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Class of 2025 No. 1 AJ Dybantsa sees his future in Game 1 of the NBA Finals



BOSTON – During the first game of the NBA Finals on Thursday in Loge 6, in row 8, seat 18 sat a die-hard fan of the Boston Celtics, who must be playing on the same court in two years. Local kid AJ Dybantsa also happened to be there ESPN’s top highschool basketball prospect in the 2025 class. Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown expect to play against him in the coming years.

“It’s great basketball. I’ve never been to a final match. The energy here is crazy. Boston is playing well, so everything is fine,” Dybantsa told Andscape during halftime of the Celtics’ 107-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

Dybantsa was born on January 29, 2007 in the Boston suburb of Brockton. His father, Anicet Sr., is from Brazzaville, Congo, and his mother, Chelsea, is from Jamaica. Dybantsa was one yr old when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the Celtics won their team’s last NBA championship in 2008.

Growing up in New England, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Dybantsa was obviously a fan of all the local skilled teams, especially the Celtics. He attended Celtics games from a young age.

“I grew up in Brockton as a Celtics fan,” Dybantsa said. “I came to a few games where I got to see Paul Pierce, (Rajon) Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Now I sincerely support my team. I sincerely support the best team.”

Prolific Prep forward AJ Dybantsa shoots the ball during a game against Accelerated Prep on February 25 in Napa, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Dybantsa was named the 2022 Massachusetts Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year after leading St. Patrick’s Day as a freshman. Sebastian’s School to the NEPSAC Class A State Championship. He moved across the country to play at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, with the No. 2 prospect in the 2026 class, Tyran Stokes, the past two seasons. Dybantsa won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2023 FIBA ​​Americas Under-16 Championship in Mexico and was capped for the world as a junior, scoring a game-high 21 points at the 2024 Nike Hoop Summit.

Dybantsa moved to Preparing for Utah in the small town of Hurricane, Utah during my senior yr of college.

“I visited last week. The campus was great. We are excited…” said Dybantsa. “My dad really handles all of my recruiting and he felt this would be the best chance for me to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve in my senior year.”

Dybantsa said he intends to shorten the list of 30 universities to seven in July, but it surely is unclear when he’ll select one. Dybantsa also has NIL contracts, but doesn’t have an agent despite interest from all the giants of the basketball industry. He said his dad reduced the stress by handling most of the recruiting and other basketball-related matters.

The teenager smiled when asked about his confidence, style and unique skills, and was humble when asked about his top spot in the rankings.

“Personally, I don’t care,” Dybantsa said. “It’s good to be there, but personally I do not care about my position in the rankings. It’s only a number. I’m not there yet (NBA). I’m not where I would like to be yet. There were No. 1s that dropped out…

“I do not know why people can be conceited. “I don’t know why people would think this or that if you haven’t done it yet.”

Utah Prep player AJ Dybantsa (right) visits Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon (left) in Texas.

The Dybant family

Dybantsa has already touched NBA stars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Jordan Poole. The 17-year-old recently joined the Atlanta set together with former NBA players Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Dirk Nowitzki and host Ernie Johnson. But of all his NBA mentors, Dybantsa relied on Tatum and Brown the most.

“Of course I want to get into the league and they are where I want to be,” Dybantsa said. “They play in Boston and I’m from Boston, so I used to be capable of ask them some questions. I’m not very near them, but they were mentors to me. Every time they see me, they tell me to maintain going, that I’ll be (in the NBA) in just a few years and to maintain my head down. Was well.”

Dybantsa took part in the Jayson Tatum Elite Camp 2023 in St. Louis, where advisors included NBA players Tatum, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal and Paolo Banchero and NBA rookies Cam Whitmore and Jett Howard. Dybantsa said he and fellow highschool stars Stokes, Cooper Flagg, Derrion Reid, Cam Scott and VJ Edgecombe defeated Tatum, Beal, Banchero, Whitmore and Howard twice in the fight. Dybantsa said he received suggestions from Tatum on scoring and creating space offensively in the small forward position.

“I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” Tatum told Andscape. “Good family. Good kid. He’s the best player in high school. If he stays on track and keeps working, I’ll be playing against him soon.”

A smiling Dybantsa also told Andscape that he beat Brown “1-0” in head-to-head play. Brown smirked at the thought, saying Dybantsa took the only shot in the so-called one-on-one play after checking the ball.

How good does Brown think Dybantsa may be?

