CLIPPERS TIP OFF LATE NIGHT HOOPS

LOS ANGELES – The basketball court at the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex was buzzing Thursday, as several athletes from 13 different Los Angeles recreation centers gathered for the Late Night Hoops Tip-Off.

Presented by the California Endowment, Late Night Hoops provides alternative activities for over 170 young adults, aged 18-25, allowing them to engage in a 17-week, late-evening basketball league.

“Programs like this are definitely what kept me off of the streets and kept me out of trouble,” said Clippers forward Matt Barnes.”That allowed me to go to college and make it to the NBA. I was in all of these kids’ shoes 10-15 years ago so it’s great to come full circle, get back here and show love. I think that programs like these are great in keeping kids off of the streets and doing positive things.”

The tipoff event began with a press conference which included words from representatives with the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Clippers. Barnes, guard Darren Collison and center Ryan Hollins concluded the press conference with a few words before breaking off for pictures and team warm-ups.

Late Night Hoops promotes non-violence, fitness, education and employment opportunities, all while promoting the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The program even goes beyond basketball with events including Job and Health Fairs for the league’s participants and the local community.

Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck, came out to support the event and spoke about the importance of Thursday’s tipoff event in addition to the positive influence this program has on the communities of south Los Angeles.

“Tonight is about building relationships,” Beck said. “It’s about showing young adults, who’ve maybe had a difficult life experience a path they can take that is a little different than maybe they have taken before. It’s a great opportunity for the police department to show that they care about the community. All of these leagues do more than play basketball. They build partnerships, they build community, and they raise young adult’s expectations about who they can be. It’s a great thing.”

The evening continued with an exhibition game between the Late Night Hoops participants and the LAPD basketball team. Barnes, Collison and Hollins jointly coached the Late Night Hoops team, energetically participating in the game. Hollins served the position of head coach, as Collison and Barnes talked individually with players, encouraging the positive aspects of their game.

LAPD came out with the victory although the win didn’t stop the play. Upon completion of the game, several players from both teams filed into dunk lines and proceeded to participate in an informal dunk-contest which included attempts at lobs, 360 and windmill dunks.

One of the LAPD team members, Ivan Lombard-Jackson, a first time Late Night Hoops participant, believes the event is another opportunity to give back to community that he grew up in.

“I grew up here,” Lombard-Jackson said. “I grew up in this area coming to this park, so it means a lot coming back here and helping out. One of my old coaches is here, so seeing old faces continuing to help out really means a lot. Being a policeman, this event is big for community-police relations. Because this is a less formal environment, these kids get to talk to us and see how we are off-duty.”

For Mark Mariscal, the Superintendent for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the Late Night Hoops program brings community activity full circle, encouraging participants to stay active within their communities.

“One thing we find from the participants since we’ve restarted this program is that we see some of these young adults volunteering at other rec centers,” said Mariscal. “It’s so great to see these young adults are out volunteering with the younger kids, giving them opportunities for them to strive, work hard and play high school basketball, maybe even college basketball.”

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Photo: Varon Panganiban