Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

'Elite' at age 11? This website says so

His sullen stare occupies a feature window on this trendy hoops website. Click on the photo of Marcus Bagley, standing beneath an outdoor rim in his travel-team jersey, and you're directed to a jump shot more menacing than his gaze.

Beneath five paragraphs of plaudits is a three-minute video of Bagley, draining one 3-pointer after another over a hip-hop soundtrack. The short write-up raves about his basketball IQ, his long-range proficiency, his ability to post up in the paint.

His travel team's unbeaten, to boot. Dude seems destined to make money in the game if he can navigate a few foreseeable obstacles such as, say, acne. Bagley, among the prepubescents showcased on a site called middleschoolelite.com, just finished fifth grade.

"I call it exploitation," Berkeley Prep boys basketball coach/athletic director Bobby Reinhart said.

Not so, insists the founder of the 3-year-old site.

"Our mission is to eventually follow other kids in AAU and our camps and give them a chance to be seen sooner rather than later," said Jerry "Jay" Love, whose creation of the site coincided with his son's middle-school career.

"Give them … adequate time to experience trials and tribulations, recover from not-so-good decisions made by parents or players, for it to all add up later on. That time is what they need, instead of just going right into the exposure of high school."

A former hair salon owner from the Bronx, Love was profiled in a February 2012 feature for ESPN The Magazine, in which he was cast as an overzealous dad bent on promoting his son, Jerron, via the Internet.

Jerron Love, now a 17-year-old rising junior, already has played for high schools in Fresno, Calif., and Marietta, Ga.

In that story, Love indicated he created middleschoolelite.com out of frustration that younger players — his son included — weren't getting promoted until high school. "MSE was my vendetta on the nation," he told the magazine.

In a recent, brief interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he said he makes about $100 to $150 a month from the site. Its content includes player profiles, videos, message boards and national age-group rankings down to fourth grade.

Ads promoting bourbon, cell phones and restaurants are featured, but so are adaptive-learning websites for grade-school math and algebra.

"We promote training the right way," Love said. "If they follow the site, they'll see everything is positive. Everyone on the site is a student-athlete. We have the rankings, but we let them know they're a student-athlete first."

Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.

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