The Georgia Knights are ranked No. 6 in one national poll this week (week of May 24), a non-shoe sponsored powerhouse in a ranking full of teams who have them.

And yes, that’s rare.

But being sponsored has never been what Derrick Stroud has wanted. Stroud is the owner and president of the Georgia Knights. And that’s what drew him to Big Shots.

”I never wanted to partner with shoe companies,” Stroud said, “because they like to run the team and fly guys in and tell you who to play. I’m a development guy, and always had my same team.”

A few years back, Stroud came to a Big Shots event and saw a non-affiliated team playing under the Big Shots umbrella, but without the rules that Stroud didn’t like.

The coach of that team played who he wanted to play and had total authority over his roster. That formula resonated.

”I was like, ‘How do I become a Big Shots team, too?’” Stroud said. “I’m like, ‘So all I gotta do is kick everybody’s (butt) and I’m Big Shots? That’s easy enough.’”

It wasn’t quite like that, but this is Stroud’s third year in Big Shots. His team plays as Big Shots Elite Georgia. And the partnership has been a rousing success.

This year, heading into Saturday’s Big Shots Memorial Classic in Rocky Mount, N.C., the Georgia team is 28-1. The Knights have beaten Team Loaded NC (adidas Gauntlet) twice. They’ve beaten the Georgia Stars (Nike EYBL), the Atlanta Celtics (adidas Gauntlet) and Game Elite (adidas Gauntlet) three times.

Stroud’s team’s only loss this season is to Chandler Parsons’ CP25 adidas Gauntlet team.

The Knights lost by 2.

”It’s been great,” Stroud said. “All the teams we tried to compete against, they had something they’re connected to. Big Shots has been a great forum for my guys to get recruited. You would see the 16U and 17U guys play and all the scouts watching their games. So when we got to the older ages, I wanted that for my kids.”

Stroud said nine of his current 17U players are receiving Division I recruiting attention and offers. He credits Big Shots with helping immensely with his vision —and his players’ recruitment.

“It’s been awesome, awesome,” Stroud said. “It was the best move out of all the moves we have made because our kids have had the opportunity to grow and be seen and be recognized. They were able to play against some of the top teams in the country and get their fair shake in front of scouts and recruiters.

”It didn’t matter who we were. We didn’t get lowballed. We didn’t get put in the back gym where nobody could see us.”

Stroud himself is a former Street and Smith high school All-American and state championship winner. He went D1 for college at Indiana State – where he played in 74 games and started 50 in two seasons — and then later played Division II Clayton State.

After college, Stroud played a dozen years of European pro ball. A 6-foot-8 wing, Stroud played in places like Finland, Hungary, Columbia and Spain. And when he came back home for good, he couldn’t shake his love for the game.

He poured that love into his program and his son, Brandon, now a 6-foot-6 point guard who is ranked among the top 15 players in the state of Georgia.

A star at East Coweta High in Georgia, Brandon Stroud is being recruited, his father said, by schools like Iowa, Georgia Tech, Georgia and Virginia Tech. He has offers from Indiana State and Liberty.

And when Brandon goes to college, Derrick Stroud plans to keep on doing the same thing he’s been doing — running his teams with the Georgia Knights/Big Shots and providing opportunities for anyone who wants to work hard enough to earn one.

”I’m a community guy,” he said. “This is my give-back. Lots of kids have gone on to play in college or gone on to college as students. Some have finished and come back and help me coach. So I’ll let Brandon go to college. I’ve got another team coming back next year. I’ve got another team, a fifth grade team, that will be the truth.

“God gave me a gift to deal with and relate to and teach kids. The team I have now, nobody knew any of these kids and I have eight kids ranked in the state of Georgia right now. That’s unheard of.”