WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — High school basketball programs are eager to get back in the game after the pandemic placed the sport in time-out.
As the new school year gets underway, several coaches are encouraging their students to focus on their success in the classroom in addition to the basketball court to maximize their college options.
Some coaches are voicing concerns about potential setbacks due to limited visits from college recruiters.
However, Cassandra Rahming is staying optimistic and comforted knowing her team is spending their extra time to focus on academics.
“We just have to take it as it is and push the kids to do better all-around,” said Rahming, the head coach of the girl's basketball team at Palm Beach Lakes High School.
Rahming is celebrating her 23rd year as the school’s coach calling it her "Jordan" year in reference basketball star Michael Jordan.
“I keep coming back to help the girls continue to meet their goals and their journey moving forward whether it’s in basketball or just in life in general,” said Rahming.
Zaida Gonzalez is a senior at Palm Beach Lakes High School and started the new school year with scholarships to Florida International University and a college in South Carolina.
“Things are really, really different,” said Gonzalez about the pandemic. “However, I feel like getting two offers and keeping my academics up has been a motivator for me to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Zaida Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said her family also encourages her to stay focused on school.
She thanks her mom for a helpful reminder to keep all over her skills as sharp as possible.
“My mom always says, ‘the ball is going to stop bouncing one day, so you have to be on top of your academics.'"
However, Coach Brandon Arnette says the opportunities for college basketball scholarships are already limited compared to sports like football.
Arnette is a teacher at Jupiter Middle School and coach for the boy's basketball team at The Benjamin School.
He is also the founder of a rigorous basketball program called Ball4Lyfe.
“Ball4Lyfe stands for ‘Basketball, Academics, Leadership, Life Skills for Laying Youth Foundations Effectively,'" said Brandon Arnette.
For nearly eight years Arnette has trained and mentored student-athletes to become successful basketball players in college.
“Over the last six to seven years, we’ve put more than 20 guys in college,” said Arnette.
Arnette helped lead the Bucs to the Class 2A boys basketball state championship in 2001. He continues to instill the lessons from his high school experience to help shape the students to keep their sights on getting into college.
However, a scholarship can be the deciding factor in determining whether a student can actually attend.
“Unfortunately, many of the kids in our area may not be able to go to college if they don’t have any financial aid or scholarship opportunities,” said Arnette. “With college tuition ranging between $30,000 to $50,000 per year, it’s hard for parents to stomach that, especially in today’s times.”
The extra time spent on the court over several years helps fine-tune their athletic ability and maximize their college options upon graduating high school.
Kyle McNeal is currently in the Ball4Lyfe program and already making an impression on Palm Beach County’s basketball scene as a sophomore at Dwyer High School.
“Coach B came along and I just started playing since then,” McNeal said. “My favorite is when we go out of state and we play good competition.”
Arnette said he is looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for McNeal.
McNeal also voiced his dedication to the sport and that he’s willing to put in the extra time and work to ensure his success.
“I think it gets me better and gets my thinking level better too,” said McNeal.
Ball4Lyfe is based in Palm Beach County, however, students from surrounding counties are encouraged to participate.
For more information about the Ball4Lyfe program, click here.