Philly’s AAU/Grassroots Voice: An Interview with Kamal Yard

“Teams play game after game after game, sometimes winning or losing four times in one day. Very rarely do teams ever hold a practice. Some programs fly in top players from out of state for a single weekend to join their team. Certain players play for one team in the morning and another one in the afternoon. If mom and dad aren’t happy with their son’s playing time, they switch club teams and stick him on a different one the following week. The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric.”
Steve Kerr
Head Coach, 2015 Western Conference Champion Golden St. Warriors

“AAU basketball.. Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”
Kobe Bryant
5 Time NBA Champion
17 time NBA All-Star

“If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing… I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”
Michael Beasley
NCAA All-American 2007-08
2nd pick in 2008 NBA Draft

“AAU is the worst thing that ever happened to basketball…”
Charles Barkley
1992-93 NBA MVP
11 time NBA All-Star

“It’s a bad system for developing players… They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are. If I can win the 11-and-12 year old league and tell all my friends about it, that is a whole lot more important than if my kids actually get any better or learn anything about the game.”
Stan Van Gundy
Head Coach, Detroit Pistons

The consensus is clear… The experts, the people whose opinions are valued most by fans and observers of collegiate and professional basketball, have emphatically declared that AAU basketball ain’t worth shit… Is that a fair assessment? One rarely has an opportunity to hear the other side. What do AAU guys think about the role they play?

The Black Cager sat down with Philadelphia’s most renowned AAU/Grassroots basketball figure for an in depth discussion. Kamal Yard is the director of Philly Pride a grassroots basketball program sponsored by Under Armour. He is also a marketing consultant with Under Armour charged with developing strategies to increase brand awareness in the Greater Philadelphia region.

Kamal Yard

Kamal Yard, Philly Pride Basketball

Black Cager: How long have you been involved in AAU/Grassroots basketball and how did you first get involved?

Kamal Yard: It’s funny man… For me, it started with my early years at the John Chaney/Sonny Hill basketball camp in the mid 1980’s. The camps were held at Cheyney University and on the Ambler campus of Temple University. During the camps, they had something called “lecture time.” During and lecture time, Mr. Hill and Coach Chaney would always talk about the importance of giving back. That was their main thing “giving back.” And, then you look at the camaraderie of the Chaney/Hill camp and the Sonny Hill League it was all about service. So that kinda like planted a seed in me that never left. Since then, I always wanted to establish a program that provided young kids in Philadelphia with structured, supervised and well organized opportunities to play basketball.

SonnyHill

The legendary Sonny Hill

Black Cager: Most people are unfamiliar with the nuances and subtleties of AAU/Grassroots basketball in the Philadelphia area. Team Final, WE R 1, Team Philly and Philly Pride are the elite boys programs. Your partner program Philly Triple Threat, led by Eric Worley does a phenomenal job on the girls side. Team Final and WE R 1 are known as programs that feature elite Division 1 players, however, Philly Pride has developed a niche whereby you serve student-athletes that tend to come from less than ideal family, educational and social situations. How has that come about?

Kamal Yard: Honestly… I get motivated when people tell me a kid can’t make or won’t make it. When people say a kid is a “problem” or a “head case” I actually become more attracted to the kid. I’m from 25th and Diamond and I wanna help the kids that the other programs don’t want to deal with. Now, we’ve had some kids that were can’t miss in terms of their family and educational backgrounds. Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Ryan Brooks (Temple) and Darryl Reynolds (Villanova) all came from Lower Merion High School. These were kids that would have graduated from college without basketball, their families situations were straight. But for the most part, we tend to have kids from the “hood.” That’s just a commitment on my part. I’m the guy that will give kids a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th chance. Every situation is different, every case varies.

Black Cager: That’s a very interesting point. I can think of situations where the cases vary within single families. Let’s examine the White family. Older brother Desean, spent a season and a half at Providence, he transferred in the middle of the 2005-06 season to La Salle. After sitting out a year, he was dismissed from the team and never played a game for the Explorers. White then moved on to Delaware but was again dismissed from the team after being ruled academically ineligible. White ended up playing his final two years at Northwood, an NAIA school in Florida, where he was coached by former Villanova legend Rollie Massimino. There, he was a two-time NAIA First Team All-American. His younger brother, Devon had a much different experience.

Kamal Yard: Devon is a success story. Devon is a straight up success story. Absolutely! Look man, I don’t think of these kids as failures because sometimes they go and they try the school thing and it doesn’t work out. Most of the times it works out for the kids, but sometimes it doesn’t. What do you do? Do you throw him to the wolves because it doesn’t work out or do you try to pick him up? In my mind Desean and Devon are successes. Devon graduated from LaSalle and he even went on to pursue a Master’s degree at Niagara. He’s playing professionally overseas and taking care of himself and his family. That’s what this thing is all about.

devon white

Devon White, LaSalle University

Black Cager: When did you make the transition to a sponsored program and travel team? How did that come about?

Kamal Yard: First, when my cousin Cuttino Mobley was drafted into the NBA in 1998, he was with Nike so we were sponsored through a Nike “community deal.” How it worked was like this, we got the same amount of product that all the other Nike sponsored teams received. This arrangement was part of Cuttino’s contract with Nike. He simply diverted some of the compensation to our program through a “community deal” arrangement. We received sneakers, bags, T-shirts and uniforms. We had that arrangement for the duration of his career. That arrangement was good, it was really good for us. Then we switched over to Under Armour after he retired in 2010.  I also became a consultant for Under Armour. In 2011, our program became officially sponsored by Under Armour… I just took that and ran with it. We currently have 370 kids in our program from 3rd grade through 11th grade, girls and boys.

Black Cager: Before I became acquainted with you, my perception of Under Armour was that it was a football, work out gear focused company. I didn’t really view them as a force to be reckoned with in the basketball marketplace. I did not associate Under Armour with basketball.

Kamal Yard: Nobody did… So, the first thing I did when I started working with them was to make sure all the top kids in the rec centers became familiar with the brand. I put up banners in rec centers, sponsored leagues and gave away shoes to all the little kids. I made sure all the top kids had it on in North Philly, Southwest Philly, South Philly, West Philly. Then I went out and signed up some of the best high schools. I signed Imhotep to a contract with Under Armour. Then I went after Roman Catholic and Chester High and signed them to their contract. At that time MCS was emerging and Vaux had Rysheed Jordan so I signed them. That was an important step. You have to remember at that time Rysheed, Aquille Carr and the Harrison twins were among the most highly visible high school players in the country. By having the top guys in Philly, Baltimore and Houston they really helped drive brand awareness in the inner cities. Under Armour really didn’t have a lot of pros at the time. We had Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams, other than that we didn’t have anyone in the league. The young guys kinda fueled the shit for Under Armour. They kinda served the same role as professional endorsers. Aquille was hot as fish grease down there in Baltimore. They called him the “crime stopper.” He had like 50,000 twitter followers. Rysheed had 30,000 twitter followers and the Harrison twins had a huge following. It really helped that we had Rysheed in Philly and he was a pretty popular player. And, then you have the success of the high schools we sponsored. Rysheed and Vaux won a state championship. It just helped catapult it and now it’s all over Philly.

