OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- When the Drive 5 Power Elite team steps onto the court, they're one of the best junior basketball teams in the nation.
That's quite an accomplishment for a group of players who aren't even in high school yet.
"There`s a lot of talent here that most people don`t know about because we live in Kansas. People think it`s just grass and fields, but we can hoop, too," said Mark Mitchell Jr., a 6-foot-6 small forward.
"When you watch them play, sometimes you forget how old they are. But when you`re around them in the hotels, in the bus rides and in the vans, they act like 14-year-old kids. It`s fun to see that side of it, and they are really, really good friends on and off the court and always will be for the rest of their lives," head coach Allen Skeens said.
The team is made up of some of the best ballers in the metro, including Mitchell Jr. and Taj Manning who are projected to be some of the most-coveted recruits in their class.
"I`ve known since I was young what I really wanted to do, and I`ve loved basketball since I was younger, so this just helps me to the next level on a bigger platform," Mitchell Jr. said.
The team earned their way into the upcoming Junior NBA World Championships in Orlando, Florida. They will represent the central region in the tournament, giving them a chance to not only become the tournament's first champions but also to show off their skills for some of the nation's top colleges.
"For this group to have the opportunity to do something that`s never been done before, I`m proud of them and happy for them. But it always comes down to, bottom line, is always about relationships. This is an experience, and the NBA is providing them a platform to have an opportunity globally to influence their hometown, this region, our Drive 5 family, their own families, and to just go down there and meet people of different cultures. Basketball is just a bonus," Skeens said.
The Drive 5 Power Elite have a history of great players, including Michael Porter Jr., who was drafted in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, and Mitchell Ballock, who plays at Creighton. It's also allowing young players to prepare for the challenges that playing high school, and hopefully college, basketball will present them.
"This helps me get exposure. Last weekend we had Bill Self at our game, and just being in front of all these college coaches and having a coach that has connections with different coaches and programs, it just helps me get out there even more," said Quinton Conley, the team's 6-foot-3 guard.
But bigger than the game is the memories these kids will carry with them for years to come.
"I think relationships mean a lot. We`ll be brothers for life because we played for Powergroup and that will take us a long way in life," Mitchell Jr. said.
The tournament begins on Aug. 7 and includes teams from eight regions in the United States and eight countries.
Here's the full team roster:
- Jordan Brown, Lansing, Kan.
- Quinton Conley, Kansas City, Mo.
- Gradey Dick, Wichita, Kan.
- Adrian Dimond, Shawnee, Kan.
- Mozae Downing-Rivers, Lawrence, Kan.
- Cooper Jackson, Overland Park, Kan.
- Taj Manning, Grandview, Mo.
- Mark Mitchell Jr., Lansing Kan.
- Aidan Shaw, Overland Park, Kan.
- Damar'e Smith, Shawnee, Kan.