Actualizing Big Dreams By Playing G.R.E.A.T. Games
Cavs host Jr. Rookies Training Camp at The Q
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BEATING IN THE HEARTS OF MANY a happy childhood are the syncopated rhythms of backyard basketball. Played on rec center playgrounds or concrete driveway courts, there is something about the backyard variety of hoops that builds upon character as it unharnesses dreams. It is something solid-making, you and your closest pals, your fiercest competitors, playing round after mythic round through the afternoon twilight and into the night.
They are the games that give you grit, the games that hone your skills, the games that cement the friendships that transcend the fissures of time and distance. From the first thaw of March Madness until the sweatshirt chills of late autumn, backyard basketball is often how you kindle the first flickers of dreams. You at The Q - or the Gund or the Coliseum or the old Arena, for that matter - you as Austin or Campy, Brad or Mark, Zydrunas or LeBron...Such backyard games are where you begin making the winning shots.
And, according to Drew Gooden, such games are also where you begin making the winning choices as well.
THE WINE AND GOLD POWER FORWARD echoed this philosophy throughout his talk with the 25 youngsters, ages 12-14, who were attending Monday's Jr. Rookies Training Camp as part of the U.S. Marshal’s G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program, the tip-off of the new season's Cavs-NBA Cares campaign. From arriving through the underground garage and entering through the players' entrance to suiting up in the locker rooms to ultimately playing a game on the hardwood under the coaching of Cavs guard Larry Hughes, the Jr. Rookies were treated to the excitement and feel that is professional basketball at The Q.
"Surround yourself with good people," Gooden told the assembled Jr. Rookies quietly and forcefully. "I knew guys who were in gangs, guys who sold drugs. But the guys I hung out with were guys who played basketball. The guys I hung with were the friends who wanted to go to college and that's how I made it to the NBA."
The Jr. Rookies had a little taste of everything in their two hours spent at The Q, rotating through stations and drills, discussing teamwork and goal-setting, participating in conditioning and physical flexibility exercises, all as if they were - and in essence are - the prized recruits, the first-round picks, the next big things, complete with veteran mentors poised to show them the ropes and help them commence their ascension to stardom, regardless of the field they choose.
"Your peers will follow a good example," said David Wesley, newly-arrived to the Rock and Roll city, his latest stop on a long career that has seen him become one of the league's stalwart personas. "Some of you may be quiet and not really want to talk. But by leading by example, you don't have to talk. Set good examples for your friends and you won't have to 'say' anything."
When asked by one rookie participant if one encounters peer pressure throughout a lifetime, the North Coast newcomer was candid. "I've been in the league 14 years and even with a new team, you want to be with the cool guys. You want to be in. Peer pressure doesn't go away. There's always temptation. There's always pressure. We get older, but we don't necessarily grow up. But you still need to lead."
One of the keys to honing such leadership skills, both players agreed, is finding solid role models and then listening to what they have to say. "Your role models should be people you see every day," said Wesley, himself a father of four. "It's hard to have role models you only see for three hours on a TV. A role model should be someone you can see how they live their lives day-in and day-out. My role model was my dad. I sought his friendship. I respected his sense of discipline. If you let the right people direct you - your parents, your teachers, your coaches - you'll be able to be successful."
GROWING UP, U.S. MARSHAL PETE ELLIOTT was all about backyard basketball, complete with the jumper to back it all up. And his passion for the game has helped nurture the G.R.E.A.T. program's partnership with the Cavaliers. Growing up, his was the house with the hoop, with the brothers to team up with (or against) and the parents who gladly suffered teams of teen hoopsters. His was the backyard where the rim, with the right tail wind, was just low enough to dunk and where there was just enough driveway space to take and make the fade-away jumpers for the walk-off wins. And it all, night after night, year after year, cultivated friendships and character, mentors and aspiration.
"There's a great team that's been built with the U.S. Marshals and the Cleveland Cavaliers," says Elliott, the youngest U.S. Marshal appointed in the history of the Northern District of Ohio, the 26th appointed since the district was formed in 1855. "Basketball builds character. Forming teams, being part of the team dynamic, finding your role within that dynamic, all help in developing a strong sense of self that can guide someone throughout a lifetime."
"I grew up in Oakland," said Drew Gooden, "and when I was your age players from the Golden State Warriors like Chris Webber and Tim Hardaway would come out and talk to us like I'm talking to you today. And I listened. I soaked it up like a sponge. And I hope you'll listen and soak it all up as well...Surround yourself with good people and good things'll happen to you."
NBA Cares is the league's global community outreach initiative that addresses important social issues with an emphasis on programs that support education, youth and family development and health-related causes.