By Joe Arruda
After their preliminary practice at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Moussa Diabate, the eighth ranked player in the ESPN Top 60 for the class of 2021, took off sprinting toward the “basketball through the years” exhibit.
Dribbling the ball in his right hand, the 6’10” power forward cocked back as if he were going to slam the ball through the peach basket.
“Moussa! There was no dunking on the peach baskets!,” IMG Academy Head Coach Sean McAloon shouted from across the practice gym.
For McAloon, the history of the game is an important aspect to teach his players. He understands the necessity of embracing the past legends of the sport.
“You try to explain to the guys the history of the game and everything. It’s kind of a ‘right now’ society. If it were up to them they would probably be in (the SLAM x Spalding Lounge) for the rest of the day,” McAloon recalled. “You let them view it on their own because that’s their favorite way to do it.”
After practice, the team headed up to the @SLAMonline Lounge @Hoophall where some are playing 2k or SmashBros, and some are just enjoying the down time on the couch. #HHClassic 🏀 pic.twitter.com/REyjsU1liX
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) January 18, 2020
The team migrated to the SLAM x Spalding Lounge where some made their way straight to the gaming chairs, and others opted to enjoy some time to relax.
Lynn Kidd, a junior, faced off with Diabate in NBA 2k20. A video game that they both enjoy playing and hope that they will one day be able to control themselves as characters.
“Nobody’s beating me in 2k,” Kidd joked.
In his first time at the Hall of Fame, Kidd was pumped to look around at the enshrinements of some of the greatest players to ever play the game he loves. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, the No. 22 ranked player in the ESPN Top 25 for the class of 2022, expressed a similar take.
“It’s kind of surreal. To get to see the game I’m playing and all of the greats and see what I could be when I get older,” he said. “My dream is like a step away, a shot away. It just makes me keep working hard.”
For Eric Dailey, the experience had another layer.
After playing the virtual basketball game that all of the players, led by Jaden Springer (Tennessee commit), were determined to find, Dailey went searching for something else.
Actually, someone else.
His mother, Shell, played college basketball at the University of Texas under coach Jody Conradt who was inducted into the Hall in 1998.
“My mom was coached by a Hall of Fame coach. To see people that I have seen before – especially coach Conradt, I met her a few times before – to see her in the Hall of Fame is inspirational. I’m just taking it all in,” he said. “This is one of the places that I want to be someday.”
Dailey facetimed his mother to get help in finding the display.
When Coach McAloon walked by, he joked, “Make sure you tell her I’m not letting you play tonight after what you did to me earlier.”
Dailey responded, “Yeah mom, coach said I can’t play because I dunked on him in practice today.”
IMG’s Eric Dailey during the teams practice at the Basketball Hall of Fame
As high school players with blindingly bright futures ahead of them, witnessing what they could be someday is a tool for inspiration.
“We want to be Hall of Famers one day, we all want to go to the league, we all want to be great, so seeing people before us that were great motivates us,” Dailey said.
The IMG staff and coaches understand the magnitude of the Hall of Fame for their players. Though they travel to many tournaments throughout the season, the Spalding Hoophall Classic provides them with an opportunity to visit the birthplace of the game of basketball.
“It is a cool perspective for the kids to see. Especially just knowing that it is much bigger than basketball. Seeing the people that came before them, to pay respect to them, and also to create new goals for themselves, a new vision for themselves to hopefully one day to have their name in this building. So when their kids and grandkids come in here they get a chance to see their name imprinted inside the game of basketball,” Jonathan ‘Coach JT’ Thomas, an assistant coach at IMG, said.
“It’s a blessing (especially for Eric Dailey). I know that it’s a new perspective for him, opening up his eyes, I’m pretty sure they (his mother and his aunt who was enshrined) probably gave him the will and the desire to go even harder. That’s two generations, that’s his mom and his aunt. Nothing but positives you can take out of that,” Thomas added.
The IMG team that is ranked seventh in the country by ESPN can joke around with one another like regular high schoolers, but they know how to be professional too.
“They’re used to it,” McAloon said. “They’re grateful, they’re respectful of people’s time, they answer questions the right way. They thrive in opportunities like this to play in large settings with media and TV. That is why they’re here.”
IMG Academy will take on the No. 1 ranked player in the ESPN Top 60 for the class of 2021, Jonathan Kuminga and the Patrick School, at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Hoophall.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Arruda