“It depends on whether he is a winger or a striker,” Brown told Andscape. He needs to maintain working on his wing skills and the whole lot can be positive. AJ must proceed working on his game. If he becomes more of a (small forward), I believe he’ll play permanently. He must proceed to work on his football skills.”

Dybantsa is anticipated to participate in the USA Basketball U-17 training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from June 15-22. He also plays for the renowned AAU Oakland Soldiers at Peach Jam in July. Soldiers’ alumni list includes James, 2024 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Chauncey Billups, 2023 NBA champion Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets star Jalen Green and former NBA players Brandon Jennings, Kendrick Perkins, Chuck Hayes, Leon Powe, Eddie House and Drew Gordon.

“AJ isn’t just trying to play the game. He’s trying to change the game. LeBron James and Aaron Gordon acted the same way,” Oakland Soldiers president Mark Olivier told Andscape. “There are kids who want to alter the game. I hear AJ talking all the time and the way he articulates what he says just shows the truth of how he sees it. He is special.

“AJ and Tyran Stokes have received so much information that it rubs off on the other kids on our team. If you look at how AJ is performing, it turns out that he outperforms everyone. It’s part of his African heritage. He just loves this game. This one is a superstar. He’s a great kid and very mature.”

Utah Prep player AJ Dybantsa (center) with his mother Chelsea Dybantsa (left) and father Anicet Dybantsa Sr. (right) during Game 1 of the NBA Finals at TD Garden in Boston on June 6.

Many fans recognized Dybantsa during the break of the first match. He thanked every fan who approached him and obliged those that asked to take a photograph. Time will tell what type of NBA player Dybantsa may be, but on tonight the highschool phenom might be cheering on his Celtics in the Finals and dreaming of at some point becoming an NBA champion.

“I just texted my coach that I have to go to the NBA Finals in the next five years,” an excited Dybantsa said. “This is the highest level of basketball. You cannot go any higher. The Hall of Fame is the highest level you may achieve. But in your NBA playing days, the Finals is the highest level you may reach.

Marc J. Spears is Andscape’s senior NBA author. He used to find a way to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been capable of do it for years and his knees still hurt.

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Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum celebrates a bittersweet Father’s Day during the NBA Finals




BOSTON – Father’s Day Sunday was bittersweet for Dallas Mavericks reserve guard Dante Exum.

The Australian celebrated his first Father’s Day – his daughter Daria Lior was born in December 2023. Exum’s girlfriend, Jessica Corey, and their daughter remained in Dallas as the Mavericks prepared for Game 5 of the do-or-die NBA Finals on Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC). It was also the first Father’s Day for Exum without his father, Cecil, who died on July 2 at the age of 60.

“Obviously the biggest thing that sucks is being away from your family,” Exum, 28, told Andscape after Sunday’s practice at TD Garden. “But playing in the final is something I desired to do and I’m doing it for her. I just had a daughter, so it’s my first Father’s Day as a father and without my dad…

“He can be here every step of the way. And I feel that is what hurts the most. But I do know he’s proud.”

Before Exum played in the NBA and reached the Finals, his father, Cecil, was the first talented basketball player in the family.

Cecil Exum retired his highschool jersey from Southern Wayne High School in Dudley, North Carolina. He was named MVP after leading the school to the 1980 North Carolina 4A state title. He played with Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy on the University of North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team.

Cecil Exum was a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 1.5 points in 103 games for the Tar Heels from 1980 to 1984. The Denver Nuggets chosen Exum with the 194th pick in the 1984 NBA draft, but he suffered a serious knee injury before the end of camp.

“I haven’t been to Jordan very often,” Exum said. “But I saw him once after I was in Charlotte, and he loved my dad. My dad loved him and his competitiveness. My dad was a competitor too. That was a facet I at all times took away from him.

University of North Carolina forward Cecil Exum (fourth from right) celebrates together with his teammates after defeating Maryland in the ACC championship game at the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland, on March 9, 1981.

AP photo

Cecil Exum played professionally for one season in Sweden in 1985, then played in the Australian National Basketball League from 1986-96. The 1989 NBL champion averaged 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds in 197 profession games.

“There are similarities between me and him,” Exum said. “Coming out of school, he got injured. He was drafted to Denver in the later rounds and suffered a knee injury just before camp. He was someone who was in a position to help me throughout (my injury problems) because he had been through it himself. He managed to make a profession in Australia, fight and get to the top league there.

