Caio Santos, the boys basketball coach at Legacy Charter, and a group of friends look to bring top-notch basketball to the Orlando community with the A.C.E. League.
Where does one go when you love the game, but have nowhere to play?
Not everyone makes it to the collegiate level and even fewer ever make it to the NBA. But Caio Santos is looking to change things.
Santos, head boys basketball coach at Legacy Charter, and a few friends started up the A.C.E League — with A.C.E. being short for “Aspirations Can Empower.”
“The biggest thing for us is bringing the culture of people watching basketball back to Orlando,” Santos said. “We feel like Orlando is a huge hub for producing professional athletes — basketball players, football players — but I don’t feel like we get enough crowds and people coming to support the environment of having these high-level basketball games with pros from overseas, guys who are locally very good and even NBA guys.”
Community involvement is a big aspect for Santos — who runs the league along with Joseph Nyguen, Will Lee and Daeshwan Beasly — and it’s a big reason why the league plays its games at the Academic Center for Excellence in downtown Orlando.
It was the perfect spot for the new league and the mission it set out to do. It also gave way to inspiring the name of the league itself.
“ACE is kind of in a rebuilt area, and they have some inner-city kids there, and ACE is doing a great job with those kids and giving them an opportunity to be successful with the school,” Santos said. “And that’s where we wanted to be. We wanted to be in the heart of our community where it needs the most support.
“We want A.C.E League to be a support system — a hope — for these kids coming up and giving them the opportunity to make their dreams come true as well,” he said.
The dream for the league started last summer, when the group of friends got together to talk about starting a basketball league to play in and be a part of, while also bringing other local players together. In other words, they looked at what other organizations — specifically the Drew League and its work in Los Angeles — were able to accomplish with local basketball players.
“We want A.C.E League to be a support system — a hope — for these kids coming up and giving them the opportunity to make their dreams come true as well."
— Caio Santos
Santos held several open-gym sessions during which former collegiate ballers, ex-NBAers and overseas players home for the offseason showcased their talents.
Fifteen players showed up to the first combine — about what Santos expected. But then things seemed to take off from there.
“Then the second combine came around — we put out some content — and the city went crazy; we might have had 40 or 50 guys show up,” Santos said. “We were like, ‘OK, the city needs this, and they want this. We are on the right track.’ And on the third day, there were even more guys — we ended up having about 72 sign up for the combines.”
From there, the guys at A.C.E ranked each player one star to five. Those five-star players were declared captains and participated in a snake-style draft.
Going into this first season, Santos was thinking that the league would have four to six teams. Instead, it has eight: Pedro’s Posse, Ballers, KHEEP, Top Shottas, Team AFNF, Heart N Soul, Bullets and Unity.
And the season itself spans six weeks — from Tuesday, April 16 to Tuesday, May 27 — and concludes with a semifinal week during which the top four teams in the league will battle for a spot in the championship game Tuesday, June 4.
“Not everybody makes the playoffs, so we are making it real competition,” Santos said. “These guys have to come out here and play, and you don’t have too many chances to lose games, or your team isn’t going to make playoffs that season.”
Currently, the games — which take place mostly on Tuesday nights — are free to the public, so all you have to do is walk in the front door.