In a crowded area like New York where countless ballplayers are fighting for their (potential) college basketball lives, every opportunity for recognition becomes more crucial.
New York Rens 17U AAU coach James Barrett is the founder of the Unsigned Hype Senior Games, which have provided a number of high school basketball players a golden opportunity to showcase themselves before decision time.
The Games just held its fourth annual showing early in April, which was streamed by Backpack Broadcasting and featured some of the best prospects NYC basketball has to offer, such as recent St. Francis commit Gianni Ford of Boys & Girls High School.
“I was in a situation where my options were very limited, so I wanted to organize something for the kids to where they’ll have more options,” Barrett said. “At the time, I was one of the top players in the city but because I didn’t have grades, there wasn’t really an avenue for me to take, or somebody that I really trusted to really go to and help me with my situation.
“By me creating Unsigned Hype, I felt like it would create a platform, a stage for the kids to at least have options,” he added.
Barrett, a former college basketball player at Sam Houston State University, understands the significance of getting that last chance to leave an impression in front of college scouts. Before enrolling at SHSU, Barrett had played at Howard Junior College in Texas, and this was after a stint at a junior college in California.
“I ended up leaving that college (in California) halfway through my second semester and coming back home and getting a job,” Barrett said. “My aunt was charging me rent to live with her because I had a job.
“I’m like ‘man this is too much. I can’t afford to be paying rent at 18 or 19 years old, I need to go back to school,’” he continued. “My cousin helped me out by letting me know about a GED program.”
After getting his GED, Barrett said he had more options, and he ultimately chose to stay in Texas.
“A guy by the name of Gary Sims called me one day, so I came down and there was Howard Junior College,” Barrett remembered. “I worked out for them, got a full scholarship, and I went down to Howard, and I was there for two years before I accepted a scholarship to Sam Houston State.”
While later serving as an assistant at Lincoln High School under legendary head coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, as well as serving as associate athletic director of the Juice All-Stars AAU program, Barrett’s idea, which later became Unsigned Hype, was in its infancy stages.
It was in August of 2012 when Barrett had first informed Tippy McTernan of Big Apple Sports about the Hype.
“I told him I had this idea for an event, and I told him small details, it was more like an idea than a whole event,” Barrett said. “Tippy texted me in January to meet, and it had been so long, I wondered what Tippy wanted to see me about. We sat down at dinner and he asked me ‘remember that event you were talking about? Why don’t you do it?’
“When Tippy came to me and said ‘why don’t you do it,’ I was like let me just do it before this opportunity doesn’t come about again,” he added. “That’s pretty much how it started.”
And since that moment, Unsigned Hype has grown tremendously in the NYC area. Throughout the first three years, over 60 participants are playing in college, five of whom have gone straight to Division-I schools and another 10 that have gone D-I after a stint in junior college.
“More coaches are recognizing it throughout the country,” Barrett said of the Games.” This year there were coaches from California, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, all of these guys were coming out. Not only do they come out for my event, but they come out for Tippy’s event and Nate Blue’s as well. So the whole weekend is like the Big Apple Sports exposure weekend.”
As far as the process for a player to get involved in the Games, it’s an incredibly competitive atmosphere, which one would expect in the city hoops circuit. This year 146 players participated in the Unsigned Hype tryouts, with 40 making the cut to compete at the annual exposure event.
“Throughout the year I go around, Tippy goes around, Adrian Allman and Eric Fogle, all of those guys go around and evaluate the talent throughout the year,” Barrett said. “A couple of weeks before the game we’ll sit down and throw names around and see who would be the best fit out of the top 40.”
To continue the growth of Unsigned Hype, there have been talks of expanding the Games beyond a one-night, two-game showcase with some of the more promising male basketball players on the local circuit.
Barrett has alluded to further discussions that have taken place, which may eventually lead to a female event, like Unsigned Hype with some of the better girls basketball players in NYC.
“It would be Unsigned Hype but it would be a female basketball player edition,” he said. “I have some people in my corner who definitely support the fact that I want to have an event for female athletes as well.”
Other ideas for growing the brand of Unsigned Hype go well beyond the basketball courts. Barrett also outlined the prospect of programs to assist kids with other things that pertain to enrolling into college.
“In the future I see it growing into just something where I could streamline the kids so they would have opportunities,” he said. “Whether it’d be filling out financial aid forms, having someone help them with college applications, or having someone help them with filling out scholarships.
“Not every kid is going to go to school on a full basketball scholarship, but I want to create an avenue for those kids to have the opportunity to go to college and better their lives,” he added.
Barrett has certainly demonstrated how important it is for him personally to remain involved with teenagers and assist them along the way on and off the court.
“I feel like it would be wrong if I didn’t come back and give the kids some of my knowledge and some of my experiences,” he said. “These kids that are playing basketball in the city; these are our leaders of tomorrow. I know that sounds cliché.
“I feel like if we could get as many of them to graduate college and to know about teamwork and to know about discipline and to know about being organized, it’s going to make it a lot of kids better.” he said.
The fourth installment of the Unsigned Hype Senior Games could be viewed on the Backpack Broadcasting website or YouTube channel.
Follow Bryan Fonseca on Twitter at @BryanFonsecaNY.