Having coached in Georgia, North Carolina and, most recently, California, Trey Suttles has had a chance to see different parts of the country and work with basketball players at all levels.
When he would talk with people in his hometown of Chattanooga about the sport he loves, though, the conversation would usually come back to some form of "well, you're not here to do anything about" the state of basketball in the Scenic City, which hasn't produced an NCAA Division I signee straight out of a public high school in more than a decade. The most recent such players were a pair of Tyner teammates in 2010: Michael Bradley signed with Connecticut — he wound up finishing his collegiate career at Samford — and Thomas Cooper signed with North Carolina A&T.
Once Suttles, also a Tyner alum, decided to return to Chattanooga, he might have chosen to give back to the game as a high school assistant or with an AAU program. Saying he's "found his purpose," Suttles is choosing a completely different path with the formation of Moc Valley Prep, a postgraduate school that will open in the fall and is intended to provide another opportunity for area players to be recruited.
Like any postgraduate school, it will allow its student-athletes to play an additional year after high school without beginning their college eligibility clock. It's also a chance to grow in terms of exposure on the recruiting scene and to mature before starting college.
Players at Moc Valley Prep will have classes four days a week, with material ranging from ACT prep to subjects such as business and financial literacy that have the chance to not only prepare them for college but everyday life. On the court, the team is expected to play as many as 50 games against college junior varsity programs, junior colleges and independent high school programs such as Chattanooga's Hamilton Heights Christian Academy.
Suttles' time as a prep star with the Rams was followed by a long, winding college career that included four schools and in which he scored 1,618 points. It was then he realized the need to help prepare high school players for the recruiting process as well as life.
"Your high school coach sees you a total of probably three, four hours the whole day, including practice," Suttles said recently. "Then you get home: Your dad's at work; your mom might not know sports, so she doesn't know how recruitment goes. But with us, you're in the house with me 24 hours a day, so we can finish dinner and I can call a meeting and go over NCAA requirements. Let's go over how to get recruited, go over what's required."
Moc Valley Prep will have a program called "10 by 10" in which the players will sit down once a week and reach out to 10 prospective schools simply to start forming relationships with college staffs. It will also offer a chance for student-athletes who may not have any previous experience with college recruiting to learn how to do research and email the appropriate people.
Suttles developed the program after helping kids do something similar during his college years, because he realized its importance — and how many may not know how to do something taken for granted by so many.
"When I look at my kids now, I tell them that maybe things don't happen today. Maybe they don't happen next month, but if you keep working on this, eventually things will work out — you just have to stay at it," Suttles said. "The main thing I've learned, the biggest thing I've learned is those that are last shall be first, as long as you don't stop moving.
"As long as you don't stop, you're going to be all right, but the moment you stop, the moment you give up, the moment you quit, that's when you lose your dream. That's when you lose your aspirations."
If things go as Suttles expects, prospective college basketball players will have an additional year in Chattanooga to help showcase their skills so they can realize those dreams and aspirations.