It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Kyle Maska.
The West Deptford fourth-grader, who will head to the this fall, came off the West Deptford basketball team’s win in the county championship at the end of the winter and made the leap to AAU, playing for the Glassboro coaches he helped beat in the county tournament.
And as his time on Glassboro’s team wound down, another squad from Coatesville, PA, one sponsored by NBA shooting guard and current Chicago Bull Rip Hamilton, got a look at the budding big man—Maska stands 5-8 at barely 11 years old—and saw him as the missing piece to their puzzle.
Five tournaments and four titles later, including the Mid-Atlantic championship, and Maska and his Rip City teammates are on the biggest stage of all: The AAU 10-and-under national championship tournament in Cincinnati, where they’ll be gunning for the title along with 58 other teams from around the country this week.
“It’s been cool to be traveling all around the East Coast with this team,” Maska said. “It’s been a big accomplishment.”
His role will be as a true center in a game that doesn’t always have a dominant big man—but because Maska stands sometimes head and shoulders above other players out on the court, he’ll be the one in the paint, clogging things up on defense and trying to be rebounding machine on the offensive end.
“On this team, you don’t have to score all the points—that’s why we have great teammates,” he said. “If you have an off night, they’ll have your back.”
It’s been no surprise to his parents Maska has gotten this far. His father, Mark Maska, has a spot spraypainted on the family’s driveway where Kyle made his first shot, and while Kyle’s played plenty of other sports, there really hasn’t been any question which is his best.
“He was basically born with a basketball in his hand,” Mark Maska said.
But to get this far is a big deal, with the shot at some national prestige and the attention that comes with it.
“It’s just insane the opportunity they have in front of them,” Mark Maska said.
And even as they’re playing some of the best basketball teams around, the players have still had to prove themselves off the court—turning in good grades and keeping to the straight and narrow to keep their spots under coach Ricky Hicks.
“He’s really hands-on,” Mark Maska said. “He’s really a great guy.”
It’s that kind of discipline that will help propel the kids along through their playing days—and even though Kyle is barely entering middle school, Mark Maska said his son’s already attracting some attention from high school coaches, thanks to the exposure he’s getting in AAU.
For Kyle, though, it’s all about the here and now: Getting through the first four games of pool play and making a run at the big trophy at the end of the week.
“Our team’s great—we have a great coach,” he said. “We hope that we can capitalize on all the hard practices.”