By: Natalie Greene, student journalist

“My dream?” Nathaniel Greene began, “is to not let myself or my family down. That’s number one. Aside from that, I want to play college ball for either TSU (Texas Southern University) or LSU (Louisiana State University).”

And while Nathaniel knows it would be a blessing to be selected to join any institute that believes in his ability, he described why those are his top two universities of choice.


“My mama doesn’t think I listen to her all the time, but I see the look in her eyes when she talks about how she gave birth to me while she was a freshman at TSU, and how she had me in the daycare on campus there and sometimes had to take me to class with her and many professors were cool with that. I appreciate them for that, and it would be cool to have a full circle moment with them sort of like as a place where it all began. TSU has soul and is home for my family,” he explained. “And my mom’s best friend Rebecca Briscoe is an LSU alumna and I love their team’s heart and basketball program. It’s a very big school and produces multiple NBA talent. The colors, the culture, everything about LSU is really good and it’s definitely another school I wouldn’t mind playing for.”

While his “why” is different from others, Nathaniel, who fell in love with basketball at the age of 7, shares the dream that tens of thousands of African African youths – male and female – have of playing college sports, eventually leading to a professional team.

The latest data on shows, when it comes to basketball, there is a current average of 540,000 high school players nationwide.

Out of those, only 18,000 are estimated to advance to NCAA schools, with only one percent moving to Division I; another one percent making it to Division II, and 1.4 percent landing at a Division III school.

As you can see, it’s already a long shot to even get to play on the college level, with an even longer shot of those moving on to the NBA.

Adding to that, in 2020, something the world wasn’t prepared for came along and seemingly pushed everything further out of reach. COVID-19 / coronavirus introduced itself to the world, and the global pandemic that followed brought everything to a halt.

For Nathaniel, the pandemic brought a series of blows. It was during that time, that his father died.

The impact the virus and the pandemic had on the high school athletic community was detrimental in many aspects for some; not only affecting mental health, but physical progress, playing time and college recruitment opportunities, among other factors.

To adjust, the NCAA expanded the eligibility rules for students playing during the pandemic.

To a novice, the concept may be tough to grasp, but college basketball coaches, recruiters, athletes, and young prospects are finding their footing with navigating new opportunities. Some people feel the changes are a bonus, while some of the others who were anxious to jump in express feeling “left out,” or as if their dreams are slipping away.

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Ben “Ben X” Simmons has a long history with the sport of basketball. He went to Purdue in Indiana, played in semi-pro leagues and has been training athletes and their children for over 31 years. His impressive roster of clients includes Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Horry, Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr and Ray Allen, just to name a few.

Simmons has also worked as a teacher at a Fort Bend County school, where he had the opportunity to work with Nathaniel. Simmons saw, firsthand, how young athletes and their supportive families were struggling to adjust.

“COVID-19 has affected high school students on multiple levels. One of the main things it did, is it prevented access to gyms, gym times, team trainings and practice. For students – on one end – they got more rest – but on the other end – they weren’t as prepared as the kids before them because they lost out on practice and game experience,” Simmons explained.

He further broke down, in layman’s terms, how the NCAA changed the rules due to COVID and what that meant for graduating high school seniors.

“Because of COVID, the NCAA gave everyone an extra year because college students also lost the same things and were unable to compete. Now, when it came to high school players, that extra year bogged down spots on teams. So, if you had a player that was projected to graduate and their spot was projected to be open that you were going to use to recruit a high school player to fill, the spot is no longer available,” Simmons said.


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So, while graduating high school seniors had to “get out” with seemingly nowhere to go, the seniors at colleges and universities still had an extra year to play. That created a “bottleneck” effect with the players coming out of high school, Simmons said.

