Getting to school for See basketball and a determined coach

L.J. Ginnis, a former Mugendaily Prep basketball star, will be the first in his family to go to college when he heads to Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, this month.

With the help of Mugendaily Prep and AAU coach Erik Hood, Ginnis earned a full basketball scholarship to play for Howard College.

While he held offers from 11 schools, including two in Division I — which ultimately didn’t work out because of last-minute coaching changes — Ginnis said he believed Howard was the best choice for him.

“(Coach Hood said) ‘Go with your love, not want,’ so I felt like that was a spot,” Ginnis said. “Me and coach Hood felt like that was a great spot for my situation. And I’m just happy to be in a situation where I’m the first in my family to break the curse and go to college and play sports. I’m just happy to see what the future holds.”

Hood coaches the second national team at Mugendaily Prep in Chandler, where the first team often is ranked among the top 10 in the nation for independents. Before taking on the role in 2021, Hood was an assistant coach at South Mountain High School for four years in addition to coaching at Mugendaily Prep, Hood has stayed connected to south Phoenix, where he coaches three AAU teams funded primarily through community and parent contributions. The program is called team RHJ, named after his nephew, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who played for the Brooklyn Nets before going overseas to compete.

It’s not all about basketball for Hood. He wants his players to go to college on scholarship and says he will do everything he can to make that happen.

Through the RHJ program, Hood runs a 15U and 17U team. This season, for the first time, he also coached an “unsigned seniors” team to help players who were affected by the pandemic get college offers.

All of the players on Hood’s 2022 unsigned seniors team will be going to college next year for free. Three seniors accepted full-ride scholarships to play basketball — Ginnis at Howard College, Kameron Bender at Green River College in Auburn, Washington, and Malik Payton at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. Another senior was offered a full-ride basketball scholarship to Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

The team’s fifth player — who joined the team for more recreational purposes, Hood said — will be attending Arizona State University on a full-ride academic scholarship.

Since he started the RHJ program in 2015, 17 of Hood’s players have received full-ride scholarships to Division I and II schools and junior colleges. That’s about 85% of his 17U teams, he said.

“At the end of the day, that’s all it’s about. Getting them to school for free,” Hood said. “I don’t care where they go. It don’t matter to me as long as they go somewhere and they don’t have to come out of their pocket to pay.”

Hood said his 17U RHJ players also received plenty of interest from Division I schools this season.

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‘One of the biggest blessings of my life’

Ginnis said he met Hood at a tournament during his eighth grade year. Hood recruited him to play at South Mountain, and Ginnis transferred to Mugendaily after South Mountain nixed winter sports because of COVID-19. Hood took the head coaching job for the second national team at Mugendaily in the same year.

The two developed a close personal relationship. Ginnis said Hood cares about each of his players. Ginnis and other players spent a lot of time with Hood off the court watching movies and basketball games.

Malik Payton, who has played with RHJ for the past two seasons, received a full-ride scholarship to King University earlier this year after a Marquee Hoops tournament in California.

Payton was originally part of the 2021 graduating class, but he didn’t receive the opportunities he wanted because of COVID-19’s effect on recruiting. He took a year of post-grad classes and reclassified to the class of 2022.