Rysheed Vaux

Rysheed Jordan, Vaux High School

Black Cager: That’s really interesting… What would you say to someone that looks at that strategy and feels that you are just branding them and trying to turn them into future Under Armour consumers?

Kamal Yard: The reality of the situation is that in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston the publicly funded opportunities are gradually disappearing. The taxpayers are walking away… When we were kids you could play in the league at the rec center, you could play in free summer leagues, you could play junior high basketball, you could play junior varsity basketball. All of these publicly funded opportunities are disappearing. I feel a duty to leverage my relationship with corporations like Under Armour to provide opportunities for kids to play, participate and be within structured and supervised organizations. As far as the players, I’m with my guys for life. For me it’s about the high I get when I pick up a poor inner-city kid and take him off to college in front of his young siblings and little kids in the neighborhood. For me seeing the looks on those kids faces builds my confidence and my self-esteem. Right then, right there, I feel like I have a million dollars in my pocket. Think about the Whites. Everything didn’t pan out for Desean, but Devon watched his mistakes. Devon did everything he was supposed to in school, never had any issues with anybody. That’s how that shit go. We’re not trying to brand kids. I guess that comes with the territory. But, I’m doing this to save lives. I’m trying to go to graduations. My man Scootie Randall ‘bout to get married.

Scootie Randall

Scootie Randall, Temple University

Black Cager: Run off some of the names of players that came through your program that went on to play in college.

Kamal Yard: Scootie Randall (Temple), Ramone Moore (Temple) Rahlir Jefferson (Temple), Garrett Williamson (St. Joseph’s), Tyrone Garland (LaSalle), Jesse Morgan (Temple)… I don’t normally include guys like Darryl Reynolds (Villanova), Miles Overton (Drexel) and Ryan Brooks (Temple) because they would have made it college without our program and without basketball. They just came from really stable educationally focused families, but they were an important part of our teams. They would have been good no matter what. I always like to cite guys like Jeremiah “Lump” Worthem (Indian Hills Junior College), Quadir Welton (St. Peter’s) and Malike Starkes (Cecil Community College). Those are the guys I go after, because I feel like I can fix all of ‘em. You can’t tell me I can’t. We also had guys like Vinnie Simpson (Hampton), he was tough. I think I got over 100 guys that received Division 1 scholarships. I would bet that I have the most in this area by far. For a while I was getting 8, 9 or 10 a year. On Scootie’s team we had Larry Lougherty (Penn), Russell Johnson (Robert Morris), big Dev White (LaSalle) and Charles White that went to Hartford University. Charles is from the projects, he got his degree and he just got a big job with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Black Cager: How do you respond to the criticism that AAU programs don’t work on skill development and focus almost exclusively on playing games?

Kamal Yard: Honestly, the top tier programs… They got those kids in the gym. I know we do. We do mandatory stuff every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But 5 days a week you can catch Sean Colson in the gym doing skill development for our program. We have 5 different coaches like that. Colson is coaching my 17u team and a Philly Public League product from FLC. He played at Charlotte University and in the NBA. With Colson, it’s really all about the “giveback” we talked about earlier. He’s an AAU coach and he’s also a high school coach. He understands the commitment, he understands the need to give back to the kids and sharing what he has learned. His whole thing is really making kids better. That’s all he talks about. If he could be in a gym 7 days a week making guys better that’s what he would be doing. I’m happy that he’s with us. I’m happy we got him. If you look at everything we do it’s really all about service to our kids, service to our community and service to our staff. I had to convince him to take the Martin L. King job. The principal at King came from Vaux and he told me he needed a coach. I told him I know just the guy and told Colson to take the job. We went back and forth for about 6 weeks because he still had offers to play overseas. Ultimately, I was able to convince him that this was a perfect opportunity to give back. For us, we take care of all of our people. You can’t be asking people to do all this volunteer shit and then not have a plan for them. I want all my coaches to be ambitious. They have to want to move on and be a college coach or high school coach. We want to see them progress. We take care of our guys.

colson

Sean Colson, Philly Pride and Martin L. King, Jr. head coach

Black Cager: I think the recruitment of one of your current players, Charles Brown, gives a clear indication of how AAU/grassroots basketball is more important that high school basketball.

Kamal Yard: It is… it’s not the AAU guys fault… It’s just changing times… The college coaches, especially the coaches from the bigger conference tell me they don’t wanna see a kid like Charles Brown playing in a high school game against guys that aren’t even Division 3 prospects. A lot of this ties in with the way scholastic hoops has become saturated. The explosive growth in the number of charter schools means there a lot more teams, but there hasn’t been an increase in the number of players. These teams have to field teams. It’s watered down the basketball… What, if you are a D1 coach… are you gonna come see Charles Brown play against Palumbo or Esperanza? You are not coming to see that stuff.. If you wanna get a good gauge on his ability you wanna see him against Division 1 prospects. If you come to an Under Armour session, there are 40 17u teams and about 40 16u teams. With one plane ride you can see at least 100 Division 1 prospects.

Charles Brown pic 2

Charles Brown, St. Joseph’s University commit

Black Cager: In Philadelphia, there’s a concentration of talent at say 6,7 or 8 high schools. These programs are so stacked up that some really talented players don’t an opportunity to play. Guys like Brown, DJ Newbill (Penn State)  and Jarrod Denard (Claflin) leave one high school because they don’t get any playing time and emerge as All-State players at another school.

Kamal Yard: Take a program like Imhotep. Brother Andre Noble is doing an excellent job. Brother Andre is just like us.. He is all about giving back and lifting up the kids. Once you’ve been around him you gain an appreciation for all the things he does to take care of his kids. Now… Brother Andre looks at and feels that he has one of the best programs here. He has the best structure. So.. he’s going in… he’s getting the best talent. His program is just like DeMatha. DeMatha has kids that don’t play. They have kids that don’t qualify. Here in Philly, Roman Catholic has kids that don’t play a lot and transfer. People just aren’t used to seeing public schools doing it. Calculate the number of kids that have left different Catholic League schools over the past 5 years.

Andre

Brother Andre Noble, Imhotep Head Coach

Black Cager: Let’s talk about Philly college hoops… Which programs make the most sense for Philly kids? If I sent you my son and he was a D1 player which school would you suggest?

Kamal Yard: Imma keep it real with you… I’m a pro-Philly guy. If I was King for a day, if I could make rules I would make a rule where all of the top guys have to stay in Philly. I think that would reverberate throughout the Philly basketball community. Everyone would be better off. More assistant coaches would get head jobs. There would be higher salaries for the coaches and better attendance at the games. The talent level is so high here that if Philly kids were able to really infiltrate the City 6 programs shit would be bananas!

Black Cager: Do you think we are moving toward that? Kids are starting to stay home after watching many of those that left transfer back to City 6 schools. It seems the younger guys are learning from the experiences of the guys that came before them.

