Boarding an early morning flight to Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday, Jul. 25, Saugus High School boys basketball player Nate Perez wasn’t in the best of moods heading to the inaugural first year of the NCAA College Basketball Academy, but basketball had nothing to do with it.
“I don’t really like flying so it’s kind of scary for me,” Perez said. “Like the heights and if we crash.”
That all changed upon arrival in Phoenix as the sophomore-to-be was one of 2,400 gifted sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the country to be invited to the four-day basketball academy, and one of 300 student-athletes to participate in the West Regional’s second session from July 25-28 on the campus of the Grand Canyon University.
Breathing, eating and living basketball for the next four days from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Perez played and trained against some of the country’s best up-and-coming high school players as well as studying and learning under the tutelage of current Westmont College men’s basketball coach John Moore and Orange Coast College coach Steve Spencer. The two have a combined 47 years of collegiate coaching under their belts.
“It was great learning from people who have known the game a lot longer than me so I can learn things from them,” Perez said.
The academy began with tests focused on measuring the players’ athleticism, height, body weight and vertical jumping ability. In the final three days of camp, Perez and the rest of the participants competed in drills, skills competition and scrimmages.
One of just eight sophomores to be invited to the second session, Perez soaked up all the knowledge he could, especially when training with professional trainer Ganon Baker, who has trained with countless Nike brand athletes.
“…he has trained and worked with so many pros that I could pick up on stuff from that and work on it on my own,” Perez said. “ I always wanted to work out with him because he’s a really good trainer.”
Continuing to learn how to play alongside and against older, bigger and much more physical competition Perez honed in on specific skills like protecting the ball, rebounding, passing and shot selection.
“Just playing with people that didn’t really pass the ball so I had to try to get the ball,” Perez said. “I just had to rebound more and make extra passes also, so I’m not forcing shots and don’t look bad by trying to take bad shots.”
Over the course of the four-day camp, Perez got to experience a taste of what it would be like attending and playing at an NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball program, a goal that he hopes to accomplish.
“It was cool because I really want to go play Division I so it was just cool being on the campus and playing there,” Perez said. “Hopefully, I can go back next year and do the same thing.”