“You see me and Jalen’s work because we’re breaking down every single drill together, what he thinks we need to work on, what I need to help, what I need to do better. I’m learning every day, every step,” says KJ Baptiste, basketball trainer and best friend of 2019/2020 New Orleans Pelican Jalen Adams.
Together, KJ and Jalen created KJ’s Summer Runs, a set of basketball sessions in the offseason months, hosting NBA, college, and local talent (above high-school age).
NBA talents who showed out at the runs include Marcus Smart (Celtics), Carsen Edwards (Celtics), Bruno Fernando (Hawks), Duncan Robinson (Heat) and Bruce Brown (Pistons).
With KJ’s diligent methods and keen mind, and Jalen’s recruitment methods and work ethic, only those who share similar drives and aspirations get the call.
“I think what I bring to the run is just that attitude…people know my body of work,” bluntly explained Adams.
“I’ve had a little taste of the NBA, but they know I’m still hungry. I’m still going to come out there to prove… so people know we’re not just going to get out there and mess around.”
KJ’s Summer Runs is built upon the foundation of a wonderful friendship. And it is optimized by KJ and Jalen’s unyielding desire to want to be great.
A foundational friendship
KJ and Jalen met in middle school while playing for the same AAU program, just in different years.
KJ was born and raised in Onset, Massachusetts, a town located near Cape Cod.
“That is where I found the love of the game coming from a true basketball community 50 minutes from Boston.”
Jalen was born and raised in a neighborhood in Boston, Roxbury, which has produced other NBA talent before including Shabazz Napier and Wayne Selden Jr.
It wasn’t until high school that the two friends became more familiar, and then the close bond grew in their college years, KJ at Brandeis University and Jalen at UConn.
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When Jalen was gearing up for the NBA draft, the two friends saw it as important to take every possible step to help out Jalen’s chances.
Best way to get better and stay at the top? Go up against the best.
Starting KJ’s Summer Runs was as much about exposure as it was about bringing the best local talents together and compete.
The runs started in 2019 in Adams’ predraft process. He would work out and play, often 2’s and 3’s, but yearned for a more-organized ball session.
“We decided we would host our own runs, and that’s how KJ’s Summer Runs started.”
Adams is 11th all-time on the UConn Men’s Basketball top scorers’ list with 1,657 points scored in his collegiate career.
Having played briefly with the Pelicans this year, going up against Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Adams knows what it takes to reach the highest level of basketball play. And still, his opportunity with the team was limited.
“I definitely learned and gained a lot of respect for the NBA level, and I see the amount of work they put into their craft… I realized that I want to stay there I got to do what they’re doing times two.”
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Jalen stressed how underrated he thinks Jrue Holiday is, and even with the pedigrees of some of the guys he was going up against, he realized no one is invincible. They can be scored on just like everyone else.
Jalen acts as “the commissioner,” for the runs, as KJ puts it.
“If we put a roster together or anything, we gotta deal with his approval,” he added amidst Jalen’s chuckles.
KJ takes the trainer’s approach.
What can we do better?
Let’s master this…
let’s work on this.
Everything done is discussed to optimize the session and the group’s abilities.
“I think every session is personal… I just want to get the most out of it for every guy. It’s very strategic and it’s an honor to train these guys,” passionately expressed Baptiste.
Baptiste’s words teem with passion, his delivery brims with confidence. And his cadence overflows with hunger.
KJ’s Summer Runs is just getting started, and both Baptiste’s and Adam’s work ethic is what sets these sessions up for prosperity in the future.
In starting KJ’s Summer Runs, Baptiste explained:
“We wanted to be proactive and do something good for the community. So we decided to bring all the local talent together.”
Anyone tapped into the ball scene in their respective city knows that it’s not all about work ethic. There are tons of players with the talent and work ethic that just were not seen, and consequently never were able to move up to the next level.
The runs were about giving the community a chance; players who had a dream of playing at a higher level now had an opportunity.
“I meet a lot of guys… guys want to be in the gym with other good talent,” explained Jalen.
He mentioned how these different college or pro players might not get the chance to play with others in different leagues or conferences, so the opportunity to play high-level basketball at their workouts is a big draw. Jalen helps recruit talent because to get better, you need to play against the best.
KJ mentioned his friend’s younger brother Bryce Aiken (former Harvard and current starting Seton Hall point guard) as an example of someone the runs help immensely.
“[He] gets to go against a guy like Marcus Smart?” he remarked, and the confidence that matchup elicits when he returns to school.
While the runs are community-driven because of the local talent that gets an opportunity, they are also a generational kindness. Younger talents (above high-school age) get a chance to go up against some of the players they grew up watching, idolizing.
“You got a lot of these kids that are coming in now that are freshmen in college that looked up to Jalen, you know? I mean that Jalen was their idol.”
KJ mentioned five-star recruit and Kentucky Wildcat Terrence Clarke as an example of a guy that looked up to Jalen and pulled up to the runs for that very reason.
“So it kind of gives back to the community aspect of all these young kids get[ting] a chance to either compete with you or come watch you play.”
East Coast grind
KJ and Jalen touched on what it is about New England and the entire east coast that draws in and creates high talent.
“The whole East Coast, including some of the New York guys I think they just have that different swagger to their games,” said Jalen.
He mentioned how watching Rico Hines videos… the LA guys have their own swagger. Much like the NBA, where the Rockets have their style, the Raptors have their style, different regions in the US have their own swaggers and styles that define the game they play.
“I feel like when it’s that East Coast gritty type vibe, you’re like, you have to prove yourself, you have to prove your name,” Jalen continued.
And though often the success of teams, at any level, comes from making that extra pass, sometimes the scenario is one player gets the inbound, and the other four better get out the way.
That East Coast- NY/New England energy often manifests itself in “I have to prove myself and make my name by what I can do with the ball in my hands right now.”
KJ remarked that a lot of guys think you have to go to the west coast or Miami to train during the offseason.
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“Even Marcus [Smart] showing up in Boston in the middle of the summer kind of shows that like, you don’t always have to be in either Miami or LA to go get work. [It’s] giving a local college talent a chance to go against the NBA guys and broadcast their talent.”
Jalen expounded upon why KJ’s Summer Runs are successful.
“Everybody’s trying to get a mixtape.
So just bring that excitement. I think that draws in talent.”
KJ and Jalen hope that the people close-by and far feel the welcome and desire to pull up and compete. The goal is to make it a sweeping New England movement and take over the area.
KJ currently studies at Penn State, and Jalen is grinding to continue playing professionally.
When KJ is away coaching, Terrell Hollins and Kenny Small of Boston Elite Training help out immensely with the sessions. A special thank you to them for supporting the runs and encouraging their AAU alumni to show up.
After all, while the runs are about getting better every single session, they are as much about giving back an opportunity to the community.
Check out the KJ’s Summer Runs page here and stay peeped for more exciting content from these highly competitive and talented athletes.
Tom Nelson and Vin Pastore of Mass Rivals, Todd Quarrels and Jamie Silvia, and Brit and Leo Papile deserve special thanks for their efforts in helping send alumni to the runs.
KJ made clear that without the photographers, the runs would not be the same. Special shoutout to Sam Mironko of Mironko Productions, David Speidel of Court Vision Cuts, John DeVecchis of Hoop Major, and Kristian Epps of KRDE Videos.