Commentary

At work on the court

Updated: June 26, 2009, 11:23 AM ET
By Dylan Kitts | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Editor's note: ESPNHS is ESPNRISE.com's high school journalism program.

According to ESPNU's rankings, he is only the 80th-best small forward in the country.

Yet J.J. Moore isn't discouraged -- not at all. Summer means only one thing to Moore: basketball.

"I'm a basketball 24/7 guy," he said. "If it's street ball, going in the gym, workouts, anything, I don't care. I love it. I've done this every year."

An obscure 6-foot-6 senior swingman from Brentwood (N.Y.) High School, Moore is spending his summer playing as much ball as he can. When not playing with his AAU team, the New York Panthers, Moore plays street ball with his friends, works on drills in the gym or shoots 500 jump shots each day at a neighborhood park.

"I wouldn't change anything at all," Moore said about his summer schedule. "There's nothing else I'd want to do than play basketball."

This is the norm for ambitious basketball players during the summer. Players spend countless hours on the court practicing and playing pickup games. And there are a lot of opportunities for players to showcase their talents at AAU tournaments across the country.

Basketball leaves no time for some of the typical things teenagers do, such as having a summer job.

Michael Gilchrist
Andrew ShurtleffAAU players like Michael Gilchrist spend their summers traveling to tournaments and camps.

Then again, they really don't seem to mind.

"I love this game so much," said Michael Gilchrist of St. Patrick High School (Elizabeth, N.J.), ESPNU's No. 1-rated prospect in the Class of 2011. "I don't really think about summer jobs or anything like that. All I want to do is play."

His teammate said the same thing. "I just stay in the gym, all the time," said Kyrie Irving of St. Patrick, the No. 9 prospect in the Class of 2010. "This is the time when you grow as a person and a player."

For players like Moore, this also is the time to burst out onto the national scene.

"Summer ball was made for players like J.J.," says Ted Thomas, managing editor of LongIslandBasketball.com. "The one-on-one style of play enables him to fully display his considerable talents and skill set."

"In high school, there's not much competition. They are much shorter and not as skilled," Moore said. "This summer is going to be very important for me because then I can be out there. I can get my name out there and get to pick what college is right for me."

Moore joined the Panthers this summer because of the team's prestigious reputation and its national schedule, which features tournaments in California and Las Vegas.

The summer started for Moore with a strong showing at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in Virginia, where he made the all-tournament team. His performance impressed the scouts, and he soon received offers from Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers and St. John's.

Moore plans on visiting Connecticut, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence and Rutgers before August.

"It's special being able to play basketball so much and getting these offers," Moore said.

While Moore seeks to continue what looks to be his breakout summer, Irving hopes to build on the foundation he established last summer.

[+] EnlargeKyrie Irving
Andrew Shurtleff for ESPN.comKyrie Irving chose Duke over Kentucky and Georgia Tech, among others.

In 2008, Irving was considered a mid-major prospect. After a standout performance at the Bob Gibbons Tournament playing for the under-16 New Jersey Road Runners, scouts began to pay attention. Irving led all age groups in scoring and 3-pointers, averaging 33.4 points per game and hitting 16 3-pointers during the tournament.

Then in July, scouts were even more impressed when the guard was named the most outstanding prospect of the Hoop Group Elite Camp.

"I set goals and had a mission that I tried to accomplish at the best of my ability," Irving said. "My goal was to get known and get schools to call me. I wanted to have the opportunity to pick whatever school I want to go to."

Before the start of his junior season, Irving received offers from many schools, including Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Memphis, Villanova and West Virginia. He is now regarded as a top-10 player in the 2010 class.

"This is the time when you separate yourself," Irving said of summer ball.

Judging by his work ethic, Irving's rise to fame shouldn't come as a surprise.

Starting in the summer after his freshman year, the 6-2 guard has spent five hours every day in a gym with his AAU coach, Sandy Pyonin. For the first hour and a half, he practices drills that focus on shooting and fundamentals. After a short break, he scrimmages with other gym rats in a highly scrutinized game, which Pyonin uses to teach the nuances of the game. Irving estimates that he gets in more than a 1,000 shots a day in all.

"[His work ethic is] as good as anybody I've ever had," Pyonin said. "He looks to play, he loves the drills. Drills are just as important as playing the games to him as well as me. … He can be a great college player with a chance to play in the NBA if he continues to work hard."

Summer is a time when basketball players are able to spend countless hours on the court practicing drills and playing games. And although some high school students spend their time off from school working at a summer job, basketball players such as Moore and Irving are working to improve their games.

Dylan Kitts just graduated at Xavier High School in Manhattan.
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