Exum’s parents, Cecil and Desiree, are from North Carolina and met in college. Exum said that after his birth on July 13, 1995, in Melbourne, Australia, his parents raised their three children in Australia “because they loved it there.” They loved Australia, an English-speaking country that “offered a lot of love,” Exum said.

Exum has American and Australian passports. He grew up playing basketball, Australian Rules Rules and competing in the 200m dash, 400m dash and long jump in Melbourne Athletics. With his father’s support, he decided to deal with basketball around the age of seven.

“It wasn’t something he was encouraging and trying to get through me,” Exum said. “There have been several times in my life after I desired to do various things. For him, it was either this or basketball. If I desired to quit basketball, he was completely satisfied to do it. Ultimately, I selected basketball.

“I did a bit of athletics and Australian rules football. There were a few early mornings and he said, “You can do it if you want, but you have to stop playing basketball.” So I chose basketball.”

It hurts Exum that his father couldn’t see him play in the NBA Finals. He missed his father’s support and advice during his tumultuous journey to, back to, and back from the NBA.

Exum was the fifth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, beating out the likes of two-time All-Stars Julius Randle and Zach LaVine and 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. As a rookie in the 2014-15 season, he averaged 4.8 points and a pair of.4 assists. Exum began fighting serious injuries after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during an Olympic qualifying match between Australia and Slovenia in August 2015.

Exum said the hardest a part of his profession was missing the entire 2015-16 season. After returning in the 2017-18 season, he played 66 games for the Jazz, but after suffering one other shoulder injury, he played in just 14 games. While playing for Utah and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2019-2021), he never played greater than 42 regular season games attributable to injuries.

“There is nothing that I regret or wish I had done differently,” Exum told Andscape on May 30. “Most of it was bad luck with injuries. I appreciate the work I even have to place in now and even the work I put in when I’m healthy.

“I put pressure on myself to perform (then). But in the situation I found myself in in Utah, I had a good understanding of where I was. There were too many ups and downs.”

The Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum’s dunk against the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals on June 12 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Exum signed a non-guaranteed, three-year contract with the Houston Rockets for the 2021-22 season. However, the Rockets released him before the start of the regular season. Without a guaranteed NBA option, Exum was searching for another opportunity to “play and have fun.” Therefore, in 2021, he signed with European powerhouse FC Barcelona in Spain and won the Spanish Cup in 2022.

Exum rejuvenated his basketball profession, averaging 13.1 points in the 2022-2023 season with Partizan Belgrade, winning the Adriatic League title and earning all-league honors. Because he played in the NBA, Partizan viewed him as a leader and teacher along together with his teammates. Exum also performed well at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Australia, which boosted his hopes of returning to the NBA.

“At first I was worried about coming back to the NBA,” Exum said. “But once I got over it, I used to be ready to simply play and rejoice. I would not say it was humiliating because I used to be quite humble at that time. But I used it as motivation to prove that I slot in.

Although Exum flourished in Europe, he at all times believed he would return to the NBA, and his father also encouraged him.

“His advice was to just have fun,” Exum said. “Every father desires to see his son in the NBA. He knew I belonged in the NBA. He was with me after I first signed for Barcelona. He was excited and prepared for me to tackle the challenge.

“And he was there first with me. We shared a hotel room with him, and he snored, just before my first match at Real Madrid. It was just a little experience where he rode with me the whole way. “

Cecil Exum recurrently attended European matches, watching his son play for Real Madrid and Partizan. Looking back, Exum appreciates this special time together with his father.

“He was in Madrid with me and Serbia,” Exum said. He was going to follow as much of my basketball as possible. That’s why it sucks and hurts to observe him now because he can be traveling to each game.”

Cecil Exum was hospitalized in an intensive care unit in Los Angeles in 2023 attributable to pulmonary complications. Exum was at his father’s side in the hospital as he considered a two-year, $6.15 million contract with the Mavericks, which he quickly agreed to. Cecil Exum died on July 2, 2023 at the age of 60, before his son signed with Dallas. Cecil Harris’s memorial service and funeral took place on July 20 in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Exum says he still hasn’t fully recovered from his father’s death.

“He just lived by example. He just showed love and support every day,” Exum said. “People talk over with me about him. There are some things he did for me that I didn’t even learn about. It was at all times about how much he loved his children. Me, my brother and my sister, he would do anything for us. I felt that when he was here…

“I do not think I’ll ever come to terms with it. I can sit here and say yes. But I still feel that when I am going back to Australia (his presence) might be there after I get back into a routine. Australia was home. So I am going back to different places and I expect to see him, and that might be the hardest thing.

Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum arrives at the arena before Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on June 9 at TD Garden in Boston.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Exum delivered his best playoff performance when Dallas needed it most. With Dallas facing elimination in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, he scored 10 points and made two three-pointers off the bench in the Mavericks’ 122-84 victory over the Celtics. In the best-of-seven series, the Mavericks lose to the Celtics 3-1. No NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the NBA Finals.

Exum said the “only way” the Mavs can take a look at their predicament now’s to take a look at themselves one game at a time.

“If we lose, we go home,” he said. We need to make certain we win every quarter and each possession. I feel that is the way of pondering. Make every possession count. If we will try this, we will win.”

Because of his ties to America and Australia, Exum looks forward to celebrating Father’s Day twice a 12 months. Father’s Day is widely known in the United States every third Sunday in June. Father’s Day in Australia is widely known yearly on the first Sunday in September.

“I always joked with my dad that wherever he was, it was his Father’s Day,” Exum said. “It’s the little things that make you laugh. But I kind of regret making such jokes. I just want to go out there and make him proud and I feel like I did that. Let’s hope we can win.”

Marc J. Spears is Andscape’s senior NBA author. He used to have the option to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been in a position to do it for years and his knees still hurt.

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Historically, Miami’s Black Coconut Grove has nurtured young athletes. Now that legacy is at risk





MIAMI (AP) – Amari Cooper’s football jersey hangs within the Coconut Grove Sports Hall of Fame. The same goes for Frank Gore, in addition to tributes to Negro League baseball player Jim Colzi and football coach Traz Powell, whose name graces arguably essentially the most respected highschool football stadium in talent-rich South Florida.

They represent West Coconut Grove when it was a majority-Black neighborhood hidden amongst Miami’s wealthiest areas that thrived on family-owned businesses, local gatherings and sporting events. Some call it West Grove, Black Grove or Little Bahamas, referring to its roots. Most simply call it The Grove, a spot steeped in cultural history transformed over the a long time.

“When you talk about what The Grove is, you’re talking about the real history of South Florida,” said Charles Gibson, grandson of certainly one of the primary black members of the Miami City Commission, Theodore Gibson.

Sport was his heart. It has supported the early careers of Olympic gold medalists and football stars like Cooper, national champions and future Football Hall of Famers like Gore, who make their first sporting memories on this close-knit community.

Today, there are few remnants of this proud Black heritage. Years of economic neglect followed by recent gentrification have destroyed much of the realm’s cultural backbone. Vigorous youth leagues and sports programs have dwindled. Now the community that once created an environment during which young athletes could succeed – a trusted neighbor caring for a young soccer player heading to training, a respected coach instilling discipline and perseverance in a future track and field star – is at risk of extinction.

“I think in two or three years, if something isn’t done, Black Grove will be completely destroyed,” said Anthony Witherspoon, a West Grove resident and founding father of the Coconut Grove Sports Hall of Fame.

Anthony Witherspoon at the Coconut Grove Sports Hall of Fame booth in Miami’s west Coconut Grove neighborhood, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Witherspoon, known by everyone on the town as “Spoon,” is a former college basketball player and coach who returned to West Grove in 2015 after nearly 30 years in Atlanta and located a neighborhood much different than the one during which he grew up .

Witherspoon recalls the late Nineteen Seventies, when he walked down the aptly named Grand Avenue — once the economic epicenter of West Grove — after a Friday night highschool football game, dined at a neighborhood mom-and-pop joint and frolicked at the favored Tikki Club.

Earlier generations in the realm died, lots of their families moved elsewhere, and disinvestment led to poverty and neglect. Redevelopment then kicked in, replacing longtime residents with non-black newcomers. Mommies and daddies have largely disappeared. The same goes for Club Tikki, currently an empty constructing with the last vestiges of vibrant Bahamas-inspired colours on the partitions.

“I was here. I lived in the community. I felt the influence of sports,” Witherspoon said. “I got here back from Atlanta, Georgia, and I used to be exposed to gentrification. In the back of my mind, I had this thought: We still must protect this history.

Witherspoon founded the Hall of Fame to maintain that legacy alive. A time capsule of roughly 90 area athletes and coaches, it begins with characters like Colzie, a World War II veteran who played baseball for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, and ends with former pro running back Gore and Cooper, a receiver from Cleveland Browns.