“Thirdly, not only with there not being spots available because of the extra year, the NCAA had recently opened up what we call the ‘transfer portal’ where players that are unhappy with their current situation or institution are now able to transfer to another institution without penalty, meaning they don’t have to sit out a year, when previously, they had to,” Simmons explained. “So, if I am a university in need of a dynamic player, instead of going to get a high school senior, I am able to get a fifth-year college senior. It’s all about winning at that level so I am going to go with the most experienced that is going to help me keep my job and help us win more.”

So where is the ‘sweet spot’ between the rock and the hard place to squeeze in the high schoolers?

Enter the college preparatory schools.

“Because of those issues that I mentioned, it opened up a lot for prep schools, which is like giving young athletes an extra year after high school who have graduated and are not particularly ready for college,” Simmons explained. “These prep schools should be filled right now because they, in essence, are filling a void that was left because of the setbacks caused by COVID-19, the transfer portal, the extra year and the kids not being prepared.”

Simmons suggested this option to Nathaniel’s mother, who then enrolled him in Strength N Motion International, founded by San Antonio Spurs legend George “Iceman” Gervin.

At SNM and other facilities like it, students are provided the opportunity to get elite training from specialists, who are primarily former professional athletes, in addition to touring and playing against college players at universities and junior colleges. On average, the SNM students travel on the road at least a dozen times a month, playing different teams.

“We started with doing camps in the summer and they became a success, so we wanted a way to make the experience longer and to be able to make a bigger impact on the players. So we started the prep six years ago and it gave us more time to improve our athletes and to prepare them for the next level,” said George Gervin Jr.

While many are flocking to these programs, it is cautioned that they are not cheap, but considered well worth the investment.

Mark Reed, head coach at SNM, played professionally and coached in Europe. He has been with the academy for seven years and says they have proudly secured more than $2 million in scholarships for their graduates.

“It has a lot to do with the individual. We have all the resources to elevate their playing level but it comes down to how much they are willing to put in, and what are they willing to sacrifice,” Reed said.

SNM is located in San Antonio, Texas, but there are more out there.

In Houston, PSAT Academy provides advanced training and college prep for high schoolers needing more development.

“The biggest pull that placed me on this journey to help young men and women was the hand of GOD. GOD spoke to me through my two oldest sons, who asked me to pull all of my resources and contacts together and start a school,” said Dr. Andrew C. Green, founder of PSAT Academy. “The chance to help young people with their GOD-given passion for academics and athletics is worth all the sacrifices I have and will continue to make.”

Bayou Beat News asked Coach Simmons a few more questions we believe parents, guardians and those considering attending prep schools want to know.

Question: When do you think things are going to start to normalize again?

Simmons: “I would say, this is the “new normal.” I don’t think things are ever going to go back to the way they were. I think that, with the portal being opened, it’s like salt in food, you can’t take it out now. We’ve created a new normal and we are adapting to this generation and a generation that really, mentally, is more in tune with their health than maybe some of the older generations. I think we are just going to have to adapt like we’ve had to other technological changes in society now. The homeostasis will happen and it will balance out and it will be what it is.” 

Question: Because the high schoolers are now taking an extra year or two to go to prep schools, they will now be 20 years old when entering college rather than 18. Is that OK?

Simmons: “Absolutely, if that is their path. Every student athlete has their own path to take. Most people don’t graduate in four years anyway, not student athletes, statistically, so the upside is they will be more prepared mentally and mature to handle their classes. It’s kind of like “survival of the fittest.” Those who are prepared are going to make it and those who have to take a different path, will walk their own journey. 

“Things are balancing out on their own.

“The number one message that I would tell players is, ‘success is when preparation meets opportunity.’ So, everybody’s world is what it is, COVID or not, you have to prepare so when your opportunity comes, you’re ready. So I say fight for what you want, practice, get in the gym, work on your education and anything is possible. Anything.”

For more information, contact professionals in the links below:

Ben Simmons


Instagram: @ben_exclusive

Strength N Motion International


Instagram: @strengthnmotion_intl

PSAT Academy


Instagram: @psatacademy