Kamal Yard: I think throughout the history of college basketball in Philadelphia, the better prospects, the better players always left. Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas), Andre McCarter (UCLA), Gene Banks (Duke), Dallas Comegys (DePaul), Pooh Richardson (UCLA) and Rasheed Wallace (North Carolina) all left. You have some that stayed like Michael Brooks (LaSalle), Cliff Anderson (St. Joseph’s) and Lionel Simmons (LaSalle). But for the most part, the better guys have always left. I think one of the main reasons kids leave is because it’s so rough around this city… The parents really influence that… They wanna get their kids away from the violence and mayhem they have seen all their lives. A lot of times the coaches get real petty and blame it on the kid, but in reality it’s the parents. If I’m raising a kid here for 18 years and I’m going to funerals all the time, first thing I’m thinking is my son is getting the heck outta here. If you go see the campus at the University of Virginia or you go out UCLA that’s the first thing you are thinking. I’m getting my kid as far away as possible from Philly. Take a kid like Savon Goodman (Arizona St.) at the end of the day he could have stayed here. But he had a pretty rough upbringing and when it came down to it his people were like you getting outta here. Same thing with Rakeem Christmas who grew up in Southwest Philly, his Aunt Amira was like you are going away. I do think it goes in cycles. At different times a lot of kids go away and at other times a lot of kids stay home. For me, I remember going to Big 5 games and I remember the intensity and the level of competitiveness Randy Woods (LaSalle), Aaron McKie (Temple), Bernard Blunt (St. Joseph’s) and all those guys played with. I think a lot of that was because those guys really knew each other. I think you are going to see more of that. All it takes is for some of these local kids to blow up and make to the NBA. I’m good with all the coaches.. I think all of ‘em do a good job. One thing about all the coaches, they are real Philly guys. I’ll never forget about ten years ago we were in a war down in West Virginia. Phil Martelli was so caught up in watching the game that he started yelling at the refs on our behalf. He got really loud and might have said some strong words. The refs threw him out the game… He actually got kicked out the game. The refs told him to get out and he said F you! He wasn’t faking it… I honestly can say, the area coaches are Philly guys to the core.

wilt-chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas University

Black Cager: If you were an AD or if an AD asked you and he needed a coach which current Philadelphia assistants would you recommend?

Kamal Yard: Right now, Geoff Arnold and Ashley Howard are everyone’s favorites. I think Geoff in terms of the type of person he is has everybody pulling him. Geoff is special. You know there are some guys that Geoff helped get into coaching that are now head coaches and Geoff has no bitterness towards anybody. So, selfishly speaking I would like to see Geoff get his shot. But I think Ash might be next up because he’s at Nova and he’s done an unbelievable job everywhere he’s been. When you talk about Geoff and Ash, I believe you are talking about 2 of the best assistant coaches in the country. I really do. They can really recruit. Look at the class St. Joseph’s just got. St. Joe’s doesn’t get those guys if Geoff’s not there. Look at the players Villanova’s gotten since Ash has been there. It ain’t no secret that when Ash was at Drexel they were able to win 28-29 games. Damian Lee was his parting gift to Drexel. He goes to Xavier and they get Semaj Christon. He goes to Nova and the DC pipeline really starts to open up. So at the end of the day, I think either one of those guys will be phenomenal coaches and they will recruit the hell out of Philly.

Geoff  & galloway

Geoff Arnold, St. Joseph’s Assistant Coach and his nephew New York Knick’s guard, Langston Galloway

Black Cager: A program like Rider, led by Kevin Baggett gets a lot of Philly kids. What would it take for a program like Delaware to really make inroads in Philly? Outside of Temple, they have the best facilities in the area.

Kamal Yard: I think that visibility is really important. I know Monté is from here, but I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen him. When was the last time he was in a barbershop in Southwest? When is the last time he was in a barbershop in West Philly? You know what I mean… I know as coach, a lot of times you can’t go to games like that but I think visibility is really important. If they could have some games where they play at Temple, at LaSalle or at St. Joseph’s every other year that would increase their visibility. But all it really takes is for them to get one that has a solid career and graduates. They can go from there. Delaware is a sleeping giant.

Monte

Monté Ross, University of Delaware Head Coach

Black Cager: Penn has had 2 Black coaches, Princeton has had 2 Black coaches, Bruiser’s been at Drexel for 15 years. Coach Chaney was at Temple for 25 years. Rider has a Black coach. Delaware has had 2 Black coaches. Maryland has had a Black coach. Georgetown and St. John’s have had two Black coaches. Rutgers and Seton Hall have had Black coaches. The Philadelphia Catholic universities, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova have never had Black coaches. Why are some schools more successful in attracting and hiring Black coaches and does it matter to guys like you that are advising elite prospects?

Kamal Yard: I think each situation is different. However, if it is overly and abundantly clear that a school doesn’t have Blacks in senior positions then that should be a problem. Because when I’m trying to tell a kid to go to a particular school or advise him on his decision one of the things I tell him is that  you have to open your eyes up and open your ears up. Who’s gonna be role models for the kid? Hypothetically, say they go to the University of Virginia and Craig Littlepage is the AD. That’s telling you that job is an attainable goal for you. You are seeing more African-American ADs. Temple has one. There’s a little progress being made and I think it comes from us complaining. But it’s still not enough. Blacks make up 70-80 percent of the players. It’s not just a problem at the college level. Look at the high school level. Catholic schools in Philly may have had, maybe 4-5 Black coaches in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Two of them were from West Catholic. That is an issue. Where is our network? Shit is important.

craig-littlepage

Craig Littlepage, University of Virginia Athletic Director

Black Cager: Thirty years ago, John Thompson, John Chaney and Nolan Richardson spoke out against what they perceived as attempts to limit or reduce the Black presence through increasingly restrictive academic requirements based on standardized test scores. Who is gonna speak out today? Where are our Chaneys, Thompsons and Richardsons?

Kamal Yard: We don’t have any… We are in an era where there is an overall lack of support for those fighting these measures. At one time, we had some power. When Thompson, Chaney and Richardson were in there battling they were very secure in their jobs. Now guys have to worry about job security. There is no security now. I think we need to start real small and build the opposition to some of the things the NCAA is implementing. I want to bring guys together… I think dialogue like this is real important.

Black Cager: Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts on these important issues. The Black Cager is very pleased to provide you with a platform to counter the very negative narrative usually associated with AAU/grassroots basketball. We wish you the very best in July. Philly Pride is the 3rd seed in the Under Armour Association and will be expected to vie for the national championship this summer. Let’s hope Phil doesn’t get kicked out of the gym rooting for you guys.

May 28, 2015

2:00 pm

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Pussy Is Undefeated!! Youngfellas, Please Take Notes…

Pussy got a better record than Floyd Mayweather. Undefeated every win by KO.

Charlamagne Tha God

Pussy is undefeated…

Some things you learn from your parents… Some things you learn in school… Some things you learn on the streets… Your friends, especially during that awkward transitional period known as puberty, will try to teach you a thing or two…

But, some of the most important lessons in life can only be learned through experience. It’s taken me half a century to come to this realization. Please allow me to give you a few of examples of shit I have come to understand, on my own, over the years.

