Late-Night Jammin' Hoops in OKC Takes on Thunder Feel

For many of the kids coming to Thursday’s Late-Night Jammin’ Hoops at the FACT Center in northeast OKC, one of the last people they probably expected to show up on their neighborhood basketball court was a former NBA player.

But Grant Long, Thunder broadcaster and 15-year NBA veteran, came – and came with a message.

“You are in charge of your life. Take full control of your life,” Long told the crowd of more than 100 kids, parents and community volunteers.

It was a critical message, given that many of the kids in the neighborhood feel daily pressure to become involved in gangs.

The late-night basketball program is a community partnership with the Oklahoma City Police Department’s FACT Program, a proactive outreach effort focused on gang prevention. The program operates out of two facilities – one newly opened center in southeast OKC, and the original facility on NE 33rd and Lottie.

Aletia and Paul Timmons started the late-night hoops program last summer after seeing a need for children in the neighborhood to have something positive to do while they’re out of school and to connect with a different set of people.

“A lot of times I think the kids in the northeast community don’t have the ability to interface with people who are successful in the community,” Aletia noted; they seek to change that by bringing in a motivational speaker like Long each week.

“It’s just something for them to do at least one night a week – and something that’s positive,” Paul added.

Paul, who is a captain with the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, had the connections that led to the partnership with the FACT Program, which provides the facilities and finds police officers to volunteer for security and supervision.

Aletia, a local attorney, shaped the program around what she believed kids in the neighborhood needed – positive role models, inspirational messages, a good meal and a safe and healthy place to play. She has rounded up volunteers and donations to coach the basketball games and to prepare and serve the food. It’s usually just hot dogs, but Aletia, who is concerned with food security issues, knows that may be all some kids have to eat that day.

Sgt. Wayland Cubit agrees that when kids have needs that are unmet, it makes them more vulnerable to outside influences.

“A lot of kids in this community have a lot of obstacles they have to deal with,” Sgt. Cubit said. “Gangs prey on those kids that are dealing with obstacles and they provide those things they’re missing.

“So what we want to do, as much as we can, is fill in those blanks, provide those options for them and show they don’t have to give in to the hype.”

Though several dozen kids are part of the FACT Program and get that focused attention, the late-night hoops is open to anyone who wants to take part. Since last year, the program has grown. A few dozen kids showed up on Thursdays last year, but despite temperatures in the 90s and 100s, more have shown up these past two weeks than ever before.

The Thunder’s involvement this week certainly drew some kids out who wanted a chance to hear from a former pro basketball player and to see the Thunder Drummers perform.

Long told the kids to really think about what they experience coming to the FACT Center and seeing the efforts that go into the late-night hoops program – and to stop making excuses to justify poor choices.

“There are no excuses,” he told them. “If you’re sitting there thinking that nobody cares – somebody put this thing together for you guys today. So somebody does care. The people that are here, they do care about what you’re doing.

“That’s why we’re all here. We’re supporting you.”

One of the young men who has learned that lesson is Tyrae Threats, a 16-year-old who came to play basketball, but has also been in the FACT Program for about a year.

Tyrae shakes hands readily and gives polite and straightforward responses about what the program has done for him.

“This program, for me, has kept me out of gangs, kept me out of the old ways I used to be,” he said. “It’s a real good program – they help me mentally, physically and emotionally, helped me get over some stuff I had in the past.”

Both volunteers and police officers involved in putting on the late-night hoops hope to see more kids like Tyrae as these programs grow.