Players Handle The Coaching At This Year's Rip City Academy

by Casey Holdahl
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When the Trail Blazers are on the court at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, usually they are the ones receiving instruction from Terry Stotts and his coaching staff. But last Saturday after practice, it was the Damian Lillard, Evan Turner and the rest of the team doling out tips and suggestions to a collection of youth league players at the second annual Rip City Academy event.

The NBA is making youth basketball a large focus with their Jr. NBA programming in each team’s respective markets. The Trail Blazers' Rip City Academy is a community program, presented by Nike, that partners with existing recreational basketball leagues in Oregon and SW Washington to connect their youth to the Trail Blazers by providing tickets to a game, jerseys, coaching workshops and events, with a goal is to encourage kids to stay involved in sports longer and be motivated to live a healthy and active lifestyle.

On Saturday, for the second consecutive year, a collection of the players from participating leagues are invited to the Trail Blazers’ practice facility to play a three-on-three, round robin tournament with players from Portland’s roster handling coaching duties. Players were “drafted” into teams, with team broadcaster Jordan Kent handling commissioner duties, before meeting their new coaches and receiving a bit of instruction before hitting the court.

“We was able to coach and have fun with basketball in our practice facility,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “It was comfortable for us and it was competitive, it was fun. We were working with kids that actually play and they care about doing it, so it was a lot of fun.”

While the team engages in a number of meet and greets with fans throughout the season, Rip City Academy offers kids the rare opportunity to spend time on the court with the players, making it one of the more satisfying events for both the team and the youth in attendance.

“I think everybody feels comfortable in a basketball setting,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who was allowed to spectate with his players handling the coaching duties. “Obviously the players and coaches, that’s what they do for a living and the kids certainly enjoy being on the court. You can’t do that with everybody — not everybody is a basketball player — but I think those events are very comfortable for everybody.”

Comfortable, but also competitive. While no one likes losing, NBA players tend to dislike it more than most. So when their teams were facing off against each other, both the trash talk and cajoling of the referees tends to increase. This was particularly noticeable in the championship game in which Lillard’s team ended up grinding out a win against the squad coached by Evan Turner.

“We went undefeated, that’s all we do is win,” said Lillard of his Rip City Academy team. “I had the best player in camp on my team, it was funny I ended up getting him. He was like ‘I study your clips on YouTube, I got your shoes on, I’m about to get a new pair, it’s crazy how you change speeds.’ I was like ‘This kid really pays attention.’ It was fun working with them.”

While winning is nice, having fun and getting some exercise while learning the importance of teamwork is the real goal of Rip City Academy.

“It’s more about life and what basketball can bring to you as a person, being a good teammate, being responsible, being accountable, having a good time,” said Stotts of his message to kids at this year’s Rip City Academy. “I think the lessons you learn from playing with a team and being on the court and having to work with people carries over into life and that’s why I think, a lot of times, sports can be very beneficial for people no matter what profession they end up in.”

Go here for more information about how your youth league can become a part of the Rip City Academy.


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