I was born exactly 50 years ago, January 12, 1965. I came into a world and a nation characterized by strife and conflict. Unbeknownst to me, from the moment I drew my very first breath, my life was directly impacted by European colonialism and the resulting international conflicts.

White Americans and their European 1st cousins rule the world…

Life taught me this important lesson very early on. While I was learning to sit up, hold a bottle, crawl and eventually walk… The United States was heavily involved in a protracted conflict with the communist government of North Vietnam.

As a boy focused almost exclusively on how Ultra Man would overcome the evil monsters and awed by the strength Bam-Bam displayed in the fictional city of Bedrock, I had no way of knowing North Vietnam had run the French Colonialists out of their homeland in 1954. Looking back as I begin my second half-century, it kinda makes sense that the Vietnamese wanted to govern themselves.

ultraman

Ultra Man

Who doesn’t? What people in this world want to be ruled by foreign powers?

George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the rest of the American Founding Fathers wanted the exact same thing and, for that, they are revered and celebrated.

One can almost imagine Alexander Hamilton or Ben Franklin loudly saying “FUCK King George!” The founding Fathers were rightly pissed about the lack of American representation in English Parliament. They really resented direct taxes levied by the English Parliament on the American colonies without their consent. Over time, they came to the conclusion that King George and the rest of England could “fuck off.” They created self-governing provinces, they circumvented the British ruling apparatus in each colony by 1774. Finally, in July 1776, they said “we out!”

We all know the narrative… It’s been drilled into us from Day 1… King George and England were the bad guys. Washington and the other Founding Fathers seeking self-governance and independence were the good guys.

As I came into the world, active US combat units were being introduced into Vietnamese Arena. By the time I was four, in 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam.

vietnamChildren running during Vietnam War

The North Vietnamese, like Jefferson, Adams and Franklin 180 years earlier, sought independence and self-determination.

“Fuck the French… We out!”

My toddler brain was only capable of caring about Ultra Man and 1 soldier, Private James Earl Wilson, my father. He was drafted and sent to fight for “his country” I was told.

When he came home, his foot was gone.

That’s how I learned Europeans rule the world… During my formative years, all I knew was that war took my father’s foot. War was bad… Actually, war was really fucked up.

 

To me, Muhammad Ali made perfect sense when he said, “I Ain’t Got No Quarrel With The VietCong… No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger.” My Pop ain’t have no skin in that game. Yet, he came home without his foot. He made a helluva sacrifice for “his country” and the dying remnants of the French Colonial empire.

This process helped me become an “experiential learner.” That is, it helped me improve my ability to learn a lot of shit on my own.  Experiential learning is a process through which people develop knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences outside a traditional academic setting. Basically, it’s the shit you pick up and understand on your own.

For example, my teachers in high school and college never explained why George Washington was a revered “freedom fighter” and Nelson Mandela was a “despised terrorist”….

Some shit, I came to learn, you just have to pick up through experience and observation…

Over the past 5 decades, I have learned a lot of things outside the classroom.

White Flight is real…

Every February for as long I can remember, Black school children across the country are reminded that Crispus Attucks was the 1st American casualty in the the Revolutionary War, Frederick Douglass fought against slavery, Jackie Robinson was the 1st Black player in Major League baseball, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on bus to a white man, Dr. King gave a great speech during the March on Washington and the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court in 1954 ruling ended segregation in American public schools.

WKNnettie.jpgNettie Hunt and her daughter Nikki on Supreme Court steps in 1954

However, my experiences taught me a very different lesson… Every day, I got on buses with 200-300 other Black Darby Township students and we rode right past two predominantly white high schools to get to our predominantly Black high school…

While my history textbooks told me that school segregation was formally declared unconstitutional in 1954, my daily experiences from 1977-1982 taught me something very different… Segregation was very much alive… the Court ordered only that the states end segregation with “all deliberate speed.” This vagueness about how to enforce the ruling gave segregationists in Delaware County the opportunity to organize resistance. Their stall tactics worked for a full three decades.

Finally, after 30 years “all deliberate speed” arrived in the Southeast Delco School District… After, attending schools that were more than 90% Black from K-11, I spent my senior year as a distinct minority in the “desegregated” and newly formed Academy Park High School.

When it opened in 1982, the newly formed Academy Park HS was about 70% White and 30% Black… Today the school is about 70% Black and 30% White…

White flight is very real…

Again, my teachers and textbooks said one thing, my experiences taught me something very different…

This brings me to, perhaps, one of the most important lessons I have gleaned from 50 years of learning shit on my own. Like the examples cited above, the books don’t cover this one. Nonetheless… It’s extremely important.

Young fellas… Pussy is undefeated…. Please take notes!

In this corner some very famous, powerful and wealthy men like Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and most recently Bill Cosby….

And… In the other corner… pussy…

The resulting losses have been breathtaking, monumental and widely covered by the media… pussy has registered some incredible ass whoopings.

As you transition from High School to college, know that this lesson is not discussed in classrooms, you will not be assigned research papers on the topic, books on the subject won’t appear on syllabi… Yet… Eventually, you will come to know it’s the truth…

Of all the lessons Ol’ Heads try to impart on young fellas, this may be the hardest to teach. I have concluded, for many, this lesson can only be absorbed through experiential learning.  Unfortunately, most of us have to experience the body shots, upper cuts, left hooks and right crosses first hand.

One very recent high profile case serves as a classic example…

Over the past decade, David H. Petraeus, a retired four-star general served as commander of American forces in both Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2010). After that, President Obama appointed him to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2011.

Plainly stated, Petraeus was da fucking MAN! He was running shit!!

He was at the forefront of presidential campaign speculation….

It all came crashing down when pussy whooped his ass…

Iraqi FreedomGeneral Petraeus during a briefing at the Pentagon

On January 9, 2014, the New York Times reported that the F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors have recommended bringing felony charges against Petraeus.

Essentially, they are saying he was “pussy whooped” and it caused him to lose sight of his role and responsibilities…

According to the feds, he provided classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A. The Justice Department investigation stems from an affair Mr. Petraeus had with Paula Broadwell, an Army Reserve officer who was writing his biography, and focuses on whether he gave her access to his C.I.A. email account and other highly classified information.

Of course General Patraeus is presumed innocent of all charges until they are proven in a court of law… I have no idea if he committed any crimes… That is for Attorney General Eric Holder to determine.

What we know for sure is that pussy kicked his Ass… 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… He’s out!!

Petraeus admitted as much in a statement as he resigned from the CIA, he stated “after being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment… Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Petraeus said, referring to the C.I.A. “This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”

Man down!!

Petraeus was at the pinnacle of power and prestige within the American Government. His future was wide open… Several laudatory chapters in American history books already secured, he was headed for a legitimate run for President… No more… This story plays out over and over again..

