ROCKINGHAM — After capturing the state championship in May, the Richmond Prep 17U boys basketball squad punched its ticket to the AAU 11th Grade Division II national championships.
There was only one problem.
Team officials weren’t sure if it would be able to go.
“We waited until about the last minute,” coach Michael Patterson said.
The decision to make the trip to Tavares, Florida was made two days before the June 17th deadline.
Officials were hesitant to pull the trigger on sending the team because of the lack of finances. Patterson said the group needed to raise nearly $2,500 to make the trip.
“We sent out a letter to businesses and we’re almost there,” Patterson said. “We didn’t do any fund-raising like a car wash or anything like that.”
Despite nearly achieving its financial goal, Patterson added the team still needs gift cards to purchase gas and food while traveling as well as in Florida.
“If someone sends a grocery card, I will be buying whatever we need,” he said. “We will take whatever someone can send us.”
With the decision to go ahead to take the trip south, Richmond Prep will be making its initial appearance in the national tournament scheduled for July 8 to 13.
Assistant coach Donald “Bootsie” Pettigrew said when the team was first formed several years ago, it was a struggle.
“The guys have been together since sixth grade,” Pettigrew said. “When we first started playing, we couldn’t win a tournament. We couldn’t even win a game.”
Now the squad will be playing for a national championship.
Three members — Octavius Patterson, Tre Pettigrew and T.J. Watkins — were on the Richmond Senior varsity team last winter that finished second in the Southeastern Conference. The rest of the squad consists of: Jaylan Terry, Quinten Stroman, Jajuan Graham, Brandon Walker, Stormy Flinchum, Brandon Terry and Naquan Ingram.
After playing on the Division I level last summer, team officials elected to drop down to Division II this year. The higher level features the big-name, high-profile all-star squads that are pieced together with top-ranked high school players.
“We think we can complete on the D-II level because we are all from the same high school,” Patterson said. “The D-I teams they get players from everywhere. They recruit better.”
Patterson added that just because Richmond Prep isn’t playing on the highest level doesn’t mean it shies away from battling the big boys. In fact, they did so this spring.
“We played in a showcase in Charlotte in April with some D-I teams and finished fifth,” Patterson said. “It was a good showcase in front of a lot of college scouts and coaches.”
That is the one thing Pettigrew wanted to stress that the team was created to get the players noticed so they can take the next step and play in college.
“We have played in something like 18 to 20 games this year,” Pettigrew said. “We are playing to get the guys exposure.
“We have had help from a lot of people and we want to thank them. Going to these tournaments cost $400, $500. We want to thank them for their help.”
Contributions to help pay for the team’s trip to Florida can be sent to P.O. Box 2043, Rockingham, NC 28380 or by contacting Patterson at 910-334-1441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.