SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. – The ball is always on the court for Windward's power forward, Kijani Wright.
As one of the country’s top underclassmen, basketball isn't just a sport he plays during the high school season, it’s every day, all year.
“Basketball is a grind and it never really stops," he explained. "After high school, it’s straight to AAU."
For many high school players, the summer season is a critical time. From the start of May, through July, these athletes play for club teams. In Wright’s case, Compton Magic.
Etop Udo-Ema, who founded the AAU team almost 30 years ago, says playing in the summer is all about exposure — a chance to give yourself an edge in college and even beyond.
“Now, you’re trying to edge and position yourself for the draft," he said. "Let alone for that scholarship, but for some of these kids ranked really high like him, you’re playing for draft status.”
But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic those opportunities have all but slipped away, with virtually every showcase suspended or canceled.
While Wright, as one of the top-ranked players in his class, is already on many college's radar, many other players are missing out on an essential time.
“It’s crucial because you have all these kids who haven’t had a chance to play in front of coaches, so if you’re not the big-name players that they know and have been watching all throughout high school, you really have no way to market yourself," Udo-Ema explained.
“Everybody is focused on the kids that have the big names in our programs," continued Jonathan "Spoon" Chaney, the COO of Compton Magic. "But I’m worried about the kids that need to get to college, that are just right there, about to make their step.”
That worry is why Compton Magic focuses on creating opportunities for all of it's players, whether that means holding showcases, workouts, or other events.
“From the hard work that my brother [Etop] does behind the scenes to make sure we’re on the right courts, that the right people are there to see us," Chaney said. "We do a lot of stuff behind the scenes."
"It’s not about putting kids in the league, I’m more about getting kids educated.”
But on the court, he's also focused on instilling drive and motivation in his players. For Wright, that means spending the summer finding ways to work out and compete against some of basketball's best.
And his place on an AAU team like Compton Magic has helped propel him forward.
“Once you’re with them it’s a whole different game plan and approach," he said. "I was put on a platform, the highest stage, playing against elite players.”
While this summer season may have been pretty silent when it comes to basketball showcases, Wright and his coaches know the importance of continuing to make noise on the court.
“Anything you can do to set yourself apart, you gotta do what you can because the stakes are going to be higher,” Udo-Ema said.
“It’s just like doing homework you have to dig in and know your craft, really work, really study," Chaney echoed.
These players put in the work now in the hopes that they'll be back on the court as a team in the near future.