Who can forget that day in December 2009 when the immensely proud and intensely private Tiger Woods stood before the world and admitted, “I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves… I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart.”

tiger-woods-02-jpgTiger Woods Apologizing on National Television for “transgressions” during marriage

Virtually unbeatable on the fairways and greens, Tiger suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of…. Pussy.

Down for an 8 count, dazed, trying to make it to the end of one of the late rounds… President Clinton resorted to the following verbal gymnastics while trying to extricate himself from a relentless assault featuring devastating body shots:

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…. Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

That Georgetown education provide Bill with some ammunition, but in the end it wasn’t enough.  He took the L like millions of other men that came before him.

bill_clinton_denies_monicaBill Clinton denies having “sexual relations” with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky

Young fellas… Pussy is about 973,864,899,034 – 0… More importantly, most of the victories have been secured by way of knockout…

I started thinking about all of this because one of my favorite young bucks, Brandon Austin, is on the ropes… He’s staggering, almost out on his feet… Like Holyfield in the third round of the Bert Cooper fight… He’s holding onto his opponent trying to prevent further immediate damage… On the surface, it looks like pussy’s gonna get another body…

Looks, however, can be deceiving…

When one examines the facts, it becomes apparent that he’s ahead on the scorecards and has gathered himself. Brandon stands a good chance of getting out of this thing alive, he can’t win… But a draw remains in the realm of possible outcomes.

The public’s perception of this particular contest, unfortunately, has been shaped by a series of less than favorable stories in national media outlets.  News purveyors such as the Huffington Post, regularly describe Brandon Austin as “a sophomore accused of sexually assaulting women at two other colleges he attended in the past year.”

On July 28, 2014, the Huffington Post reported that “Austin and two other basketball players were accused of gang raping a female undergrad at the University of Oregon in March. The case did not lead to the district attorney’s pressing charges, but the university did suspend the three indefinitely from the team as players and for up to 10 years from the school as students.”

BRANDON-AUSTIN-PROVIDENCE-facebookBrandon Austin

While condemning the behavior of the players, the story had to acknowledge that “the case did not lead to the district attorney’s pressing charges.”

Yet, a month earlier the same media outlet led with the following headline “Oregon Finds 3 Basketball Players Guilty Of Sexual Assault, Will Remove Them From Campus.”

Huh? Which is it?

Is it possible to simultaneously have no charges filed and be found “guilty”?

Yes… Yes… Yes… Austin has been “accused of sexually assaulting women” at two colleges. But, why not place emphasis on the investigation following the accusations and the resulting outcomes?

A Sexual assault is any involuntary sexual act in which a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or any non-consensual sexual touching of a person.  By all indications, he had sex with women at two colleges.

Like billions of other men, he likes Pussy…

But, he has NOT sexually assaulted anyone… At least, that’s what the prosecutors and grand jury determined in each instance.

In Providence, the evidence regarding Brandon’s involvement was submitted to a Grand Jury.

The findings are as follows:

“After presentation of the evidence to the Grand Jury with respect to Brandon Austin, it was determined there was legally insufficient evidence to ask the Grand Jury to consider charges against Austin.”

There it is… Plain as day… No charges! Yet, the media insists on finding, crafting, subtly creating a way to label him “guilty.”  Where are the arch-defenders of the process? I’ve seen so many of them on my television… I’ve read their op-eds… I’ve listened to them on talk radio…

In the aftermath of the grand jury decision NOT to indict NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo for murder following the strangulation death of Eric Garner, the DA, politicians and much of the mainstream media hailed the fairness of the process.

Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan stated, “No one likes to serve on juries, but they upheld their civic duty and they sat for nine weeks, and they’re the only people that heard all the evidence, and they’re the only people that deliberated…. I think we should respect their decision.”

When revealing the grand jury decision NOT to indict Officer Darren Wilson, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch declared, “The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction. After a full, impartial and critical examination of all the evidence and the law and decide if that evidence support filing of criminal charges…”

So… we are told, grand jury decides if there was the commission of a crime. In Providence, the grand jury reviewed the evidence and determined there was no crime.

Bandon’s cases, like others tossed by grand juries across America, is settled. Nothing to see here… Move on…

In Oregon, the Lane County District Attorney concluded that there was “Insufficient evidence to prove charge(s) beyond a reasonable doubt… the conflicting statements and actions by the victim make this case unprovable as a criminal case.”

Again, Brandon was cleared by the legal system. No charges were even filed in either case. He beat all criminal charges…

Despite sensationalistic headlines declaring him “Guilty,” Brandon has NEVER been convicted of any criminal acts.

On the scorecard, Brandon is ahead 2 round to none.  But, all the Ol’ Heads know how this story ends… We all know that Pussy is undefeated…

Legally speaking, the grand jury cleared him in one instance… District Attorney cleared him in another…

As Americans have been repeatedly told after other prominent grand jury and prosecutor decisions NOT to prosecute… “I think we have to respect their decision.”

He has been cleared of all criminal charges, but like General Petraeus, Tiger and President Clinton his reputation has taken a beating.

He’s in his corner right now… He’s listening to his corner men… The cut man is on standby…

I just wish I could find a way to let him, and other young bucks, take advantage of the things I have learned over the course of the 50 years I have spent on this earth… Some things, I wish they didn’t have to learn from experience.  At the top of that list is the fact that…

Pussy is undefeated.

NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1: AAU Done Right

Steve Kerr-page-0

Is Steve Kerr correct?  Has the process of becoming a better team basketball player “become completely lost” within the now dominant world of AAU basketball?  Kerr’s sentiments have been echoed by many within the basketball hierarchy.  Detroit Piston’s Head Coach, Stan Van Gundy says, “[AAU] is a bad system for developing players… They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are.”

The deeply held pessimism is enough to make one wonder if there are any redeeming aspects of AAU/grassroots basketball.  Nonetheless, any knowledgeable basketball person will tell you AAU/grassroots circuits (NIKE, Under Armour and Adidas) have superseded high school in importance for aspiring collegiate and professional players.  Hence, parents face a quandary, do they forgo the most significant platform in terms of exposure and high level competition because of the concerns expressed by coaches like Kerr and Van Gundy?  Or, do they try to identify AAU programs doing the things the “right” way?  I’m going to assume that virtually every parent will choose the latter course of action.

This begs the question:  What does AAU/grassroots basketball look like when it’s done right? Of course, first and foremost the program must be competitive.  Of course, a good AAU program has to win tournaments.  Kerr complains that winning is devalued.  He significantly overstates his case.  Winning matters and it matter a lot.  No one wants to play for a program that get’s smoked game after game. Nobody wants to be on the wrong end of 20, 30 even 40 point blow outs in front of ACC, Big East, Big 10, SEC and A10 coaches. Good AAU programs win games. Some of the very best AAU programs are in the mid-Atlantic region. NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1 are doing AAU/Grassroots basketball the right way. They win and their players consistently go on to play at next level.

These are grassroots organizations with well-established support structures and developmental programs that have improved the quality play among their participants. It should be noted that high quality programs enhance the athletic, educational, and social development of the student-athletes. It can’t be all about winning AAU games and tournaments. But, make no mistake these programs win a lot of AAU games and tournaments.

