It is rare to see young basketball players take inspiration from someone they grew up with. But for sophomore forward Ryan Agarwal, it is not difficult to find inspiration among friends — his childhood friend, Anthony Black, was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft.
Black “inspired me to know it’s possible [to reach the NBA],” Agarwal said. “I’m gonna meet him [there] one day for sure.”
Since middle school, the two have shared the same court, participating together on school and AAU teams.
But the two first encountered each other as competitors, going against each other in AAU basketball when they were in elementary school in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.
“We used to play against each other in AAU all the time,” Agarwal said. “His team was way better than my team and they would always crush us. I kind of knew him through that but we weren’t close at all.”
After Agarwal moved to Black’s school district, the two went to middle school together and played together on the school team. It was at this point when the relationship between both players grew stronger.
“I feel like when we really got close was seventh grade,” Agarwal said. “I moved over to his AAU team after mine disbanded. We started hooping together in school and AAU for the next four to five years.”
Through playing together on 3D Empire, a Dallas-based AAU program, and with the guidance of head coach Shawn Ward, the two built an impeccable chemistry on the court.
“It was really easy to play with Ryan because of how well he shot the ball and how well I pass the ball,” Black said. “We would find each other for lobs, backdoor cuts as we got older. It’s all the simple stuff you get from having good chemistry.”
Clint Schnell, Agarwal and Black’s coach at Coppell High School, noted that both shared a competitive drive that also brought them together.
“What made Ryan and Anthony gel so well on the court was their competitive nature,” wrote Schnell in an email. “They each had a strong desire to win and do what it takes to be successful and that commonality between them was a strong bond.”
Off-the-court, the connection between the two six-foot-seven competitors grew as a result of the time spent together at practices.
“A lot of athletes are different people on-the-court to off-the-court, but Anthony’s pretty much the same guy,” Agarwal said. “He’s a really chill guy, not taking anything too seriously, and a great teammate.”
While the two basketball players shared trips to Vegas and other exciting experiences, both teammates cited car rides as a time where they got to bond the most.
“We used to ride to school together,” Black said. “So those rides to the high school games or grabbing something to eat before the game were really enjoyable.”
“Our AAU practices were originally 20 minutes from where me and Anthony lived, but because of COVID we had to change gyms so it became a 45 minute ride,” Agarwal said. “Anthony, me and two of our teammates would carpool to practice and we’d get home pretty late. But those drives were the most fun drives because knowing we’re done with practice we were just chilling. We would always stop by the 7/11 gas station and listen to music.”
As both players progressed through high school, each saw a quick rise in recognition from Division I coaches as they became upperclassmen. Through the trials of navigating recruiting, both Agarwal and Black appreciated having each other as they went through the process.
“It was amazing going from being a skinny freshman in ninth grade and then having coaches come watch us at practices,” Agarwal said. “It was good because in some ways, we both got exposure from each other. A lot of coaches that came to watch him started recruiting me because they started seeing me when they came to recruit me. In the same way, coaches that came to see me started recruiting AB [Anthony Black] as well.”
According to Black, the two high-school teammates went on a few college visits together, including a visit to in-state school Texas A&M.
“We kind of both learned the recruiting process from each other,” Black said. “It was good having one of my best friends and teammates go through the same thing as me.”
Eventually, both players went their separate paths for college, with Agarwal choosing Stanford and Black suiting up for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Last season, Agarwal shot an efficient 50% from the field and 45.7% from the three-point line while appearing in 17 games.
Meanwhile, Black averaged 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for Arkansas, helping the Razorbacks advance to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season.
Following his standout season, Black declared for the NBA draft and was later selected with the No. 6 overall pick by the Orlando Magic. It came as no surprise that Agarwal was glued to the TV, as the NBA commissioner called out Black’s name.
“It’s something you dream of,” Agarwal said. “I was watching with my family and it was a proud moment to watch him make it [to the next level]. Especially being able to watch someone that you grew up with and see how much work they put in to do it.”
While being an NBA player or a student-athlete at Stanford doesn’t leave much free time, the two still stay in contact when they can.
“We were watching the Cowboys game and talking,” Black said. “We talked about hoops, Stanford, the Magic and some football. So it’s always good to stay in contact with a guy like that.”
“It’s definitely hard to keep staying in touch, but I texted him the other day and he let me know about the [NBA] lifestyle and how it’s like living on his own,” Agarwal said. “We both know we’re super busy, but it’s one of those friendships where you see each other and it’s right back where we left off.”