Once again, a shakeup is going on among prep basketball academies in the Valley.
One team has left the sate, another is starting up, and the coach of McDonald’s All-American DeAndre Ayton was terminated.
Kyle Weaver, who was the head coach at Nike-sponsored Phoenix Hillcrest Prep’s national high school team that went 33-6 and finished ranked eighth in the country by MaxPreps, was let go, according to his brother Nick, who is co-founder and recruiting coordinator of Hillcrest.
Kyle Weaver was the head coach for the first two years of the national high school basketball program. Nick said that his brother is being replaced by Howard Thomas Jr., who has an extensive AAU resume from back East.
“There are many reasons that we do not wish to discuss,” Nick Weaver said in a text message about his brother. “But he was terminated officially.”
Kyle Weaver will lead the new Bella Vista College Prep men’s basketball national high school team that replaces Aspire, which has relocated to Louisville after one year in Scottsdale.
FROM JUNE 2016: Aspire seeks place at prep academy table
Don Brown, co-founder and athletic director at Bella Vista College Prep, which gave Aspire the academics part and a gym to start its prep academy last year, said that Kyle Weaver reached out to him.
“I got a call from Kyle,” Brown said. “We’re both on the same page academically. I don’t think there is any question he knows basketball.”
Kyle Weaver is working on his roster and schedule and says he already has one Grind Session lined up. He said he hopes to schedule Hillcrest and Nevada-powerhouse Findlay Prep.
“Hillcrest was great for me,” said Kyle Weaver, who didn’t say why he was no longer at Hillcrest. “I did things wrong. I did things right. You learn from your experiences. I learned a lot. It opened my eyes.”
Brown said that he also is trying to start a women’s national high school prep team. He said he has yet to find a coach for the women’s team.
Brown said that he is accepting players from in-state, out-of-state and out-of-the-country with an emphasis on academics. He said that juniors and seniors with grade-point averages of 3.25 and above will be eligible for free college credit courses through Grand Canyon University.
“If someone wants to come to my school and they’re a great basketball player, he or she has to be a great student,” Brown said. “They’ve got to earn the grades. For a person to fit into our culture, they have to want good academics.”
Brown said there are about 50 total high school students at Bella Vista College Prep.
He said the cost for the national high school players will be about $21,000 a year, which includes tuition and housing. He said that the players will stay with host families, ideally one per family. The host families generally would have children the same age as the players. They don’t necessarily have to attend the same school. Brown said those families carefully undergo background checks and finger printing.
Brown said that a couple of players who were with Aspire last season have expressed interest to stay and be a part of Weaver’s team.
Aspire had team houses last season when former Louisville men’s basketball team manager Jeremy Kipness ran the team. Kipness got the financial help from his father.
At Bella, there won’t be any sponsors. Nike did provide help for Hillcrest to travel to big national showcases, such as the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
“I decided I wanted to have my own school, not an outside-of-school prep program,” said Brown, whose Bella Vista College Prep still will have varsity basketball teams for boys and girls that will compete in the Canyon Athletic Association. The CAA is a league for charter schools and is not affiliated with the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
“I want to control all of the facets,” Brown said. “It was an exciting year of basketball with Aspire. But for us as a school, we didn’t want to continue. They thought it would be a better situation for them at Louisville.
“We decided at the midpoint of the year, we didn’t want to continue. It’s a school thing. We’r’e primary academics. We’re looking for scholar-athletes. It’s great to want to pursue the basketball dream. But the higher up the ladder, the smaller the eye of the needle.”
Weaver said he was attracted to the aspect that he would be able to concentrate on the basketball side, while the school took care of the academic part. He said all the players will be in classroom setting with workouts around the classes.
“We’re not trying to go big time like Hillcrest,” Kyle Weaver said. “I know it’s going to be a mountain we’re going to climb. We’re just trying to land kids and emphasize development. We don’t have to worry about the NCAA coming down on Bella Vista. I have to deal with the basketball side. It’s going to be a great education. I hope it will be phenomenal basketball.”
Meanwhile, Nick Weaver believes he has one of the top rosters in the nation, even after having Ayton move on to the University of Arizona after emerging as an All-American.
His roster includes 6-6, 2020 wing Kyree Walker, who was named MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year at Hayward (Calif.) Moreau Catholic. Ron Artest’s son, Hero Artest, a 2019 prospect, also is on the Hillcrest roster, Nick Weaver said. Nick Weaver said that 2019 players Josh Green and Markese Jacobs joins 2019 guard Josh Green. K.J. Hymes, who played his first three years at Phoenix St. Mary’s, also is with Hillcrest.