Playaz Peach Jam2014 NIKE Peach Jam Champions, NJ Playaz

In 2014, Team Final, led by Rob Brown, was the regular season champion of the NIKE EYBL circuit. Their 14-2 record was the finest in what is widely considered the most competitive grassroots league. Jimmy Salmon’s NJ Playaz (pictured above), led by All-American Isaiah Briscoe (Roselle Catholic HS) won the prestigious Peach Jam title. The Peach Jam Tournament provides a culmination for teams playing on the NIKE sponsored the travel team circuit and allows 40 teams to compete for an ultimate goal each summer. It is the premier tournament of the summer. The Final Four of the Peach Jam wan nationally televised by ESPNU (see below).

Peach Jam ESPNUAnother nationally recognized AAU program has emerged out of Middletown, Delaware. Under the direction of Terrell Myers, WE R1 took home both the regular season and UAA Tournament championships in 2014.  Led by Derrick Jones and Malik Ellison We R1 defeated highly regarded Sports U to capture the Under Armour Association title (pictured below).  WE R1, like NJ Playaz and Team Finals, is generally considered one of the most competitive grassroots programs in the nation. All three are consensus top 25 teams, with NJ Playaz and WE R1 coming in 1, 2 in most national rankings.

2014 Under Armour Association Finals2014 Under Armour Association Champions, WE R1

So, they win big games and bring home hardware from the biggest tournaments.  What else makes these programs special?  Some obvious questions immediately come to mind: Do their players get recruited? Do they get scholarships? The track record of Jimmy Salmon and the NJ Playaz in this area is beyond reproach. Tim Thomas (Villanova), Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), Gerald Henderson (Duke), Eddie Griffin (Seton Hall), Marcus Toney-El (Seton Hall), Vince Carter (North Carolina), Kenneth Faried (Morehead St.), Dahntay Jones (Duke), Sean Singletary (Virginia), Earl Clark (Louisville), Jeremiah King (Drexel) and Kyle Anderson (UCLA). Of course J.R. Smith and Kobe Bryant would have been included had they elected to play collegiately instead of jumping straight to the NBA. Another Playaz alum is NY Giants ALL-PRO wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Kyle AndersonKyle Anderson, NJ Playaz

Team Final alumni roster includes NBA lottery picks Tyreke Evans (Memphis), Mike Gilchrist (Kentucky) and Dion Waiters (Syracuse). This year alone, seven Team Final players have committed to NCAA Division 1 programs. This list includes Malachi Richardson (Syracuse), Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova), TreVaughn Wilkerson (Hartford), Trey Lowe (Temple), LaMarr “Fresh” Kimble (St. Joseph’s), Ahmad Gilbert (Geaorge Mason) and Levan Alston, Jr. (Temple). Khaif Wyatt (Temple) and JaQuan Newton (Miami) are also recent high profile Team Final Alums.

dion waiters

Dion Waiters, Team Final

We R1 alums include Dexter Strickland (North Carolina), Ben Bentil (Providence), Markus Kennedy (SMU), Jaylen Bond (Temple), Jared Mann (Stanford), Charles Cooke (Dayton), Khalid Lewis-El (LaSalle), Isaiah Washington (Penn St), Austin Tilghman (Monmouth). This year’s UAA Championship team featured Tim Delany (Villanova-commit) and Derrick Jones (ESPN #22, 2015). Also in the program is Sedee Keita (ESPN #34, 2016).

Ben BentilBen Bentil, WE R1

By any reasonable measure, these programs produce kids that get recruited at the highest levels.  But, what else should you look for in a “good” AAU program?  Well, a good AAU/grassroots program build social cohesion and and increase social capital among young people and adults in their respective communities. The younger kids in the program and the larger community should benefit from the success of the older kids.  By the time the players participate on the 16u and 17u teams, they are generally very well known and look up to by younger players in the program and the surrounding community. Pay attention to the twitter and instagram accounts of the players in the program.  Read what they write.  Look at the images they project.  Is this how you want your child to portray himself publicly?  Watch how the student-athletes interact with younger kids and other members of the increasing AAU fan base. For programs like NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1, basketball is used as a practical tool to engage young people in their communities through volunteering, resulting in higher levels of leadership, community engagement and altruism among young people.

Dion book bag 2Dion Waiters, Team Final, interacting with youth during Book Bag Giveaway

Another indicator of a good program is the intensity of the relationships between the players and level of respect players (and former players) have for the coaches.  The relationships between AAU teammates are just as strong, perhaps even stronger, than those among high school teammates. Young people regularly spend 7,8 or 9 hours in vans traveling out of state to play in tournaments. They eat and sleep together on the road. In each of the highlighted programs, positive peer relationships are encouraged through coaching. If you spend anytime watching the teams practice and play it becomes apparent that social inclusion is very important to the coaches.  Talk to the kids that aren’t the stars on the team.  How do they feel about the program?  Of course, the guys getting all the attention and limelight are likely to be happy.  Are the non-starters benefiting as well?  Do they speak highly of the coaches and their teammates?

Social inclusion also relates to offering equal opportunities to educational programs regardless of ethnicity or basketball ability. There is a great deal of attention paid to ensuring Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA level players are academically eligible.  Rob Brown, Jimmy Salmon and Terrell Myers are consistently monitoring report cards, arranging SAT tutors and tracking GPAs.  Each treats the low D1, D2 and NAIA recruits the same way they treat the ESPN top 50 kids.  When evaluating programs, find out how the last man on the bench is treated.  That is a true indicator of the quality of the program.

Sedee

Sedee Keita, WE R1, ESPN #34 (2016)

Lastly, find out if their players exhibit a pattern a negative acting out behaviors.  Do they get suspended from high school or college?  Are there allegations or accusations of sexual misconduct or assault? Have their alums been arrested while in college?  Given the recent explosion in the number of criminal incidents involving high profile athletes, it is important to know the people you trust with your children.  There can be little doubt that NJ Playaz, Team Final and WE R1  have a positive impact on character-building in their participating players. The thugh element is virtually non-existent in these programs.  These young men go off to college and the overwhelming majority are highly successful on the court and they graduate.

This can be largely attributed to the respective roles Jimmy Salmon, Rob Brown and Terrell Myers  play within their respective organizations.  Plainly stated, they have high expectations and as a result have a positive influence on the degree of ‘character-building’ within their programs.  Research suggests that participation in organized athletics such as AAU basketball can be used as a means to reduce delinquent behavior. But it’s important to understand that playing basketball alone does not directly impact on negative behavior. Accordingly, good AAU programs combine basketball activities with academic, leadership and job-skills development and training to address risk factors in children and youth.

If you want to see AAU done right visit any one of these programs.

