After a crazy summer derailed the AAU season, Kortez Ivory and Team Up Next will lace them up in a big way in 2021.
Ivory and Darnell Wills founded the program in 2017 and have built up the team name ever since. In 2021, they will have around 40 athletes, mainly from the city of Hopkinsville, on a summer trip that takes them around the United States.
“This year we’ll be playing on an independent circuit — the Grassroots Association and the Hoop Scene Association,” Ivory said. “We have guys from ninth and 10th grade, so 2023 and 2024, we also have a 2025 team. The majority of the players are from here in Hopkinsville. Daisjaun Mercer, Lemar Northington Jr., Preston Thomas, Bubba Leavell, Derrell Bateman, JeSean Riley … the cream of the crop is from Hopkinsville mixed in with a few other guys from other places and surrounding counties. We’ll be playing a national schedule this year.
“We’ve got some good guys coming through the ranks that have a chance to put Hopkinsville on the map so to speak.”
The AAU teams had a good start to the 2020 summer season before COVID-19 halted sports across the nation.
“Last summer was really crazy because of COVID,” Ivory said. “We only played in three tournaments. The 2023 team won two of the tournaments and the 2024 team went .500. COVID kind of killed it. We had a real big plan. We had a big summer scheduled out.”
Ivory and the team switched circuits for 2021, and Ivory believes after the abbreviated 2020 season, Team Up Next will make a splash and put Hopkinsville on the map.
“We have a nine-tournament schedule,” Ivory said. “We play all four weekends in April. … It’s going to be a national schedule. It’s going to be an opportunity for our guys. It’s going to be a measuring stick for us as coaches, it’s a measuring stick for our guys to see where we stand at. Some of the tournaments we’re playing at, the like of Zion Williamson played here. … It gives them an opportunity to see where they are at.
“I believe that we have a lot of talent in this area that gets overlooked for whatever reason. I feel like we have an opportunity to give these guys what they’re due on the basketball court.”
Ivory, who played basketball and is now an assistant coach at Christian County, said giving back to the city he played for and help mold the next generation of basketball players into young men is something he is always overly excited about.
“I’ll tell my story to anybody that will listen,” he said. “I come from the same neighborhoods that these guys come from. I was able to play basketball at the JUCO level. It didn’t work out for me, but I was able to go to Western, graduate and benefit from having a college degree. I tell people all the time that the guy that you see today, I wasn’t the same person at 17. I understand what they go through. Basketball was the avenue that I chose that helped me become a certified teacher with a master’s degree. No I didn’t go to the pros, I didn’t even play Division-I. But me playing basketball allowed me to step foot on somebody’s campus and I was able to turn that into a bachelor’s degree. Getting to play basketball at any level is going to change your life if you allow it to. I’m ecstatic to be able to help my hometown. It’s just amazing for me.”
Ivory is also reaching out to the community for support. Team Up Next is accepting donations to the program, with all funds going toward travel expenses, tournament fees and all other team-related operations. Reach out to Ivory at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.