Phenom Hoop Report sits down with former college basketball coach and 757 hoops star Mario Haskett, Sr. discussing:

River City Reign and Richmond VA’s blossoming talent pool

Mario Haskett was a two sport star at Warwick High School in Newport News, VA from 1988-1991 playing quarterback for the football team and point guard in basketball. A strong armed and fleet footed left handed QB some local reporters compared him to former Oklahoma QB Jamelle Holieway who at that time was considered the best option quarterback ever! Other local reporters will say he was Michael Vick before Micheal Vick and the two close friends often kid each other about the comparison. Haskett, Sr originally signed to play football at Delaware State which forced basketball coaches to suspend recruiting him. When he opted not to play at Delaware State he returned to Newport News to work and focus on basketball. His basketball coach at Warwick HS was longtime high school and college coach Ben Moore who say’s Haskett is “a winner from the word go”. Coach Moore’s face lights up when talking about Mario Haskett, Sr. “I love me some Mario Haskett!” a proud Coach Moore says with a big smile. “I loved coaching him, he’s the kind of kid that makes others better. Watching his son play now is special, I’m not at all surprised by his success.” Haskett, Sr went on to become a four year starter at St Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, VA and finished his career as a Black College All American! He entertained calls from the NBA as Detroit and Boston wanted to invite him to training camp. The Celtics withdrew the invitation when they made a coaching change replacing ML Carr with Rick Pitino back in 1997.

While at St Paul’s he found his role not only that of a point guard and team captain but as recruiter! St Paul’s did not attract the talent to keep them competitive in the CIAA and Haskett went out and recruited some players he had become familiar with and those acquisitions helped catapult St Paul’s into a CIAA power. During Haskett’s senior year in 1994 in which he led the CIAA in assists, thanks to his play and that of players he recruited, St Paul’s enjoyed arguably their best season in school history and was ranked 15th nationally in Division II. St Paul’s Head Coach Ed Joyner credited the team’s success to Haskett’s leadership and the players he recruited from the Tidewater area.

Haskett, Sr went on to become an assistant coach at St Paul’s upon graduation and later worked for the Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Department. Haskett, Sr has continued his efforts to mentor and benefit the youth in his community and is the founder and CEO of the Richmond based Youth Excel & Advancement LLC which is an in-school counseling service that provides support in the public school setting focusing on the mental health and behavioral intervention needs of school-age children. Haskett is also the Director of Basketball Operations for River City Reign AAU which has quickly become a power AAU program not only in Virginia but with national acclaim featuring some of the state’s top talent. He recently purchased a gym with full court basketball facilities and a weight room to help kids in the Richmond area have a place accessible to them to develop their skills.

Haskett is highly regarded throughout Virginia for his basketball knowledge and ability to recognize and evaluate talent. He is also a go to guy for many college coaches around the country inquiring about players in the state. Haskett, Sr is also the father of one of the country’s top basketball players in LC Bird and River City Reign guard Mario Haskett, Jr. Haskett, Jr, a 6’4 (2017) has already been offered by ODU, VCU, Cincinnati, Richmond, Longwood and Towson and has tons of interest from many other schools including Loyola, Hofstra, Mount St. Mary’s, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Wake Forest and Maryland. Haskett, Jr is a speedy, sharpshooting, high IQ guard who can score at all three levels and is capable of playing either guard position. Like his father, Mario Jr is a well liked and well respected natural leader on and off the court. Mario, Jr carries a 4.2gpa and is enrolled in LC Bird’s engineering program. He was nominated for theNational Academy of Future Physicians & Medical Scientists Award of Excellence which recognizes America’s Highest Achieving High School Students.

We took an opportunity to sit down with Coach Haskett and pick his brain about the success of River City Reign AAU and the blossoming 804 talent pool.

