Team First Elite, a basketball program for students from Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy schools, has had an impressive second year.
Team First Elite, an emerging basketball program that consists of students from Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy schools, has had an impressive second year, with five of its six teams winning championships in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
“It has certainly grown, especially with the power of social media and kids telling a friend to tell a friend. This year we were able to have younger teams,” Brown said. “We definitely grew, head count-wise, because we were able to form additional teams instead of just having the traditional high school teams.”
Founded in 2022 by Melvin Brown and Cadiann Cole, the program provides competitive basketball and experienced coaching to a wide range of youth in the AAU, a national athletic league for young people that sponsors a variety of sports.
Team First Elite currently fields a 5th-grade team, a 6th-grade team, an 8th-grade team, a 9th-grade team, a 10th-grade team and a varsity team that consists of 11th and 12th graders. Last season, they only had three teams of high school students.
Tryouts are held in the spring, and the season spans from March to July. The number of teams may vary from year to year, depending on how many players they attract. This year, for instance, they didn’t have a 7th-grade team because not enough students were interested. And while so far it’s just for boys, Brown said, they’re to add girls’ teams in the near future.
The teams play in various tournament locations in Pennsylvania but also travel out of state to places such as New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, New York and Virginia.
“Overall we had a great season of playing basketball. A lot of our kids were getting a lot of recognition, were winning all-star MVPs, were top scorers in tournaments, things of that nature — we were winning championships,” said Brown.
The 5th grade went 10-10 in their season and were able to snag a championship in a late-March tournament. The 6th grade team went 10-11 and lost in a nail-biting championship game.
The 8th-grade team went 27-18 and won a championship in the New England Spring Circuit, and the 9th-grade team went 23-21, won a championship in late March and went to the championship in three different tournaments.
The 10th-grade team went 25-23 and was also able to win a March championship, and the varsity team went 29-20 and won two championships in the season.
Overall in the program’s second year, the 8th grade to varsity teams all presented above .500 records vs. the competitive AAU teams of the tri-state area.
“We instill teamwork, hard work, dedication, and being passionate about what you’re doing… and if it's something you’re really passionate about, then go all out for it,” Brown said. “If these guys say they want basketball, then we push them to work hard at it and stay dedicated to your craft. You have to be ready to put in the work to do what you say you want.”
Brown and Cole have been coaching together for about six years ever since Brown joined Cole’s former AAU company, Wolfpack, as a coach in 2017. They revamped that organization and created a new LLC that eventually became Team First Elite.
“We had similar mindsets; we’re in coaching for the same thing, which is to provide an outlet for the kids,” Brown said. “When coming up in the city, it’s a lot of crime and negativity. We can provide a platform for kids to engage in recreational activities, explore the opportunities that college can provide, and be better individuals through the game of basketball.”
“We really want to bring the youth together, and want them to excel in life; it’s bigger than basketball,” Cole said. “Our motto is ‘don’t cheat the grind’.”
The pair are no strangers to developing young athletes in Chestnut Hill youth sports, and to the community in general, as intramural and travel basketball in the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club have been in place for years under the leadership of commissioners Cole and Amy Smith.
Cole has been a commissioner and coach at the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club for 10 years, and Smith has been a commissioner for five. Brown joined the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club two years ago as a commissioner and coach of the travel teams.
Now, Team First Elite is its own extension of basketball in the area that finally gives young players a platform on the AAU level.
“Our motto philosophy is team first, and we preach brotherhood and family,” Brown said. “Guys that we coached from the past to now, some of them who didn’t even know each other like a year or two ago became best friends.”
Smith, who knows Brown and Cole through their work with the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports League, appreciates their passion.
“Someone who’s willing to do this, which is not a paid position…when you find volunteers like that who go above and beyond, you’re always amazed,” Smith said.
Smith has two sons who played for Team First Elite this past season; one played on the 6th grade team, and the other on the 8th grade squad.
“It’s the best basketball coaching they’ve ever had. [Team First Elite is good at] providing a player with specific feedback and playing to their strengths,” Smith said.
Interested in trying out? Go to teamfirstelite.org.