Yo man… y’all really NEED AAU guys: An Open Letter to College Coaches

Coach… Coach…. I hear it all the time. “Why do I have to call his “guy”? Why does he listen to him? I’m paying his bills… I’m the one that gave him a scholarship… It’s because of me that he’s on national TV 25 times a year…” A lot of college coaches hate AAU/grassroots guys. It’s no secret. Y’all despise the close relationships players have with AAU/grassroots coaches. In your eyes, they are trying to “come up” off the kids. Y’all resent the powerful influence that that AAU coaches have on the recruiting process. Y’all wish you didn’t have to deal with these street savvy dudes.  It really bothers you that they can tell players to leave school early.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that in many, if not most, instances a player’s truest allegiance, his strongest alliance is with his AAU coach. This really gets under your skin and that of a lot of other college coaches. You want waaaaay more control over the players.  I get that.

Philly Pride Triple Threat Poster-page-0Rysheed Jordan, Philly Pride & Triple Threat

No disrespect Coach, but you’re DEAD WRONG on this one! You just don’t get it…. AAU/grassroots guys are not “THE” problem, they are not even “a” problem. In low income neighborhoods throughout America’s inner-cities, these guys are making positive life altering contributions to the lives of young Black men in desperate need of guidance and direction.  Yeah… yeah… I know Curtis Malone was just convicted for second time on drug-related offenses and sentenced to 100 months in federal prison last May.  So what Coach?  That’s just one man in one program.  Truth be told, despite Malone’s transgressions, he helped many who players from the “hood” who would have fallen through the cracks if not for his assistance.

Yo man… y’all really need those AAU/grassroots dudes.  Without them, a lot of these kids would have absolutely no shot at making it to college.

With all due respect coach, you don’t understand the crucial role AAU/grassroots coaches actually play in helping players deal with growing up in places like Philadelphia, Paterson, Newark, Brooklyn, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC and Houston. Young Black boys are immersed in woefully under-performing, dysfunctional and underfunded public schools during the day. After school, their home lives feature poverty, hunger, substandard housing and in some extreme cases, homelessness. On a daily basis, they confront persistent frustration associated with parental abandonment and/or incarceration.  AAU/grassroots coaches use basketball as a means of helping these boys remain engaged in high school and accessing higher educational opportunities.  If a select few can make money playing basketball it’s a blessing.

A lot of effort is required to produce a college ready young Black man in contemporary American inner cities.  Shit doesn’t just happen.  Coach, by the time you show up looking for tough “Philly” guard or a “super athletic” wing, literally thousands of hours have been invested by AAU/grassroots coaches into developing a young man prepared to deal with all aspects of collegiate life.

Playaz Poster-page-0Isaiah Brisoce, Playaz Basketball Club

AAU/grassroots coaches, especially in low-income urban areas, are filling a void. In many cases, they are fathering the fatherless. Without these guys, many of the young men you are trying to recruit wouldn’t even finish high school. They would be lost in the streets, like many of those who came before them.  The 80’s wasn’t that long ago.  Try to remember Coach.  The parents of current recruits came of age during the War on Drugs (1980-present) and they begat descendants who live, survive and play ball today in poverty stricken, hard scrabble urban centers. Some of the boys you’re recruiting are “crack babies.”  Most of them are products of what polite society refers to as alternative marital and familial forms.

Many came into being through “promiscuous” sexual relationships or long ago severed “common-law” marriages. Some are the “illegitimate” children of fathers with other families and quite a few have been “abandoned” by the biological fathers.  Fortunately, AAU/grasroots coaches step in, step up, embrace and try to help raise these young men. The players intrinsically understand and appreciate the role these men play in their life, even if you don’t or won’t.

JaQuan Newton-page-0JaQuan Newton, Team Final

My main objective here is to help you understand that relationship. I really want you to realize the AAU/grassroots coach is NOT the bad guy.

Let’s put this situation in a historical perspective. Think about how the parents, especially the fathers, grew up.  Beginning in 1980, under President Ronald Reagan, the situation for the urban poor began to worsen dramatically.  In the 1980s, while the number of arrests for all crimes had risen by 28%, the number of arrests for drug offenses rose 126%. While Nancy Reagan told Americans to “just say no”, her husband’s “War on Drugs” evolved into a War on Black males. According to the the US Department of Justice, from 1990 through 2000, “the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates, 7% of the total growth among Hispanic inmates, and 15% of the growth among white inmates.”

The “war” resulted in an unprecedented amount of casualties in urban Black communities. Coach, think about it…. these are the same communities producing many of the elite basketball players today. In 1994, the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. The overwhelming majority of these prisoners were Black males. In 2008, the Washington Post reported that of 1.5 million Americans arrested each year for drug offenses, half a million would be incarcerated. In addition, one in five black Americans would spend time behind bars due to drug laws.  These are the fathers, the uncles, the cousins and the older brothers.

Mississippi Basketball Association Poster-page-0Mississippi Basketball Association, Jackson, Mississippi

With so many Black men in prison, on probation or on parole, who is gonna raise the boys? Who Coach?  Who’s gonna step up?  Well, in too many instances, no one is raising the boys.  To a large extent, that explains why less than half of the Black boys in America’s major cities graduate from high school. In Philly and NYC only 28% graduate from public high school in 4 years. Of the more than 50% that don’t graduate, more than a third are in jail or prison. Only 26% of Black male HS drop outs are gainfully employed. It’s real out here coach. We ain’t got time to be pointing fingers because you don’t like the way guys handle their business.  AAU/grassroots coaches are a literally saving lives. Most importantly, they do it because others won’t or can’t.

Coach, you do understand that being incarcerated wasn’t the only consequence of the War on Drugs.  Time after time, federal and state policies imposed collateral consequences on those convicted of drug offenses. So even when their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and big brothers are released from prison they are still very much limited by their drug-related convictions. To this day, they are subjected to restrictions and conditions that are not applicable to those convicted of other types of crime. As result of the War on Drugs, millions of Black men face restrictions in obtaining various professional licenses, ineligibility for public funds including welfare benefits and student loans, loss of voting rights, ineligibility for jury duty, and deportation for immigrants. How are they supposed to rebuild their lives?  How are they supposed to take care of their families?  It’s real out here coach.

I respectfully submit, that it just ain’t fair.  The deck was stack against their fathers.  In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack cocaine when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine. This law was blatantly discriminatory against minorities, mostly blacks, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine. As a result, persons convicted in federal court of possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine received a mandatory of 5 years in federal prison. On the other hand, possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Do you know how many of the family members of the players you recruit got caught up in this mess?  A whole helluva a LOT…

AAU/grassroots coaches are fighting and struggling to keep these young men from following the crime riddled path of their oldheads. But Coach, you’ve gotta understand that this battle is not easily won. Crime statistics show that—in the United States in 1999—compared to non-minorities, African Americans were far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences. Statistics from 1998 show that there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-American drug users made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. Nationwide African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than other races, even though they only supposedly comprised 13% of regular drug users.

Now coach… you are recruiting the sons, grandsons, nephews, cousins, Godsons, young brothers and youngbuls of Black men that came of age during this era. Of course, to some degree the trails and tribulations of the elders have shaped the behaviors and outlooks of the progeny? If we compare the young Black males of the 1980’s and the contemporary young Black men you are recruiting, we find alarming similarities. Indeed, in many ways things are worse.  Basketball is all too often the saving grace.

