Justin Ryder calls it his second chance.
Quincy Wright says it has changed his life.
Ryder and Wright are former standout South Jersey basketball players. They have finished high school. But they are not in college.
They have enrolled at Olympus Prep, a new training academy based in Williamstown designed for athletes to participate in a postgraduate year of competition while sharpening skills, building strength, and improving their games through rigorous workout sessions.
They also participate in the academic side of the academy, either through SAT preparation sessions or by retaking high school courses to improve their qualifications.
“Our hope is that everybody gets something out of this to help them have a better life,” Olympus Prep co-director Rich Marcucci said. “If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Olympus Prep is the brainchild of Marcucci, a longtime South Jersey basketball impresario, and co-director Todd Beaman, an assistant coach at Rowan University and former assistant coach at Atlantic City High School.
In its first year of existence, Olympus Prep has 14 players on its roster, including Ryder, a former guard at Paul VI, and Wright, a former forward at Pennsauken.
Other former local standouts include Woodbury graduate Ja’Zere Noel — a first-team All-South Jersey selection in 2017 who led the Thundering Herd to the Group 1 state finals — as well as Paul VI graduate D’Andre Vilmar, Atlantic City graduate Juanye Colon, and St. Joseph graduate Ronald Gaskins.
Under the direction of coach Rob Lawton, a former assistant coach at Paul VI, Olympus Prep will play a schedule of more than 40 games. Many will be against other postgraduate programs, but some will be against prep schools such as Blair Academy and Phelps School and also high school teams such Patrick School, the defending Tournament of Champions winner.
Olympus Prep has scrimmaged local powerhouse high school teams such as Camden and St. Augustine and participated in the Seagull Classic showcase at Holy Spirit on Jan. 6.
“We play a lot,” said Ryder, a 5-foot-11 lead guard. “But it’s a lot more than that. It’s the training. It’s the workouts. This prepares you to be a better player and a better man.”
One of Olympus Prep’s players, 7-foot-1 Keonis Herns, who played at Atlantic City as well as Immaculate Conception in Montclair, has earned a scholarship to Texas A&M-Commerce, an NCAA Division II program, Marcucci said.
Ryder, a Blackwood resident, said he received no offers at Paul VI. He is academically qualified and hopeful he could soon receive an offer from Division 1 Bryant, which has expressed strong interest.
“I’m so much more prepared for college now than I was last year,” Ryder said.
Players pay $12,000 for eight months of basketball-related training as well as academic support, Marcucci said. The daily sessions include two hours of skills development in the morning, followed by an hour of weightlifting and other strength and conditioning drills.
There’s a two-hour academic period in the afternoon. SAT training as well as enrollment in an online course through the Apex Learning Virtual School are included in the cost of tuition, Marcucci said.
Players who already are qualified for college such as Ryder also can use the academic period to take an online college course at their own expense. All players also are encouraged to use the academic period to initiate and maintain correspondence with college coaches.
Late afternoons are devoted to team practice sessions. The players are off on the weekend, except when there are games, which run from the middle of November to the middle of March.
“It’s been way, way more than I expected,” said Wright, a 6-foot-5 wing. “The training is hard. I knew that the first day, when guys were throwing up. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is intense.’”
Olympus Prep is based on the grounds of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church on Glassboro Road in Williamstown. The training academy rents the gym, workout center, and classroom space from the church, Marcucci said.
The staff also includes D’Shawn Haines, the director of player development, and Jose Camacho, who runs the strength and conditioning side. Beaman oversees the academic aspect of the academy.
Marcucci said the academy’s philosophy is to focus on developing players, not winning games.
“Our tagline is, ‘Use the game to develop the player, not the player to win the game,’” Marcucci said.
Marcucci, who first made his mark in South Jersey basketball with Atlantic Cape Camps in the early 1990s, has been involved in similar projects. He ran Apex Academy, which was connected to Living Faith Christian Academy in Pennsauken and featured current NBA players Markieff and Marcus Morris, in 2007 and 2008.
Marcucci believes there’s a rich market for South Jersey basketball players who need another year — either to strengthen skills, develop physically, improve academically, or some combination of the three — before college.
There are preliminary plans to expand Olympus Prep, to create multiple teams, and perhaps to add a housing option for athletes from out of the area. Olympus Prep already has been accepted to become part of the Power 5 conference in Connecticut next year with other postgraduate schools such as Putnam Academy, Marcucci said.
The academy’s primary purpose is to help players earn scholarship money. Marcucci noted that Olympus Prep is a “functioning business” that charges for its services but offers no guarantees.
“At some level, you need to shoot for your dreams but also maintain some kind of realistic expectations,” Marcucci said. “Our job is to try to bring those two things together, and make them come to some kind of fruition.”
Olympus Prep roster
Juanye Colon 5-10 guard Atlantic City
Ronald Gaskins 6-5 forward St. Joseph
Mehki Troxler-Courten 5-11 guard Vineland
Treston Grier 6-3 guard Victory Christian (N.C.)
Justin Ryder 5-11 guard Paul VI
D’Andre Vilmar 6-4 guard Paul VI
Quincy Wright 6-5 guard Pennsauken
Daniel D’Ambrosia 5-9 guard N/A
Ja’Zere Noel 6-5 guard Woodbury
Keionis Herns 7-1 center Immaculate Conception
Norman Wilson 6-0 guard Baldwin (N.Y.)
Casey Ordille 6-0 guard Cumberland
Ibn Al-Quan Loyal 6-5 forward St. Benedict’s
Austin Crafts 6-7 forward Middle Twp.