“Coconut Grove is a nesting place for all of us athletes in this area,” said Gerald Tinker, a West Grove resident who won a gold medal within the 1972 Olympics as a member of the U.S. 4×100-meter relay team. “They would always expect us to be just as good (as previous generations) and just as humble. And it’s always been like that.”

The community’s status for athletics was born at George Washington Carver High School, a segregated black school. Carver was a football powerhouse within the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, winning five state championships under Powell, who helped shape the landscape of Miami’s highschool sports scene.

Harold Cole, a former coach and athletic director at nearby Coral Gables High School who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, said Powell’s influence lasts for generations.

“He was a coach; he was a mentor,” Cole said. “He was responsible for many of the athletes who came out of Coconut Grove.”

Cole said West Grove still has youth sports programs, but since many families have moved away and kids have gone to other school districts, “it’s not the same anymore.”

Integration within the Nineteen Seventies forced Carver to shut. It is now a junior highschool positioned within the affluent nearby town of Coral Gables.

“This division to some extent broke the fabric of the community in the 1980s.” Witherspoon said.

Nichelle Haymore’s family hopes to preserve a part of the old neighborhood by reopening the Ace Theater, a preferred venue for black residents through the Jim Crow era. Haymore’s great-grandfather, businessman Harvey Wallace Sr., bought the Grand Avenue theater within the Nineteen Seventies. Born in West Grove, Haymore spent years in Texas before returning in 2007 to assist maintain the theater.

“The atmosphere of the area is different,” Haymore said. “Neighbours, who may have taken care of your home at the beginning, don’t greet each other or talk. People are walking their dogs in your yard. This neighborly respect is different because the neighborhood is different.”

Resident Charles Gibson stands next to a plaque honoring the Bahamian roots of Miami’s west Coconut Grove neighborhood, Friday, April 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Shotgun-style homes owned by black residents were torn down in favor of sleek, boxy developments – some called ice cubes – and apartment buildings far too expensive for the middle-class individuals who built the community. Abandoned, boarded-up buildings stand in places where they once attracted crowds. Giant real estate advertisements hang on the fences of empty plots.

“They’re tearing down homes that have been in families for years and building row houses,” said Denzel Perryman, a Coconut Grove resident and former University of Miami star who played as a linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers. “So it has an impact on the community because some kids from there are going to different places and parks because they don’t live in the Coconut Grove area.”

Perryman, who lived in Miami’s historic Black neighborhood of Overtown as a baby, spent most of his time in West Grove, playing football at Armbrister Park or participating in the numerous extracurricular activities the community offered.

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Some still exist today. Perryman watched his childhood football team, the Coconut Grove Cowboys, win the Pop Warner championship in December. Youth teams still train at Armbrister Park, although a few of them look different to groups from years ago.

“It’s unfortunate because you lose so much, character,” said Gibson, a football and lacrosse coach. “There are certain things locally that are related to family. When you lose that, I feel it’s sadness.

Gibson, like many other residents, is determined to support the identical family environment that raised him.

“You can’t put a dollar sign on a sign that says, ‘Go to grandma’s house. She (lives) next door,” Gibson said. “You don’t even have to look outside because you know it’s only 10 steps away and they’re home. How can you put a price on it?”

In The Grove – individuals are trying to search out the reply to this query – before it is too late.


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Charles Barkley plans to hang up the mic after the next NBA season




Charles Barkley, TNT, Inside the NBA

With all the discuss TNT losing the NBA broadcast rights, people have been speculating what is going to occur to the “Inside the NBA” team of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. Well, Barkley has publicly stated that no matter whether TNT retains the rights or it goes to one other network, he is looking it quits after this season.

According to Barkley got here in went on the air following the final NBA Championship Game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics on June 14 and announced to his co-hosts and the world that the upcoming season could be his last as a broadcaster.

After telling the guys that he had been talking to other networks and that the NBA partnership was nearing its end, no matter the consequence, he hung up the mic after his twenty fifth 12 months as a commentator.

This puts every thing on hold, and the NBA Hall of Famer decides to put it on hold. It is speculated that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will announce the results of various conversations and negotiations between several platforms regarding who will receive what packages the NBA offers.

announced that the league is negotiating further agreements regarding media rights under the contract with TNT ending after the 2024-25 season. Platforms which can be in talks with the NBA include Disney/ABC/ESPN, Amazon, NBC and Warner Bros. Discovery (parent company of TNT).

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