By Jordan Odiakosa
Marco Sisto â08, Ryan Merkle â08 and Nik Turley â08 were in disbelief when Renaldo Woolridge â08 walked into the gym. Wearing a collared shirt tucked into jean shorts, Woolridge readily admits he was ânot ready to ball.â
This initial meeting took place when they were eight years old at the tryouts for their traveling club teamÂ for American Roundball Corporation. In their first year together, Sisto, Merkle and Turley led their team to a national championship in their age division.
Even today, tryouts for traveling teams are competitive, and only elite youth basketball players are able to make their teams. Woolridge found out the hard way, trying out for the team one year later.
Â âHe was completely uncoordinated,â Sisto said.
â[They say] I walked in with overalls on, and I was lanky back then so I probably looked crazy,â Woolridge said.
Unable to make the same division of class that Merkle, Sisto and Turley were in, Woolridge eventually left the team.
âRenaldo was kind of goofy, but I was cool with him,â Merkle said. âI could always tell he was going to be good.â
Even before meeting his future teammates, Woolridge found that it was evident who the best players were on the court.
âIt was their team,â Woolridge said.
Though they were young children,Â the players were not immune to evaluation.
âI remember when I first met Marco, he was probably the best player on the team,â Woolridge said. âHe was really talented and a good shooter like he is now.â
âWe all did different things,â Merkle said. âMe and Renaldo did a lot of rebounding, and Marco and Nik were great shooters.â
When the players enrolled in middle school, the childhood teammates found they were rivals. Sisto, who played for Campell Hall before enrolling at Harvard-Westlake in ninth grade, was the star of the team and faced off with his childhood teammates in five games.
The games almost always turned intoÂ a scoring battle between Sisto and Merkle.
Each averaged the most points per game on their squad and were the go to guys in the clutch.
While the group remainsÂ friends now, the relationships that exist today took years to mature. As young children, Woolridgeâs outgoing style clashed with Turleyâs down to earth calmness.
âWhen I met Nik, he was really quiet. Back then we were enemies,â Woolridge said.
In his last year of high-school basketball, Sisto still finds it reassuring to be playing with his childhood friends.
âItâs always nice looking over and seeing them on the floor,â Sisto said. âIt brings you back to the old days.â