The Mercer County area now has an Adidas affiliated AAU team. The NJ Rivals grammar school AAU team is an offspring of the Adidas Sponsored Rivals AAU program based in the New England area. The program came into existence under the vision of Mike Linton from Ewing Township, NJ. Basketball Spotlight got a chance to holler at NK Rivals Director Mike Linton and here’s what he had to say.
From The Director’s Desk: Mike Linton (NJ Rivals)
BS: Mike what’s up you seem to come out of nowhere, please give us a brief background and how you came to this position?
ML: Growing up in Ewing, NJ, my AAU experience was a little different than what we see today. The level of competition wasn’t that great, we practiced once a week, there was no development, things were just really basic. I had the opportunity to re-locate to Providence, RI and the basketball culture was just completely different. Kids were always in the gym, their AAU programs were practicing multiple times a week, their organizations were like families. I had the pleasure of assisting with a team while there and we built a relationship with the middle school director of the Rivals program. I always mentioned we had talent in NJ and when life brought me back home I just kept the bug in their ear and it was this past January at your spotlight event when they came to town and said “We’re ready to make that move”
BS: How did you formulate the teams of NJ Rivals?
ML: The first time I held tryouts was April of 2019. I had 3 people show up and got super discouraged, I felt like this opportunity was about to go to waste. After speaking to a couple of people, they lifted me up and told me I was approaching everything all wrong. I welcomed their advice which led me to reach out to multiple organizations and coaches and seek their interest in bringing over a full team instead of trying to build a team from scratch. A lot of people declined or were unwilling to make certain sacrifices to make this work but I came across 2 coaches (Bryan and Marvin) who saw the vision and gave it a chance.
BS: What is the vision of the NJ Rivals program?
ML: We are looking to develop young student-athletes on the court, in the classroom and as young men. Our purpose being an expansion program, is to increase the talent pool for our main program in Massachusetts. The overall goal is to get the young men in this program where they need to be academically and athletically, provide them with a platform to receive a free education whether that be through the game of basketball or the books. FREE EDUCATION!
BS: How does the Rivals AAU program in New England feel about this expansion?
ML: There has been a lot of excitement and a lot of anticipation for our first tournament which will be Basketball Spotlight on December 7th. Expanding to New Jersey gives the program in 5 states including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and us. Outside of my real family, this organization is the largest group of family and friends in my circle. The support, the communication, the bond is just something I would have never expected from any organization which would explain why the program has had the amount of success they have had for as long as they’ve had.
BS: Give us a breakdown of the event’s you guys will be traveling to this AAU season?
ML: Our schedule will consist of The Basketball Spotlight Tip Off Classic in December, Basketball Spotlight Clash For The Cup in January, Basketball Spotlight Spring Invitational in March, AGame Super Shootout also in March, Basketball Spotlight Memorial Classic in May and MIT in June before we head to Nationals. There are a few more but these are the highlights of our schedule.
BS: Who are some of the players we need to lookout for at the NJ Rivals program?
ML: I can honestly say from the first person on our roster to the last person on our roster, I’m confident any one of them can step up to provide a spark that we need at that particular time. There isn’t any one person that I would single out.
BS: Some of your players have been to Basketball Spotlight events such as Future Phenom Camp and Slam Dunk Breast Cancer. Give us some feedback on their experience if you can. ML: They really enjoyed the level of competition at both events. They are used to being the best in this area so it was very eye-opening playing alongside and against very talented kids from other areas. They came back to practice ready to work and get better at their craft so it definitely sparked a fire and they’re looking forward to next years Basketball Spotlight camp and events. I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about our program and we’re looking forward to competing on the Basketball Spotlight Circuit this year!