Elliot Cadeau was born in Brooklyn, however he doesn’t have any recollections of residing in the borough. When he was 3 months previous, his mother and father packed up their possessions, strapped him into his automobile seat and decamped to New Jersey.
Growing up in West Orange, Cadeau grew to become a Jets fan. His mom, who’s from Sweden, and his father, who’s from Haiti, had a tough time understanding the recognition of American skilled soccer, however they indulged their son’s obsession — to a degree. He was allowed to color his room in the Jets’ colours of inexperienced and white, however he wasn’t allowed to play the sport. His mom thought it could be too harmful. Instead, she advised that her 7-year-old son check out for a basketball crew.
Ten years later, Cadeau is a star at Bergen Catholic High School and a top-10 recruit in the class of 2024. And he’s half of an elite group of New Jersey highschool basketball gamers who could also be amongst the greatest contingent of expertise the state has ever produced.
In addition to Cadeau — the No. 7 participant in the nation, in response to the composite rankings of the recruiting web site 247 Sports — the sophomore class contains: No. 1 Naasir Cunningham (Overtime Elite), No. 33 Dylan Harper (Don Bosco Prep) and No. 42 Tahaad Pettiford (Hudson Catholic). And the juniors a 12 months forward of Cadeau & Co. embody: No. 1 Dajuan Wagner Jr., who goes by DJ (Camden High School), No. 3 Mackenzie Mgbako (Gill St. Bernard’s), No. 12 Simeon Wilcher (Roselle Catholic), No. 20 Aaron Bradshaw (Camden) and No. 48 Akil Watson (Roselle Catholic).
“It’s been a great time to grow up playing basketball in New Jersey,” Cadeau mentioned. “The competition and friendship among elite players here is unlike anywhere else. I don’t feel like there’s another state right now that can compete with New Jersey in terms of basketball talent.”
Although New Jersey was residence to some of the recreation’s all-time greats — together with Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry — traditionally it has struggled to flee New York’s basketball shadow. In the N.B.A.’s 76 years, 419 gamers have hailed from New York, in comparison with simply 146 from New Jersey, in response to Basketball Reference. And on the rosters for the 2021-22 season, the disparity was simply as sharp: There have been 33 New Yorkers in comparison with simply 12 New Jerseyites. But in the lessons of 2023 and 2024, New Jersey has 10 top-50 recruits in comparison with simply two from New York.
“I don’t want to disrespect anybody,” mentioned Billy Armstrong, who graduated from Bergen Catholic in 1994 and now coaches Cadeau. “But when I played here, the talent wasn’t nearly at the level it is now, that’s for sure. This is my 11th year as varsity coach, and I can say that in the last four or five years, the talent has really taken off. There’s this pride here when New Jersey is in the conversation as the best basketball state in the entire country.”
Armstrong additionally performed collegiate basketball at Davidson and professionally abroad. He pointed to the tenacity and toughness it takes to dwell in main metropolitan areas in the Northeast as half of the cause a lot expertise has emerged in his residence state. He additionally thinks there’s a momentum impact in play. Players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kyrie Irving have given youngsters rising up in the Garden State some New Jersey-born stars to look as much as. And these younger gamers have competed towards one another for years, strengthening one another’s video games and serving to them get seen by recruiting providers and school coaches.
Since 247’s first rankings have been launched a 12 months and a half in the past, DJ Wagner has been thought of the No. 1 participant in the Class of 2023. The son of the former N.B.A. participant Dajuan Wagner, DJ is a extremely expert combo guard. His recreation, and the consideration round his recruiting, has given his teammates a leg up. Bradshaw, who performs with Wagner at Camden and on their Amateur Athletic Union crew, the New Jersey Scholars, began off as a 3-star recruit. He’s now a 5-star, with presents from blue chip packages like Kentucky, Michigan and U.C.L.A.
“These kids have been playing with and against each other for a long time,” Scholars Coach Jason Harrigan mentioned. “And when you get a really special kid in a class — a kid like DJ — his competitiveness rubs off on everyone. He helps raise the level of play for the entire class, and they help him to elevate his game, too.”
The expertise stage, mixed with the current leisure of guidelines that enable school and highschool athletes to earn sponsorship cash, has led to distinctive alternatives for a lot of gamers in the state. Cadeau, who has twin citizenship and performs for the Swedish nationwide crew, is represented by Roc Nation and already has a five-figure endorsement by what is named a reputation, picture and likeness deal, or N.I.L. And Cunningham, the No. 1 participant in 2024, not too long ago signed with Overtime Elite, a prestigious professional-development program in Atlanta. He grew to become the first participant to signal with the program with out taking a wage, preserving his collegiate eligibility.
“Growing up in New Jersey, every kid is dreaming of getting to the pros,” Cunningham mentioned. “When I was little, I didn’t even know what college basketball was. I was just thinking N.B.A., N.B.A., N.B.A. But as I got older, I started thinking more about going to college. With OTE, I get pro training and education, and I get to keep my options open. Plus, I can still make money with N.I.L.”
New Jersey’s coaches, of course, favor that gamers stay near residence. And they are saying that N.I.L. helps them persuade gamers to remain at their highschool for all 4 years.
“These players take pride in New Jersey,” mentioned Dave Boff, who coaches Wilcher and Watson at Roselle Catholic. “The fans look forward to having a player who rises the ranks from his freshman to his senior seasons. And the players get to take advantage of the opportunities their talent affords while still being able to sleep in their own bed.”
When he talks to varsity coaches about what makes this crop of New Jersey basketball prospects so coveted, Boff persistently hears one theme: toughness.
“The college coaches see that New Jersey guys have confidence, they have swagger, and they aren’t afraid of physical basketball,” Boff mentioned. “When we travel to national games, our players are always surprised by the ticky-tack foul calls. In New Jersey, the refs let our guys beat each other up a little bit, and our guys welcome that. They know they’re making each other better.”
For Cunningham, leaving residence wasn’t a straightforward determination, however he hopes to make it a little bit simpler by recruiting another gamers from New Jersey to hitch him in Atlanta. After all, each one of these gamers hopes to leap to a much bigger stage — be it school basketball or OTE or the N.B.A. — in the end.
“Jersey is taking over,” Cunningham mentioned. “Everywhere you look in New Jersey, there’s a high-level basketball player. And soon, we’re going to be all over the country. For us, it’s about showing what our state is all about and making sure it continues the success into the future. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation.”