October 31, 2012

Russell focused on school first, hoops second

Nestled in the suburbs of Orlando is one of Florida's top college preparatory schools, Montverde Academy. In addition to being a rigorous school academically, Montverde is known as one of the top high school basketball programs in the entire country.

It might sound like a great situation for an aspiring college basketball student-athlete, but Montverde is one of the toughest places in America to play. Success doesn't come easy in Central Florida, but that's why the ones who are willing to buy into the principles of the program make it. Over 40 players have left Montverde and gone on to the division one college ranks, and this year's roster isn't too shabby either with three five-star players, as well as one four-star prospect, on the team.

One of those five-star prospects is 2014 combo guard D'angelo Russell.
The 6-foot-3 Louisville native is beginning his second season at the school, under the guidance of former New Jersey high school basketball coaching legend Kevin Boyle, who is notorious for being one of the most demanding coaches in the country.

With his junior season approaching in just a few short weeks, Russell has a laser like focus right now on two things, academics and basketball.

Russell's father, Antonio, caught up with Cats Illustrated to share some insight into his son's development.

"The great thing about Montverde is the expectations for excellence," said Russell.

"Coach Kevin Boyle has some of the highest expectations around, and D'angelo has expectations of himself, so it really pushes him.

"D'angelo loves it at Montverde, it's a college preparatory school so it really prepares him on and off the court for the next level. He's just a kid so he gets homesick from time to time, but overall he it's been a great experience so far."

The intense structure of Montverde is what helps maintain Russell's focus. Players awaken in the early hours of the morning, go to practice, then school, study hall, evening practice, and more studying. By the time their day is complete they want nothing more than to catch a few hours of sleep.

Lapses in discipline are not tolerated. If an adult catches a student with a cell phone out in the academic area of campus that student might not get that phone back for over a week.

"The structure of the school is definitely beneficial," Russell said. "The school year has been really busy for D'angelo so far. He's working on his grades and preparing for the SAT. On the court he's trying to get bigger and stronger first and foremost."

When talent, coaching, discipline and academic success all merge together the product on the court usually turns out to be a good one. During Boyle's first season Russell was a rotational piece on a very good team. However, this season the five-star junior guard is counting on being a key piece on a great team, one that potentially could be ranked in the top three in the country; along with Huntington Prep (W.V.) and Oak Hill Academy (Va.).

"Last year he didn't get a ton of time every game, so this year he wants to own the floor," said Russell. "D'angelo just wants to get better every day and keep putting his work in. The goal this year is to get to the National Championships' and win it."

With the talent that lives on campus at Montverde there is never a shortage of college coaches eager to stop by and evaluate some of Florida's top young prospects.

The short list of who has stopped by to visit Russell this fall includes North Carolina, Ohio State, Memphis, North Carolina State, Missouri, and Florida.

But the family is in absolutely no hurry to make a decision yet.

"His recruitment is wide open. We're trying to get through high school and make sure his grades continue to improve," Russell said. "During this summer we'll probably start to build a list. Right now our focus is grades then high school basketball. He's taking in the recruiting process one day at a time."

One of the big issues in Russell's recruitment will be the position that each particular school recruits him to play. Some scouts believe that at 6-foot-3 Russell is a big point guard with versatility, while others call him a shooting guard who can make plays with the ball in his hands.

Playing alongside some of the nation's finest point guards in both high school and summer ball, Russell has started to get used to playing off the ball. But according to his father, Russell has a desire to run a team at the next level.

"I actually believe that he's best at the point guard, but he's been playing shooting guard the last couple years. I'd like to see him play at a college where he has the ball in his hands a lot, preferably even at the point."

When it comes to the Kentucky Wildcats, Russell seems to be third on the list of point guards that coach John Calipari is recruiting. Coach Calipari has been much more active this fall in recruiting Dallas area point man Emmanuel Mudiay as well as suburban Minneapolis floor general Tyus Jones, the nation's two highest ranked point guards in the 2014 class.

But the geography, tradition, and opportunities that Kentucky has to offer still intrigues Russell enough to keep a close eye on the Wildcats and their recruitment of his son.

"Kentucky was very interested in D'angelo over the summer, towards the end of AAU. Since the school year started we haven't heard as much from them but we're really interested."

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