AAU season. It’s obvious that the coaches are close with Forsett and his staff. Both Tang and Beckner tactically place themselves under different goals around the gym during drills, obviously to be in clear sight of the young stars like Duval and Preston.
NCAA rules permit coaches to talk with players onsite, but, as the workout runs long, the coaches head out early.
Ferguson will readily admit that this time three years ago he would’ve found it nearly impossible to contain his excitement at the mere sight of college coaches filing into the gym to see he and his teammates work out. Experience taught him that the best way to leave lasting impressions on them was to “forget they’re there.”
“That way your only focus is getting better and they like to see that,” Ferguson says. “Most of the time the coaches that come out to these things already know who they want or they’re pretty sure. Mostly, they just come so you can see that they came. Right now, we don’t have time to think about coaches.”
The Bulldogs’ proverbial secret is out.
API is on a short list of teams, which, on paper, have the pedigree to make a strong case for the No. 1 spot in the preseason USA TODAY High School Sports Super 25 rankings.
An assertion Forsett is quick to shoot down.
“That’s why we won’t play games on paper,” Forsett says. “I tell my guys all the time we’re not No. 1 right now. Oak Hill is very talented, Findlay Prep is great, Kevin Boyle, obviously, does a great job with Montverde; La Lumiere, Huntington Prep, those guys are great. I think we’ve got potential to be in that tier, but I’ve gotta drive them past the limits they have for themselves.”
Like asking the team to complete 10 full-court length suicide runs in one minute at the end of the workout.
Forsett doesn’t want perfect effort, he demands it — even if this is the Bulldogs’ second practice of the day, the first was at 5:30 a.m.
Mark Vital is the Bulldogs resident “tough guy” and emotional leader.
On several occasions throughout the workout he barks at teammates who are lollygagging and ignites cheers for teammates who need an extra push.
“Whether you can actually do it or not isn’t the point, the point is that you try as hard as you can,” says Vital, a senior all-everything forward who is committed to Baylor. “We have a lot of talent and I feel like we can do big things this season, but that’s only if we work hard now. That’s what I try and keep everybody focused on.”
That’s not some “Boy Scout” manufactured answer, either; the Bulldogs aren’t shying away from all of the hype.
API knows it’s talented and, yes, the team thinks said talent should translate into wins; lots of wins.
Ferguson was quite matter-of-fact when talking about the team’s goals for the coming season.
“We are coming out with the mindset to win every game,” he says. “We’re gonna go harder than any other team. That’s gonna win us games. We want to win a national championship. We don’t have small goals.”
Everything’s big in Texas indeed.
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