We R 1 Poster-page-0

Derrick Jones, WE R1

Coach, in many cases, the AAU/grassroots coaches are the only thing standing between the players and the participation in illegal street crime. That’s why so many AAU/grassroots coaches keep the kids extra close to them. That’s why they allow them stay in their homes. That’s why they informally “adopt” them. That’s why their wives put up with 6’8” 235 lb dinner guests almost every night. The families of the AAU/grassroots coaches know how precarious the situation is for many poor inner city males.

AAU/grassroots coaches understand the odds.  Most of the time, they are from the “hood.”  In many cases, their linguistic skills aren’t polished and refined.  Don’t mistake that for ignorance.  These guys are very adept at using basketball to beat the staggering odds. Quite frankly Coach, rather than complaining about the AAU/grassroots guys, you should be grateful that their kids that are recruitable athletes. The peers of the recruits not in the AAU program would never gain admission to your school.  You know and I know most Black males in urban school districts don’t graduate in four years. We also know the overwhelming majority of young Black men have absolutely no shot at meeting NCAA eligibility standards.

So, let’s keep it 100, as the kids say, coach… Most players in urban areas need an AAU/grassroots coach to help him understand what’s expected of him and keep him on track. You might say: Why not the guidance counselor or the assistant principal? After I finish chuckling…. I would note that, in many cases, they are gone. Their jobs have been eliminated.  We must face the truth Coach, as a society, we have more or less given up on funding urban education. In 2013, the Philadelphia school system laid off 3,783 employees, including 676 teachers and 283 counselors. Along with teachers and counselors, those losing their jobs included 127 assistant principals and 1,202 aides who monitor the cafeteria and playgrounds.

So you see, in many ways urban black male athletes attending public schools are set up for failure. AAU/grassroots coaches enable kids to have shot at college. They are the ones that find tutors for the SAT. They are the ones checking the grades. If they weren’t there the pool of qualified recruits would be much, much smaller.

In 2016, the NCAA will establish a 2.3 gpa and a 900 SAT score as a minimum requirement for freshman eligibility. As you can see on the chart below, 39 of 58 (67.2%) of Philadelphia’s public schools have average SAT scores below 800. Only 9 of 58 (15.5%) have average scores above 900. All nine of those schools are special-admit magnet schools. There aren’t too many elite athletes at those schools. Young Black boys attending neighborhood schools are pretty much screwed. The system is structurally determined to result in ineligible Black male athletes.  They will have to score 200-250 points above the average score for their respective schools to meet minimum NCAA standards. Coach, you are gonna need the AAU/grassroots coach more than ever.

Philly Public School SAT scores

They have been doing it for years.  I have a lot of faith in their ability to continue getting guys through the NCAA eligibility center labyrinth.  AAU/grassroots coaches help impressionable, very “rough around the edges” young men deal with life situations face by the urban poor. They offer a guiding hand as the young men as they deal with the daily experience of inexorable pressure, unsolvable problems and overwhelming frustrations. If they give a kid a ride to your campus, you should find a way to help out his program. Buy a couple directories at his tournament. If he brings kids to your campus at your request, break him off a “lil sumthin.”  Gas and tolls add up.

Coach… you have stop complaining that AAU guys are “in it for the money.” At the elite program level, there is some money to be made. Some guys do alright. The tournaments themselves bring in some revenue.

EYBL LOGO

Let’s look at 2 typical “Big AAU” events. The first will cost, say, $550 for a team to register with play in the 14-under, 15-under, 16-under and 17-under divisions. The second will cost $650 and will be open to teams that play 15U-17U. Major events average between 40 and 60 teams per age division. “Big AAU” events also charge between $175-$300 for coaches packets that provide information on the players to college recruiters.  Event organizers can generate significant revenue. Joy of the Game’s Chicago summer classic charges $495 for boys teams from 15U-17U. Boys from 9U-14U pay $350. Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas charges $700 per team.

Some program charge fees to participate. AAU basketball does not come cheap. Depending on the team, families can expect to pay $400 to $4,000 per summer to play, including uniforms. In many cases, that does not include transportation to and from practice or games, hotel rooms, food, gas or admission for those not playing. Most programs offer financial assistance for players who need it, but normally it only covers the cost to join the team, not the peripherals.

But, Coach you know a LOT of the programs in the “hood” get by on the “muscle.” They can’t possible get $4,000 from a Mom on public assistance, living in Section 8 housing. Ain’t gonna happen, no way no how. These guys will have 50/50 raffles and a “fish fry” to raise enough money to travel hundreds of miles in cramped vans so you can see his kids play.

Coach… y’all really need to stop calling AAU/grassroots coaches “greedy” and money-hungry. Too many of you complain that AAU/grassroots guys are in it for the money.  They rightfully resent that accusation.  Stop… Just stop! The AAU guys know that Coach K made $9,682,032 last year. They know that’s $806,836 per month. It’s not a secret that Rick Pitino made $5,758,338 last year. Calipari came in at $5,511,381 and Bill Self earned $4,960,763. Overall, they know that 32 college coaches made more than a million dollars. They know about the private jets, the 3 company cars and the country club memberships. They really don’t understand the allegation that they are “pimping” players.

under-armour logoIn most AAU urban programs, coaches feed players. Coaches clothe players. Coaches even pay medical expenses for players with no insurance. Coaches pay for SAT test Prep.  Coaches pay for educational testing.  I know some of the best programs have sponsorship deals with Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. Others rely on Aunt Sadies’s fried whiting, collard greens and candied yams moving every other Friday night.

Coach, in many instances Daddy is locked up. Even if he’s not locked up, he’s not involved. Momma doesn’t understand the process. She’s just grateful that the AAU coach is involved with her son. She’s seen her nephews, cousins and the neighbor’s boys hustling, playing with guns, getting locked, dropping out of school, making babies and being unemployed. She’s worried about the guys on the street and she’s worried about the boys in blue.  Momma saw what happened to Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and score of other young men armed with their Black skin.

Through basketball, she hopes her son can maintain a level of focus and complete high school. The AAU coaches reinforce the importance of attending and completing school.  He’s an asset.   Through basketball, she’s hoping that her son can access higher education. She knows she can’t pay your school $40,000 -$60,000 per year for her son to attend. The AAU coach has been there. He’s helped her when her son started talking back. He’s kept him off the street. She knows he’s safe with the AAU coach.

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She’s grateful for the 3,4 or 5 pair of sneakers per year. Coach, I know you can’t relate, but $125-$175 is a LOT of money to some people. Before her son began playing AAU/grassroots basketball, he never left his hometown except for an occasional long drive down south for a family reunion or funeral. Momma appreciates the opportunities for he son to visit Las Vegas, California, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte. His friends “around the way” don’t get those opportunities. The boy knows he can’t count on his father. His Momma and her Momma have told him for 17-18 years, “that man ain’t sh*t.”  But, her son is special. The AAU/grassroots coaches made that happen.  Straight up Coach… y’all NEED those AAU guys…..