Between racing dates at Churchill Downs, Jeremy Kipness is keeping a close eye out for real estate listings in the Louisville area. He and his father, Michael, are in the process of bringing the Aspire Basketball Academy to town.
They are intense fans when it comes to thoroughbred horse racing and prep school and college basketball. The academy is moving here from Scottsdale, Ariz., for the 2017-18 academic year.
While Jeremy was attending the Kentucky Oaks with his good friend Luke Hancock last Friday, Michael was selling his selections and analysis for the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby as well as the 25 under-card races that made up this two-day racing extravaganza.
Michael, better known as “The Wizard,” is considered the most successful and respected professional handicapper in the world. He has been selling his thoroughbred racing selections since 1987, including the last year’s partnering with The Daily Racing Form, horseracing’s premier horse-racing publication.
“Jeremy and Luke are the closest of friends,” said Michael. “Luke is like a second son to me.”
Louisville was a natural location because of its passion for basketball. Jeremy also happened to be a student manager for the University of Louisville basketball team for three years, including the 2013 National Championship season.
Jeremy, who serves as coach of the Aspire National Team, worked with Coach Rick Pitino at UofL. “He learned under a great coach and mentor, a master in Rick Pitino, and they have remained very close,” said Michael. “Jeremy learned Coach Pitino’s match-up zone defense, and he knows it like the back of his hand. The coach respected him so much he trusted Jeremy to help provide individual instruction with some of the players.”
After graduating from UofL, Jeremy traveled to Senegal, West Africa, where he worked as the Director of Player Development at the prestigious SEED Academy (Sports for Education and Economic Development). He also published a 500-page basketball training guide, which is still being used there.
Jeremy has also worked for two summers for coach Tom Izzo at the Michigan State camp as well as one summer each for Kevin Ollie at UConn, Josh Pastner at Memphis, who is now the head coach at Georgia Tech, as well as a Florida Gator camp with Billy Donovan.
The 2017-18 Aspire squad will include a dozen players, including some from other countries. They compete against other prep teams nationally as one of the core 16 teams in “The Grind Session,” an elite league that pits the “best against the best” basketball academies. Aspire played some of the great academies such as Oak Hill, Prolific and Victory Rock, who have several players that will start for such prestigious programs such as Duke, Oregon and other top programs.
Aspire Academy will partner with DeSales, a private Louisville high school where student athletes will attend classes and practice and play games in the school’s gymnasium. Kipness is hopeful the ‘Aspire home’ will be located close to the school as well.
“We’re very proud that we will have a relationship with DeSales,” said Michael. “The school is the No. 1 priority. We pride ourselves on providing a good, well-rounded education with plenty of support. It’s not about winning or losing for us,” Michael voiced emphatically. “It’s all about building a culture. The basketball will stop bouncing one day and we want our kids to be well prepared to do battle off the court, not just on it.
“We provide tutoring and constant monitoring of academic progress, so each student athlete has a chance to earn a scholarship, or financial assistance, whether it’s a D1, D2 or a D3 program. We want high character kids who care about school and respect for authority, and teach them about the economics of the sport and how to respect money, not squander it, as well as how to navigate through all the twists and turns life can throw at you.”
Player development is next on the list. “We don’t look at player rankings,” he explained. “Our skill is in developing young kids. We’re like chess masters, looking ahead, preparing for a few moves down the road. A lot of them have raw talent. Our job is to teach them the skills and the game, learn it intellectually, too, so they understand what’s behind the offense and defense and how to take advantage of the weaknesses of opposing players. There’s also a strong emphasis on fundamentals, which is not taught well enough to aspiring young basketball players.”
Kipness said the community has been very welcoming. “I’ve been amazed at the amount of interest in our program,” he said. “We believe all of the elements are here for success. Aspire Academy’s goal is to make it one of the premiere destinations in the nation for prep basketball players, and most importantly for the state to be proud to call Aspire its own.”