The move from a high school basketball player to a college basketball player can be a big one — much bigger than most high school seniors expect or understand. 

The mental and physical challenges can be overwhelming and easily derail future hoop dreams.

To bridge that gap and give graduates a better chance to succeed at the next level, numerous preparatory schools — or prep schools — have been formed across the United States.

In a town like Beckley that has had a longstanding love affair with basketball, opening a prep school in the “City of Champions” seemed like the logical thing to do.

Hence, Beckley Prep Academy was formed for the start of the 2017-18 basketball season and year one was a big success according to Beckley Prep head coach, Cortez Brown.

“I think the first year went way beyond expectations as far as basketball is concerned and also as far as life lessons are concerned,” Brown said. “We were able to bring a lot of attention here to Beckley as far as recruiters and scouts were concerned. We had numerous people in the community coming to watch the games, so it was a very positive vibe to be a part of.”

The main focus for Brown centered around social and spiritual development, top level basketball training and exposure for his players to college coaches.

“One of the best parts of the year was we were able to give kids some opportunities that came to us with no recruitment activity and no life skills,” Brown said. “Along with the basketball opportunities we were able to give them some important life skills. Those are the greatest accolades we can take from the first year.”

In the first year alone, three players from Beckley Prep went on to earn Division I offers.

Chance Moore — who Brown feels one day could be a household name — a 6-foot-9 guard  signed with Wichita State, while Connor Arnold inked with Virginia Military Academy and Cress Worthy signed with UNC-Asheville. 

“Each kid that comes here had a specific need — it is a case by case scenario,” Brown said. “We had to put weight on (Connor) and had to toughen him up a little bit. But he embraced that energy and mixed it with his own energy and became a top recruit. (Connor) was a unique story because he was not a prototypical Division I player. But after his experience here, he became one of the hottest recruits of 2018.”

The story was much the same for Worthy.

“Not a lot of coaches knew about Cress, but he came in here every day and put his head down and worked extremely hard,” Brown explained. “At the beginning he had zero scholarships and at the end he had at least nine offers including Duquesne and Pittsburgh. We are talking about a kid that came from nothing and worked extremely hard.”

“The remainder of the the guys earned opportunities in Division II, Division III and junior college. But those three guys formed the foundation by putting their head down, betting on themselves and following instructions.”

Now comes the daunting task of building on the success of year one. 

Brown will start the new season with a name familiar to West Virginia high school basketball fans — Drew Williamson from Chapmanville. The sharp-shooting guard was a major influence in the Tigers Class AA title run this year and had some Division I attention coming out of high school.

Joining Williamson will be J.J. Reed from Paducah, Ky. — who was first-team All-Kentucky as well as a finalist for Mr. Basketball in the Bluegrass State — and Harry Morrice. Morrice is a 6-foot-11 wing player from Scotland. Add in Jordan Love from North Carolina, point guard Ahmad Price from Louisville, Ky. and Oumar Keita, a 7-footer from Hazard, Ky., and it is easy to see why Brown is optimistic about season two at Beckley Prep. 

“What I emphasize to the kids is that with hard work anything is possible and will faith, everything is possible, Brown said.

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