Riverside, Calif. — In order to truly appreciate Team ELEATE’s recent West Coast Kick-Off Championship on the Prep Hoops Next circuit, one must understand the history of grassroots basketball inside the Inland Empire. Despite the fact that the IE boasts a population of over 4.5 million people, it’s often overlooked on the basketball map compared to players in nearby Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to Marvin Lea.
“Kool-Aid is the guy that I credit with bringing AAU-style basketball to the Inland Empire,” proclaimed Lea. “Elvert Perry. When he came from New York, the guys that were getting the most love, getting into the camps from IE, those guys were [playing] with Kool-Aid. Team Inland helped to get some guys around here noticed, but even today, you still have to do something special before they come get you. It’s still not easy to be noticed around here. That’s why I say IE is underrated.”
Lea was one of the special players from the Inland Empire. He was a star at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside in the early 2000s, leading the Wolves to the 2002 Division 2 CIF State Championship while collecting Player of the Year honors, before going on to play in the West Coast Conference at Pepperdine University.
Riverside MLK has since produced NBA talents Kawhi Leonard and Tony Snell as well as former Israeli Basketball Premier League star, Carlon Brown. Lea’s path, however, was different, as he returned home from the Malibu campus after graduating from Pepperdine and went right to work giving back to the Inland Empire through his love of the game.
Lea founded Team ELEATE and began mentoring the area’s youth on and off the hardwood. A number of the region’s top talents train with Lea, who became the first player to have his jersey retired at MLK High School in 2019. This year’s eighth-grade unit has been under the tutelage of Lea since they were in elementary school.
“Most of our core has been together since fourth grade,” said Lea. “These guys work really hard. A lot of them put in extra time in the gym. Their parents are committed to the extra travel. They see all of these other teams on the internet. They know [about them]. This team is a balanced group. They’re underrated. They’re gritty. We all believe we can compete. We’re expecting all of them to be on a varsity roster [as freshmen].”
The collective hardwork, chemistry, and talent of the group were clear in late January, as Team ELEATE took home the championship hardware in the 14U/8th Grade Division at Prep Hoops Next West Coast Kick-Off, against a field that included notable names such as Jr. Hoops, Just Breathe Elite, Paul George Elite, San Diego Prospects, San Diego Soldiers, The Truth, Tucson Spartans (AZ), and more.
“The [West Coast Kick-Off] was one we were looking forward to,” commented Lea. “We’d been close [to a championship] at a few recent tournaments and couldn’t get over the hump, so winning this one, against these teams, was important to us. My littles, that’s what I call them, ELEATE littles, because they’ve been with me so long; this was fun for them. They’ve grown up in the program and they are learning how to win. I could tell they were excited to play; to win.”
Although Lea has certainly seen a great deal of youth basketball talent over the years, most recently having mentored current San Diego State leading scorer, Matt Bradley, he’s not ready to anoint any one player from his current eight-grade club just yet. Instead, Lea gave praise to his entire group, providing Prep Hoops Next with insight into each player’s game and current development. Here’s what he had to say about the nine-man roster that competes in the eighth-grade division (Class of 2026). Note that players are listed alphabetically by their last names…
Jackson Cain (#5) – This is a two-for-one because his dad, Adam, does a great job coaching this group. Having them is a great bonus and I trust both of them being involved with this team. Jackson is about six-foot and we play him all over the court. He plays critical minutes and it’s good to have players like him in crunch time.
J-Rob Croy (#0) – One of our most important players. His father, Rick, is the head coach at CBU (California Baptist University), and J-Rob is a great all-around player. He’s very fundamentally sound. Both of his parents played in college so he has the right pedigree. He has a chance to be a special player in high school; one of the better players around.
Kameron Dodson (#24) – He’s one of our strongest players and he’s so tough. He doesn’t mind mixing it up; he leads our team in charges taken, no question. We can put him in the post, or on the perimeter, and he finds ways to make a difference. His father, Yancy, is a long-time head coach who is having a great season at Riverside Poly (CA) High School. Kameron comes from a big family and is a no-nonsense type of kid.
Carter Johnson (#14) – Carter is a nice player for us. He’s one of our shooters; probably our top shooter with the corner three. He’s another one of our crunch-time guys. He has responded well under pressure and has proven to be a team player. He’s going to be another one with the size and physicals to make a difference at the high school level.
Jackson Murray (#35) – Another coach’s kid. His father, Randy, is the head coach at San Bernardino Cajon (CA) High School. I think it’s a testament to this group that so many other coaches have trusted the ELEATE program and our process. They’re comfortable with their sons on our roster. Jackson is really improving and brings a lot of length and versatility to the line-up for this group.
Kainoa Patton (#23) – We call him Kai. He’s one of our best shooters and is another player who is working very hard to develop his all-around game. He’s a seventh-grader, Class of 2027, so he’s one of if not the youngest on the team. His mother, Michelle, was a volleyball star and is now the head coach at UCR (University of California Riverside), so Kai grew up in the gym.
Joseph Riggins (#00) – He works extremely hard. A couple of years ago, he was in more of a developmental role, and played spot minutes for us. Now, fast forward, and he’s our most improved player and has earned all of the game time he has been given. He’s 6-foot-2, and he works so hard, I’m expecting him to continue playing a big role at the high school level.
Joseph Terry (#8) – One of our most dedicated and gifted players. He commutes a couple of hours each way to play with us. Joseph is 6-foot-4 and is naturally stronger and more athletic than a lot of the other kids we play right now. He’s a force for us and is still learning how to take over and dominate games. I see him as a power wing or power guard long-term. The plan is for him to move and go to Santa Margarita (CA) Catholic. He’ll be one to watch in high school.
Jasiah Williams (#2) – He is probably our most versatile player at around 6-foot-2. He’s only a seventh-grader but he’s very talented, very long, and athletic. I’m comparing him to other Class of 2026 players, not 2027, and he’s still impactful. We put the ball in his hands and trust him to make plays. We have challenged him to defend guards and forwards and he has responded well. He has a lot of physical gifts and enjoys competing.
Expect to read more about Team ELEATE as the grassroots season moves forward, and as always, stay tuned for more from Prep Hoops Next!