Led by super sophomore duo, University School (Davie, Fla.) ready to burst onto national scene

Led by super sophomore duo, University School (Davie, Fla.) ready to burst onto national scene

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Led by super sophomore duo, University School (Davie, Fla.) ready to burst onto national scene

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From left: Carey, Sosa, and Koprivica (Photo: Walter Villa)

University School in Florida is hoping to become the next national hoops power. (Photo: Walter Villa)

DAVIE, Fla. – At 7-foot-1, 240 pounds and with a funky haircut that is pompadour on top and striped fade on the sides, Balsa Koprivica is sort of Kristaps Porzingis meets Vanilla Ice.

At 6-10, 245 pounds, Vernon Carey Jr., the son a former NFL offensive tackle, wants no part of football and prefers shooting jumpers to banging helmets.

And at 5-11 and maybe 150 pounds, Adrian Sosa is the third key member of the basketball team at University School (Davie, Fla.).

When Sosa walked into a recent Sharks practice wearing a gray Emory University T-shirt, the uninitiated might have concluded that he’s a senior point guard or perhaps a graduate assistant.

Instead, Sosa, 30, is the youthful fifth-year head coach who finds himself at the helm of what could be an emerging national power.

“When I went to urgent care (recently),” said Sosa, who was dealing with a minor flu bug, “the lady at the counter said, “Do you need a doctor’s note for school?’ “

With the talent he has on his campus, you can bet college coaches know about Sosa, who on December 8 will take his team to the Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat. University will play South Miami in the marquee game at 8:40 p.m.

RELATED: Hoophall Miami Invitational loaded with elite talent

There’s a reason why the Sharks are getting top billing.

This past summer, Sosa coached Koprivica, Carey and several other University players to a 15-under AAU national championship, beating an elite field of about 40 other Nike-sponsored teams at the Peach Jam tournament in Georgia.

Two weeks later, that same squad – which is called Nike Team Florida – “played up” against older kids and won another major title, this time beating a 16-under AAU field in Las Vegas.

The Sharks, who first made the state playoffs in 1977, have never advanced past the regional finals and did not even get out of districts last season. But their time may be coming.

LEGITIMATE TALENTS

Koprivica and Carey are game-changers.

Koprivica, 16, averaged 16 points, 9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for University last season. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and is ranked the nation’s No. 1 sophomore by 247Sports.

Carey, 15, averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan and is the No. 4 sophomore, according to 247Sports.

Sosa said he tries to keep at least one of his big men on the court at all times.

“They’re both very skilled and very agile for their size and their youth,” Sosa said. “Vernon does tend to drift to the perimeter some, but that’s because he knows he has Balsa down low.

“Vernon has become a knock-down shooter for us. He may be the best shooter on our team. He has been a (better) player since after the Christmas break last year. And both of them have been more attentive since last summer (when they started winning national titles).”

Some of the colleges that have made offers to both players include Southern Cal, Louisville, Florida, Miami and Baylor.

Eric Bossi, the national basketball analyst for rivals.com, said it’s tough to say if Carey or Koprivica is the better talent.

“That’s the debate in the Miami area, and it reaches nationally,” Bossi said. “I wouldn’t blame anyone who backed either player. We have Balsa rated a little higher because he’s a 7-footer who can protect the rim and also face it with skill.

“It’s remarkable to see two kids this talented on the same high school team without either player being a high school transfer. What also sets them apart is their feel for the game at their ages.”

One college assistant coach, who spoke off the record, said both players have NBA potential.

“Vernon has the best ceiling because he’s really athletic, is a better shot-blocker and rebounder out of his area,” the coach said. “But Balsa is ahead of him offensively because he’s very skilled and can shoot and pass so well.

”I could see Duke and Kentucky getting involved with both of them.”

For now, Carey and Koprivica are just having fun playing basketball and hanging out with their teammates.

Recently, the team went to ride go-karts … except for Koprivica and Carey, who were too big to fit inside.

CAREY: STRONG BUT SILENT

Carey’s father played his entire career in Miami, from Northwestern High School to the Hurricanes for college and the Dolphins in an NFL career that spanned from 2004 to 2011. Listed at 6-5, 340 pounds, he was a first-round pick in ’04. He won a state championship in high school and a national title at UM.

Now 35, Carey rarely misses one of his son’s games. But Carey Jr. wanted no part of following his father’s career path.

“I don’t do football,” he said. “It’s too physical.”

Vernon Carey Jr. will lead University School at the Hoophall Miami Invitational. (Photo by Jon Lopez)

Vernon Carey Jr. will lead University School at the Hoophall Miami Invitational. (Photo: Jon Lopez)

Told that basketball can be physical, too, Carey responded:

“Yeah, but it’s not hitting.”

That, by the way, is as long a conversation as anyone can hope to have with Carey.

“Vernon is not the talkative type,” said teammate Michael Moore, the team’s senior point guard. “He’s probably the quietest guy on the team.”

LEAVING SERBIA BEHIND

That’s not the case with Koprivica, a native of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. He will talk about almost anything, even the creative haircut he got last week.

“I got it randomly,” he said. “I tried something new. I told my barber, and he got me right.”

Koprivica comes from a basketball family.

His father, a 6-9 former pro basketball player, is back in Serbia. He and Balsa’s mother divorced, and she and her son moved to south Florida when Koprivica was in the sixth grade.

“It was very hard living,” Koprivica said when asked about Serbia. “People weren’t getting paid. There were no jobs. We were living paycheck to paycheck. The average salary is only $350 per month.”

Koprivica has a much better lifestyle in Davie, where he first met Carey. At the time, they played against each other on the AAU circuit – not that Koprivica was impressed.

“I was eight inches taller than him in sixth grade,” Koprivica said. “He didn’t hit his growth spurt until the eighth grade. Then he grew, three, four, five inches. He went from 6-3 to 6-8, and now he’s 6-10.”

Koprivica said doctors have told him that his own growth spurts are a thing of the past – he’s 7-1 for life.

His game, though, can continue to grow and has done so since he joined Carey as University varsity starters in the eighth grade.

Koprivica, who calls his father and grandparents every week, is expecting a big season for University, based on what happened in AAU ball.

“(The AAU championships were) great experiences because we didn’t really win anything in eighth or ninth grade,” Koprivica said. “We were playing down to our (opponents), not playing (up) to our potential.”

Next up for Koprivica is to continue to develop his three-point shot so he can be more like Porzingis.

“I don’t shoot as many threes as him, but I’ve been working on it lately,” Koprivica said. “This season our games should be pretty alike.”

THE YOUTHFUL COACH

Adrian Sosa (Photo: Walter Villa)

Sosa was hired as the head coach at age 25, despite having no prior experience at the high school level.

He had played point guard at Division III Emory University in Atlanta. And when a job came open for math teacher and basketball coach at University, he applied to both.

Now he is – or soon will be – holding court with some of the biggest names in college basketball, from Louisville’s Rick Pitino to Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

Born in Germany as the son of an American military man, Sosa moved around quite a bit in his youth but has seemingly found a home at University.

Besides the new gym, warm weather and star players, Sosa also has the advantage of being on the same campus as Nova Southeastern University, an NCAA Division II program.

“We went to their season opener,” Sosa said of NSU, “and they come to some of our games. It’s good for our kids to see how older guys work out.”

With seven sophomores and just one senior on his 14-player roster, Sosa has a team with an arrow pointing straight up.

“Our expectations are high,” Sosa said. “I say it all the time walking around campus: We’re in a beautiful place.”

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