Team Eleate Growing Beyond Grassroots



ANAHEIM — When Deshaun Highler was 14, he said he and his mother were looking for the best travel basketball team for him to join.Riverside-based Team Eleate would be the choice. A year earlier, Highler said his mom told him about a spring league run by Marvin Lea.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Highler said.

He asked his mother who Marvin Lea was.

“Oh, some Riverside legend,” she replied.

“Come to find out, he’s one of the greatest,” Highler said, “one of the greatest ever.”

In 2002, Lea led Riverside King to a state boys basketball Division II championship and averaged 25.8 points per game. He went on to play four years at Pepperdine. From there, Lea returned to Riverside – or as he calls it, “The House” – and started a grassroots basketball club. After a brief but productive detour to Arizona, Lea returned to The House.

Today, Lea, 32, coaches the Riverside-based Team Eleate program. His 17-under team, with Highler and other top-tier players from the Inland area, is a competitor in the adidas Uprising Gauntlet circuit and this weekend made a run through the elite Open Division at the international Double Pump Best of Summer tournament at American Sports Center.

This fall, the plan is for him to join forces with Tim Sweeney, his former high school coach, at the new Carnegie School (formerly Riverside Christian). Lea said he will run the post-graduate “prep school” team and assist Sweeney with the high school team.

Lea said his two years in Arizona building Westwind Prep taught him how to approach the position at Carnegie.

“I learned the formula for them and decided to start it at The House,” Lea said. “That’s one thing I love, I love my Riverside babies.”

Highler, who helped Riverside North to a CIF-Southern Section title and a trip to the regional championship game in the winter, is among four commitments – so far – to play for Lea this fall.

“I felt like for my career, for me to get to the level I want to play at next year, I just needed to take my fifth year to get bigger, faster, stronger,” Highler, 18, said.

“I’m going to be taking my classes online. We’re going to be playing in some of the top tournaments around the country.”

Highler is a 6-foot-2 guard who graduated this spring. The others earmarked for Lea’s post-grad program at Carnegie are, according to both Lea and Highler, Alec Hickman, Ronald Knighten and Solomon Hunt. Hickman is a 6-4 guard from Riverside who played at San Juan Capistrano JSerra High. Knighten is a 5-11 guard from Oakland and Hunt is a 6-6 forward who spent time at Upland and Riverside Hillcrest.

Highler said he has been with Team Eleate for four years and the other three for the last three years.

“Marvin took me under his wing,” Highler said. “When I was 14, he threw me into the fire. I played 16U.”

A year after that, the other three joined, they dropped down to play 15U “and that’s been our team since.”

Lea, 32, who used to be recognizable by his large afro, now wears his hair in long dreadlocks. He said he works out at Bobby Bonds Park in Riverside almost daily. His longtime connection with his former high school coach led to the opportunity at Carnegie.

“Tim Sweeney called me and asked if I could help with the kids because I already know a lot of the kids in the area,” Lea said Friday. “I already started a post-grad; I was going to run it out of the park & rec.”

Lea said current NBA players Tony Snell (Chicago Bulls) and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) both came through his early grassroots programs before starring at King High for Sweeney. He said Snell remains involved.

“Tony Snell does a good job with apparel, helping with stuff, giving back,” Lea said. “Tony Snell helped us get on the map a little bit.”

Lea said Snell’s contributions helped Team Eleate develop into a strong program. This week they made the championship bracket of the highly competitive Best of Summer tournament. During the spring, Lea’s team played in the adidas Uprising circuit called the “Gauntlet”, playing in tournaments in Atlanta, Dallas and South Carolina. Next week, they will compete in the Gautlet championships at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In addition to the four players earmarked for Carnegie Prep, the Team Eleate roster also includes the following area players with high school eligibility remaining: Matt Mitchell, a 6-6 wing from Eastvale Roosevelt; Ajani Kennedy, a 6-7 forward from Moreno Valley Rancho Verde; Isom Butler, a 6-0 guard from Corona Centennial. All are rising seniors.

The roster also includes Matthew Bradley, a 6-5 2018 forward from San Bernardino; Kaelin Allen, a 6-4 2018 forward from Fontana Miller; Jarred Hyder, a 2019 guard from San Bernardino Cajon, and Darren Davis, a 2020 guard.

The team’s success this spring and summer has drawn the attention of college scouts, Lea said, and that was evident during Saturday’s championship bracket games.

“We have had 30-40 every game we go to,” he said, listing off colleges such as Cal Baptist, Colorado, USC, San Diego, and UC Riverside. “They’re following us.

“They’ve been following us from here to South Carolina. I tell (the players), go out there and seize the opportunity. Instead of me going to get kids from here and there and all over the country, which I could, I want my kids right here from The House. We’re good enough. That’s the only reason I do this.”


• Team Eleate moved into Sunday’s 17U Open Division semifinal with victories Saturday over Inland and Cal Supreme. … In the first-round single-elimination victory over Loma Linda-based Inland, Bradley and Kennedy each had 12 points and Highler had 10. Greg Walter (Temecula Rancho Christian, 2016) had 21 and Legend Stamps (Etiwanda, 2018) had 10. In the quarterfinal victory over a Cal Supreme (Inglewood) team missing its regular starting five, Mitchell had 18 points, Bradley had 13.

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