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RSL Academy Basketball Coach David Evans (Photo: RSL)
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RSL Looking To Become Academy Basketball Powerhouse

RSL Academy Basketball Coach David Evans (Photo: RSL)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When most Utahns think of Real Salt Lake, they think of the MLS soccer team, and maybe it’s USLC affiliate the Utah Monarchs. Now, the organization is hoping local fans will grow to recognize its latest venture into the world of sports with the RSL Academy Basketball.

Located in Herriman, the RSL Academy is a traditional public charter school educating 9-12 graders in the state. But when it comes to basketball, the Academy serves a different purpose.

Unlike traditional high school basketball programs, RSL isn’t focused on winning state championships. In fact, the Academy doesn’t yet belong to a specific league.

Though it’s overseen by the Utah High School Activities Association, RSL is free to train at their own discretion and recruit athletes from around the world.

“We train 20-25 hours a week,” Coach David Evans said. “Then we play a national schedule. We don’t play just in the state.”

Evans is a familiar face to those who follow high school basketball in the state of Utah.

Evans spent the last two seasons overseeing the Wasatch Academy basketball program.

Before that, Evans was the head coach at Lone Peak High School. During his time at Lone Peak, Evans led the Knights to the 2018 6A title, and at the Geico Nationals tournament, nearly knocked off the nation’s number one team Montverde which featured current New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett.

What Is Academy Basketball?

Adopting an international approach to athletic preparation, and following in the footsteps of other professional sports, most notably soccer, academy basketball provides a hyper-focus for prep-athletes to develop into college-level players.

While traditional high schools may see a handful of athletes earn opportunities to compete at the next level, academes like RSL aim to give each of its players an opportunity to continue their athletic careers beyond high school.

“If a kid isn’t crazy about basketball, and doesn’t love it, and doesn’t want to spend all of his time [playing], then it’s not the right fit for that kid,” Evans said. “But even if the kid that may not want to be a college player but loves to train and loves to have trainers at their disposal, and train twice a day — it is for them.”

Like any public high school, the RSL academy is free. However, athletes who choose to live at the school’s dorms are required to pay an additional cost.

On top of athletic training, RSL offers its players three meals a day, access to nutritionists, school counselors, and NCAA certification counselors to make sure each player is NCAA certified.

How Does RSL Compare To Other Academies?

Though RSL Academy Basketball is in its infancy, academy basketball is well established in the US.

Programs like the IMG Academy, Montverde, and Oak Hill Academy have long been known for their success turning prep stars into future pros.

Former number two overall NBA draft pick Michael Beasley is an alum of the IMG Academy. Both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers attended Montverde, while Rajon Rondo and future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony went to Oak Hill.

RSL hopes to compete nationally by attracting the same type of high-level athletes that turned fellow academies into household names.

Early on, RSL is already seeing that success.

The team recently added sophomore point guard Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn out of Indiana. Gibbs-Lawhorn is the ninth rated recruit by Rivals for the class of 2023 and holds offers from Division 1 programs like Indiana and Perdue.

In addition to winning games with top-tier recruits, RSL’s Evans hopes to see the school operate the right way.

“There are several really good academies out there that are run really well,” Evans said. “But then there are many academies out there that aren’t run well and kids are staying in bad situations.”

Like all competitive high school leagues, Academy basketball isn’t immune to the underhanded dealings that are common in college recruiting.

“Some coaches abuse the kids and use them as leverage,” Evans said. “There’s a lot of things that happen at any sport at any level, but if you keep it pure and you keep it on the up and up, the sky’s the limit for an Academy.”

Led by president Jacob Haueter and vice president Rob Zarkos, Evans sees potential with RSL to develop into one of the nation’s leading academies for basketball.

“They’re all about growth, they want to spend the money on the things that we need to be successful,” Evans said. “They allow me to run the program the way I want to run it, but they’re there for support and everything I need.”

What Does The Future Hold For RSL Basketball?

While the program is only in its first year, Evans sees room for rapid growth at RSL. The Academy has just 16 players spread between its varsity, junior varsity, a sophomore teams, but hopes to see that number double by next season.

The roster currently features two international prospects, though Evans expects that number to increase.

“I work closely with a couple of high-level guys in Europe,” Evans said. “They send me good kids and so we’ll keep doing that.”

In addition to highly ranked national and international kids, RSL’s roster also features its share of locals.

Three in-state prospects are currently on the roster including students from Layton, Maple Mountain, and Pleasant Grove.

“There’s a spot for anyone that wants to play,” Evans said. “We don’t cut kids.”

Evans must now show that he can take his new roster to similar heights he reached at Lone Peak and the Wasatch Academy in order to keep building the program, though he believes the investment RSL has made in basketball will carry much of the burden.

“The campus is great, the people that work there are great,” Evans said. “The opportunity to train and succeed is high. Everything is in your path to success. I think when we get recruits on campus, they’ll fall in love with the place and it will sell itself.”

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