Apple doesn’t fall far for these Monarchs

For three Mater Dei basketball players, their source of inspiration is experienced differently than the average high school boy.

That’s because their inspiration comes from the experiences from fathers who had professional careers in the big leagues.

Darryl Strawberry, Michael Cage, Mike Brown — sounds like an all-sport All-Star lineup of dads. While the star-studded group of dads sit in the stands, their boys are getting the recognition on the court for the No. 4 basketball high school team in the country, Mater Dei.

They grew up with their dads in the media and have been the center of attention most of their life because of their last names. But Jordan Strawberry, Michael Cage, Jr. and Elijah Brown are making names for themselves.

All three athletes have learned from their fathers that it takes a lot of hard work to get to that next level. They also enjoy the uniqueness of playing together, but don’t let it get in the way of the team’s goals.

“It’s fun being able to play with them because they’re both amazing players. But we don’t really talk about our dads to each other because to other people they’re famous and they want to meet them, but to us they’re just our dads,” said Strawberry.

“We just look at ourselves as being normal kids and teammates. It’s not about our dads. I do enjoy playing with them though, they’re good players,” Brown said.

Strawberry, Cage Jr. and Brown claim their fathers don’t get nervous watching them play. Brown said his dad enjoys it.

Their fathers’ professional experience has had quite an impact on all three of the Monarchs.

“I learned that it takes a lot of work to be an NBA player,” Cage Jr. said.

Strawberry hasn’t let some of his father’s media attention in the past get in the way of the messages his father has taught him.

“(He taught me) to always want to be great. He was great and that’s what I want to be like he makes me want to get better and get to the highest level like he did,” Strawberry said.

The experience passed on to the boys has helped guide the rest of the Monarchs team to be one of the best in California.

The Mater Dei Monarchs are currently 28-1 and have fared well in the playoffs. A 35-point win over Eastvale Roosevelt and a 27-point win over Warren
have propelled the Monarchs into the Division 1AA quarterfinals against
Rancho Verde.

Their only loss was non-league match to St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio.), where Brown went to school before his dad Mike got fired from coaching the Cavaliers.

Elijah, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard is probably the most accustomed to being in the limelight of the media with the nature of his dad’s job. Brown was fired by the Cavaliers in 2010, after leading the Cavs to the franchise’s first NBA Finals and being named coach of the year in 2009. In 2011, he was hired by the Lakers to replace Phil Jackson, which forced Elijah to leave St. Edwards and relocate with his dad and family to Southern California.

Brown is committed to Butler after offers from Arizona State, St. Mary’s, San Diego and San Francisco but said his dad didn’t push him to get into the sport.

“He basically showed me the game and how hard you have to work to make it in the business successfully. He gives me tips and tells me what I do right and wrong. It helps, sometimes it’s been difficult in the past because he’s my dad but he also knows what he’s talking about so it works. He’s been working with me on my game since day one,” Brown said.

Strawberry, a 6-foot-1 point guard, decided to go a different route than his father, former MLB outfielder and slugger Darryl Strawberry. Jordan only played baseball until middle school and remembers mimicking other player’s stances.

He ultimately fell in love with basketball.

“I fell in love with the game as a young kid, seeing my older brother (Darryl, Jr.) and cousins playing basketball. My dad didn’t push me into anything. I think just the faster pace [of basketball] and always seeing it on TV and being around it made me fall in love with it,” Strawberry said.

Jordan’s older brother Darryl Jr., D.J., a Mater Dei grad in 2002 was picked up by the Phoenix Suns in the 2007 NBA draft after playing at Maryland. He never ended up playing in the NBA and has been in and out of the NBA-D League and playing in Europe. He is currently playing with Cibona Zagreb in Croatia.

Jordan’s cousin Mike Strawberry was also was a grad of Mater Dei and both Mike and D.J. were part of the Monarchs squad that battled against St. Vincent-St. Mary, where they faced a young LeBron James. D.J. guarded James and held him to only 33 percent shooting.

Jordan is still deciding on where he wants to play in college but has received offers from Portland, Southeast Missouri and Murray State and a few others.

“I feel like I need to take my time and figure out what school fits me. (My dad) has helped me a lot to figure out what school is going to fit me best,” Strawberry said.

Michael Cage Jr. the 6-foot-8 freshman power forward/center is the son of Michael, who played in the NBA for 16 years with the Clippers, Sonics, Cavaliers, 76ers and Nets and is now a basketball analyst for FOX Sports.

“I always liked to play basketball. My dad never really pushed me into playing. He’s helped me learn what it takes to play at the top level. He’s helped me alot with post up moves. It’s good most of the time but because he is my dad.  Sometimes it’s hard to listen all the time.”

Cage, Jr. feels like he still has his father’s legacy looming over him and the pressure of being the son of a great NBA player.

“Everyone wants to watch you and see if you’re as good as your dad and people go after you,” Cage Jr. said.

Cage, Jr. has not decided on where he wants to go to school yet but has received letters.

Strawberry and Cage were pretty young when their fathers were in the league but Brown has vivid memories since his dad has been coaching for the past 15 years.

“I’d have to say the Cavs in 2007 making the NBA finals even though they got swept, we had an opportunity to go back to San Antonio to play in the finals,” Brown said.

But for now, the boys continue to help their team win and know exactly how to do it.

The young Monarchs all have NBA hoop dreams but also have a firm grasp of the business and what it takes to get there.

“The NBA is a tough business. If you don’t work hard you won’t survive. If you don’t work hard somebody else will,” Brown said.