By Matt Fairburn
Special to CSNNE.com
Leo Papile has been around basketball for his entire adult life, and he’s seen his fair share of success.
Since Papile founded the Boston Amateur Basketball Club in 1979, the program has won 17 national championships. He’s seen 19 of his players head to the NBA and dozens of others play at the Division-1 level in college.
He watched NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing come through his program, and he spent 15 years in the Boston Celtics’ front office, where he had a hand in the entire draft process. In short, Papile knows basketball, and he knows Boston.
But even he hasn’t seen a class of players like BABC is sending to the 2013 NBA Draft. The club could have as many as four alumni drafted with two of their former players, Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) and Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), considered likely lottery picks. Papile can’t think of a class he’s had that compares to this one.
“No way,” Papile said. “Not even close.”
In addition to the two potential lottery picks, a pair of former Missouri Tigers, Phil Pressey and Alex Oriakhi, hope to hear their names called on June 27. Both played their AAU basketball for Papile at BABC. The four have taken different paths, but Pressey appreciates the rarity of what they’re doing.
“I didn’t notice we had that many people going into the draft,” Pressey said. “It’s crazy.”
Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien is currently the lone NBA player born in Massachusetts, but the 2013 draft will provide the league with an influx of Boston-area talent. Oriakhi hopes he can be a part of putting Massachusetts on the map as a basketball state.
“Massachusetts doesn’t really get a lot of recognition,” Oriakhi said. “It just shows it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. If you can play basketball, you can play basketball.”
Anyone who has spent anytime around Papile isn’t surprised that his club is producing NBA talent. His track record is strong and his demeanor is best described as tough.
“He’s an Italian Boston guy,” Oriakhi said with a laugh. “You know it’s all about toughness with him.”
Given his scouting background, Papile has certain traits that he looks for in his players. BABC plays a full-court defensive system, and it’s not for the faint of heart, which makes two characteristics particularly imporant to the veteran coach.
“We look for two things: brains and balls,” Papile said. “The fact that you’re a good basketball player helps. But it doesn’t necessariliy make us endear ourselves to you. But if you have brains and you have balls, you play our kind of music.”
Papile compares what he looks for in basketball players to what Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells look for in football players. That is, players who are willing to buy into his system and play his way.
“We like guys whose motors run rather than what I like to call YouTube guys,” Papile said. “Smash mouth basketball. I always say give me the five toughest guys in the gym and I’ll beat anybody.”
That toughness has benefited Papile’s players during the pre-draft process, which is comparable to the AAU basketball season, according to Oriakhi. The 100-game schedule BABC plays includes plenty of travel, and asks its players to deal with physical and mental exhaustion as well as time spent away from home.
The difference? When traveling to work out for NBA teams, players do so by plane rather than by car, the hotels are nicer, and the food and amenities are more readily available. Papile hopes his program makes the process easier.
“They’ve been to hell before,” Papile said. “This is nothing.”
This star-studded class isn't expected to be a flash in the pan, either. With more than 20 players from Massachusetts playing for Division-1 programs and a handful of prized recruits currently playing for BABC, the area is picking up momentum in terms of producing basketball talent.
“Overall," Pressey said, "high school basketball in Boston is on the come up.”
Despite the success his program has had, Papile knows his personality and style of coaching isn’t for everyone. But he thinks those that buy in to his system benefit in the long run.
“Some guys say ‘This guy’s a nut, I can’t do that,’ ” Papile said. “Others carry it with them. That’s not just basketball, that’s a life skill.”