Coach, before we talk about specific talent I’d like to talk about River City Reign and the progress you guys have made in such a short time. You finished a very successful summer with big wins against national power programs like Team Loaded Virginia, Team Loaded North Carolina, DC Premier among others. Coaching 8 years in the toughest DII conference in the world with 1, sometimes only 2 scholarships in each of the 8 years you have to be very good at evaluating talent to compete and to stay competitive. Right now Virginia has so much talent and Richmond has more 2017 kids to choose from. From River City Reign to Squires, Team Richmond, Virginia Select and one of the elite programs in the country in Team Loaded, for River City Reign to have one of the best 2017 classes in the state and not be Boo Williams or Team Loaded speaks volumes about how much talent is in Richmond! My job was to find not only the best players, but the best fit for our team with regards to character, etc. and get them to play together without egos. With the help of Troy Manns and Coach Lancaster of LC Bird and Coach Gap and Coach Rafer Giles, we had one of the best programs in the state, if not the nation in my opinion. To do that without sponsorship is a credit not only to the talent but to the hard work of everyone throughout the organization. Coach Troy Mann did a great job keeping our team balanced and groomed, ready to compete every night. He and Coach Lancaster built a culture of accountability, work ethic and reprogrammed them from any bad habits. Coach Herron from LC Bird and Coach Bailey from Southampton did an outstanding job. Coach TJ and Chris Bolling helped the program establish our footprint and we were just blessed with some excellent and caring coaches and parents! Really a true team effort.

You speak so highly of the 2017 class in the Richmond, VA area and feel like it is one of the best in the nation. Tell us about some of the 2017’s we should be keeping an eye on that have helped River City Reign’s surge to national prominence.

Ameer Bennett (6’8 St Christopher’s), Zach Jacobs (6’6 Maggie Walker Governor’s School) I truly felt Zach was our best player and without him many nights we may not have been in some games. He has a great motor and is athletic and versatile, an outstanding rebounder! Jyles Webster (6’6 LC Bird) is a high energy player, battles on every rebound.Robby Osbourne (6’2 Hermitage) who is the most underrated small forward in the state and is the hardest working player in that class! He is a very physical player with a high basketball IQ. I call him the clean up guy because don’t need the ball, he cleans up the mess. Darius Bell (6’8 Southampton) is one of the top sleepers in Virginia. He put himself on the radar of a lot of mid majors this summer being a 6’8 guy who can play either guard or forward position. Kimani Donovan (5’2 Deep Run) a combo guard who can score at all three levels is a very good playmaker, Lil Gap and Tim Coward (6’0 Hermitage) played well all summer and should establish themselves more in the upcoming season. Jaylen Dillard (6’2 Clover Hill) is one of the best knock down shooters in the state, period! Jason Wade (6’5 Hanover) is one of my favorite players on the defensive end. A 6’5 two guard just keeps getting better every day and will write his own ticket. He’s a guy to keep on your recruiting list! John Salley (6’11 Benedictine) is one of the best kids in the world and makes you really want to coach him. He’s the most underrated player in the country in my opinion. But remember that name! He is now being compared to former Georgetown great Roy Hibbert! You can’t teach 6’11! Big John is getting better every day like sweet wine; he could play beyond college if he continues to work hard. Jordan Cross (6’6 Millwood) is without doubt one of the state’s best defenders and one of the toughest wings in the state. He attacks the rim and can finish with contact. Isaiah Wiggins (6’1 LC Bird) has had a major impact on our success. He’s always ready to contribute when his name is called and he pushes other guards to be on top of their game. Terrance Whitfield (6’3 Matoaca) who finished in the state’s top 50 is an excellent defender with quickness and a high motor. He arrived on the team late but made an impact. Johquin “Pinky” Wiley (5’10 LC Bird) is without question one of the best guards in the state and his IQ is tremendous! He and my son Mario Haskett, Jr (6’4 LC Bird) are my kids and I’m harder on them because they garner a lot of attention. They have to produce or face me and I challenge them daily. They have great upside but still a lot of room for improvement. Don’t forget when they get to college it becomes a job and they will get so much better because of their work ethic and discipline. I am very excited about our 2017 class, we have some guys who began the summer under the radar that I’m proud to say are now getting mid major interest. Don’t forget about our other 2017 team which also did very well. I’m excited about our 2018 and 2019 classes as well and I anticipate similar success! I thank God for allowing me to be in a position to be able to give back to our kids in the community and throughout Virginia. The success of AAU always has to be traced back to “the Godfather” of AAU in Virginia Boo Williams who showed us all how it’s done. Ty White is “the Prince” and is doing a tremendous job helping Virginia produce some successful athletes.

I want to thank Coach Haskett for taking time out to tell us about some of the top up and coming talent in the Richmond area. His efforts in his community and genuine care and concern for the well being of the youth in the Richmond area are admirable.

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