Former Rutgers University standout and current New York Liberty point guard, Epiphanny Prince has always been a cut above the rest. The Brooklyn native was always well respected on the hardwood amongst her peers, both male and female. As Anton Marchand would put it: “Growing up, she was always just as good as the better boys.” This resulted in her being a regular participant in the highly-competitive boys league Conrad-McRae, while also being an avid visitor to the heralded iS8 tournament to watch the local boys compete. “I used to ask her, There’s no type of leagues out there like this for females? When she said no, I knew we had to do something.” says Marchand. It was then, that the triumvirate of Marchand, Cleon “Silk” Hyde, and Troy Lemond decided to create what we know today as the Rose Classic. Inspired by the iS8 format, and with the help of an incredible staff, the Rose Classic has developed into one of the premier high school women’s leagues on the East Coast during its 10 years of existence. Female ballers from far and wide migrate up and down I-95 to Ronald Edmonds Middle School in Brooklyn to battle it out on the biggest stage.
However, this wasn’t always the case, as the prosperity of the Rose Classic has truly been a testament of hard work. “We really held Epiphanny responsible for getting the word out there in the beginning.” says Marchand. “We figured since she was so good, she knew who the other good female ball players were. So, if she told them this is where she was playing, they’d follow suit.” Their analysis served to be correct as the league saw steady progression during its first five seasons. So much so, that they eventually caught the attention of the execs over at Nike. According to Marchand, Joe Branch, who now serves as a top-flight basketball agent at Roc Nation, was one of the first people at Nike to believe in their vision for the Rose Classic. “I always credit Joe with giving us our first shot at Nike. The first year he told us he could help us out with the uniforms, and I told him that was all we needed.”
Branch’s belief in the Rose Classic was wise as the league’s popularity has grown immensely. League merchandise can be spotted all throughout New York City. From socks and tee shirts to sweat suits, the Rose Classic emblem represents a symbol of status amongst hoopers in the five boroughs. “Man, I have friends that train girls in [New] Jersey that call me and say that if a girl walks into workouts wearing Rose Classic shorts, it’s intimidating to the other girls.” says Marchand. It doesn’t stop there, as some of the top male high school players can also be spotted in a pair of Rose Classic sweats every now and then.
However, despite the countless McDonald’s All-Americans, Division 1 players, WNBA players, referees and even NBA referees the Rose Classic has produced, Marchand and his partners are proudest of the sense of community that the league invokes and the opportunities that it creates. “We wanted to make sure that we kept it about the players and that we were socially relevant. We never wanted the kids to feel like they had to leave just because they had played their game already.”
The players and community have picked up on ownership’s aspirations immediately. All throughout the gym you can find adults and children alike openly expressing themselves to the fullest. With tunes blasting through the speakers at every opportunity, you are liable to see a dance-off break out at any moment or even an adult dancing on their own in the crowd. If you get hungry, there is food served outside of the gym that gives the league a homely feel that can’t be found at any other youth basketball league. To top it off, the Rose Classic has also branched out into the community by employing several of the Ronald Edmonds Middle School students as well as offering tutoring services for players that live in the area.
The Rose Classic represents more than just a basketball league for many of the players that walk through its doors. Not only do they provide a platform for ballers to hone their skills, but they provide a safe-haven for the youth to come enjoy themselves without running the risk of landing in any trouble. It is organizations such as these that allow our youth to prosper and move on to become not only great athletes, but great people as well. The Classic is entering its 11th season next April, and the current regime is constantly passing down their knowledge to the younger generation. With this type of system and dedication in place the Rose Classic will remain a staple in NYC basketball culture and continue to propel the youth of the city to greatness.