Team Speed goes the distance

The 12 players on the roster of an area 16-U travel basketball team have dominated competitors from cities such as Houston and Detroit.

Spanning from July 22 to July 31, they went head to head against some of the best teams in the country.

“We participated in four tourneys. We won two of the four against the best teams in the entire country,” said Team Speed’s head coach and director of basketball operations, Robert DePersia of Cherry Hill.

The team was seated as third in the country behind Chicago and Los Angeles during the competition, ultimately winning the Nike World Championships, held at the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas.

“All the other teams, which makes it even more special, come from major metropolitan areas,” DePersia said.

The members of the team are garnered from a plethora of area high schools, including Cherry Hill High School West’s own Rodney Williams, who is ranked 19th in the state in NJ Hoop’s Top 100 Juniors.

Rodney also plays high school football.

The ability to specialize in a certain sport is vitally important as a player gets older, explained DePersia, who has been with the team for 32 years.

“They are all picking what they love,” he said, “which is the wonderful thing because the time and effort they put into it, people don’t realize it. People just go out and say wow he’s fast or he’s athletic.”

“They don’t realize these guys are like 15/16 years old.”

Rodney begins his days early with three and a half hours of weight lifting and basketball practice.

“Ever since I was young my dad put the ball in my hands. It was a love early,” he said.

The weight training Rodney and his teammates do pushes them toward success, said DePersia.

“When you watch them play a lot of teams that we play are, might be better than us and might have more athletic ability, but as the game goes on to the third and fourth quarter, they don’t get tired,” he said. “They don’t fatigue, they can just keep playing at the same level.”

That perseverance puts them ahead, he added.

While in Las Vegas, Team Speed’s players were the only ones to participate in 19 games, whereas most other teams only played five or six.

“It just goes to show you how much they have devoted to it and it makes them special,” said DePersia.

The players have attracted college scouts.

Dr. Earl Pearsall, the team’s academic advisor, is involved in the Princeton Review and mentors the players to ensure high GPAs and good test scores to make the kids appealing to admissions counselors.

“It’s just incredible what they have achieved,” DePersia explained. “Now colleges are contacting us off the hook for all these guys, and they are surprised they are as young as they are because in most tourneys we play older kids. So we play up in age. So they are real surprised that they are actually underage.”

In addition to athletic and academic advisory, the team members receive spiritual guidance from Bishop Joseph Roberts.

“It’s really good to have a family figure like that makes sure the kids presents themselves in the right way,” said DePersia, pointing out that the players are not caught in inappropriate activities.

The intensive program begins in March and ends in November, giving time for the players to pursue roles at their high schools.

More than 400 basketball players apply to be on the team, and once a player is selected and vetted by the existing team, they are kept for the long haul.

“The reason is that over the course of the year we spend so much time together and if it’s not the right personality, it’s a cancer because its spreads through the roster. So they have the last say, ‘Is this the kid you want or is this not the kid you want?’ And they are real candid,” DePersia said.

Next season, the team will have competitions in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Atlanta, Puerto Rico, Mexico City and Las Vegas.

Some of the current team members are highlighted in an upcoming invitational that will have top players from Virginia to New York.

While on the court, the players morph from high school kids into stars, shooting hoop after hoop.

“Speed is a skill just like any other skill. Changing directions is a skill. Just like any other thing you would learn,” said DePersia. “You just don’t grow up being able to go full speed this way.”