AD Elite girls' basketball players sending thanks to a new Saint
It didn't take long for Texas women's basketball recruit Joanne Allen-Taylor to realize her AAU team wasn't quite like the rest. After linking up with Texas-based AD Elite two seasons ago, Allen-Taylor made such strides on the court that college coaches started turning up in the stands to watch her play. From afar, NFL running back Adrian Peterson started doing the same.
But Peterson wasn't recruiting the athletic 5-foot-8 combo guard. Allen-Taylor, after all, was already playing for his team.
"One, two, three -- work hard!" Allen-Taylor and her teammates shout at the start of each game. "Four, five, six -- all day!"
It's a subtle nod to the 32-year-old New Orleans Saints running back's "All Day" nickname. Each year since 2013, Peterson has supported the team financially on the costly AAU circuit.
"I think it speaks for itself, how he wants to reach a different sport," said Allen-Taylor, a three-star prospect in the 2018 class out of Cypress Falls (Houston). "That's very brave. That's very different. And definitely cool."
It's practical, too. Steve Barber, who has been at the helm of AD Elite for the past five years, estimates a season of AAU basketball generally runs between $3,500 and $5,000. Each player on his team --considered one of the top travel squads in the country -- is responsible for $650 of that each summer.
"A lot of the kids, they just can't afford it," Barber said. "It's a lot of help for the families who can't afford it...The things we teach them are life skills, not just a basketball game."
Though he's more football-focused by trade, Peterson's interest in AAU basketball took root during childhood when he traveled with his father Nelson -- a basketball coach -- to cities across the country. Now, Peterson wants to share the "eye-opening" experiences he had on the road with young hoopers.
Peterson says it's also a way to honor his six sisters.
Peterson keeps a framed picture with personalized messages from the 2013 team (the first year of his sponsorship) in his home gym. He finds himself re-reading the messages on occasion.
"You never know what an individual is going through in their life," Peterson said over the phone on Saturday. "It's always a challenge. A lot of people cover things up on the outside. But once you're able to tap in and hear them speak, you know they're really focusing to accomplish what they want on this AD Elite team. They're really putting their best foot forward."
Prior to signing with the Saints in April, Peterson starred at Oklahoma and earned the 2012 NFL MVP award with the Minnesota Vikings. He estimates between 25-30 players have gone to Division I schools since he joined forces with Barber. Plenty more extend their playing time at other levels, too.
"To see that transition and these young ladies on the right track," Peterson said, "that's the best part for me."
Barber uses GPA and community service requirements to hold his players to high standards. Those benchmarks are just as important to Peterson as any 3-pointer or double-double.
"He wanted to come in and bring the athletes network and skill development to not just help these young ladies get academic [scholarships], but athletic scholarships as well," Barber said.
There are perks for the players beyond basketball, too. Two years ago, Peterson treated the team to a Jay-Z and Beyoncé concert. Before that, the team took a European trip.
And some, like LSU commit Monet Jones, find themselves keeping closer tabs on the NFL than they might've done without a superstar link. She follows Peterson through social media and catches television highlights when she can.
When she moves to Baton Rouge for college a year from now, she'll be roughly 80 miles from New Orleans -- the city where Peterson's current team resides. She hopes to snag tickets to a Saints game so she can witness one of his performances in person.
"Having him reach out to us and having his support is pretty cool," said Jones, a 6-2 forward at Elkins (Missouri City, Texas). "It's so nice of him."
Though football obligations keep him busy these days, Peterson appreciates updates on his team whenever possible. His agent, Tracy Lartigue, talks frequently with Barber and fellow coach Steve King.
More often than not, the positive news finds its way to Peterson. But he wishes he could be more involved with the squad day-to-day.
"The way I get my satisfaction out of it is just seeing these girls succeed," Peterson said. "Being able to read and see that Joanne and Monet committed to these schools that they dreamed of ..."
Allen-Taylor shows her appreciation for the seven-time Pro Bowl running back by channeling the same competitive spirit Peterson has shown throughout his football career.
"You say thank you by going out there and playing with everything you've got," Allen-Taylor said. "And reppin' the name on the jersey. Respecting it -- that's how we best show how grateful we are."