Catching up with Jr. NBA Program of the Year Finalists Arkansas Greyhounds
Jacob Schultz was a high school track athlete, when love led him to a career coaching basketball... in a roundabout way.
“There was a girl that I was pretty fond of and we dated a little bit when we were younger but it didn’t really materialize or anything,” Schultz recalls. “Finally, I came to my senior year in high school and I was like man, if I’m going to get her attention before we graduate I’ve really got to do something. Here came the wintertime, the start of basketball season, and her mom worked the concession stand at the local rec league. Of course, the girl worked there too, and I was like man, I’ve got to get in that gym somehow. I was thinking, Well, maybe I could coach.”
Schultz managed to get a gig as a volunteer coach, and that experience revealed to him that coaching hoops was in his blood. He would eventually go on to start the Arkansas Greyhounds Basketball Organization, a group focused on “teaching and training boys in the fundamentals of basketball with an emphasis on preparing them for the next level of play in high school and hopefully college.” Based out of Crittendon County, Arkansas, the Greyhounds serve both boys and girls in grades 1-10. Schultz has helped supplement the kids’ basketball programs with educational resources, such as tutors and mentors, to help make players more marketable for future scholarship opportunities. They have also participated in community service projects that include street clean-ups and back-to-school events.
The Greyhounds recently advanced to the final six in the Jr. NBA Program of the Year competition, the second consecutive year a Grizzlies Youth Basketball affiliate has been named a finalist. With a $5,000 prize at stake, Schultz already has an eye on several ways he could use the reward. And like everything else he does, it’s all in service of kids in his program and the families in his community.
We caught up with Schultz recently to hear about the Greyhounds program.
Grind City Media: Congrats on making the final six! First, before we get to the basketball, I have to ask, how did it turn out with the girl at the concession stand?
Jacob Schultz: Well, I got the coaching position, and we basically spent every weekend for the next eight weeks—I coached, she worked the concession stand. We talked, and it materialized into us continuing to date and she turned into my wife. Of course, with basketball it’s also like my wife now, because I just continued to fall in love with it just like I did with her. I guess the rest has led me to here. But now anytime that she complains about me spending too much time with the kids or doing too much basketball I say you know what? None of this would have happened if it weren’t for you anyway, so we’re both in it together. (laughs)
GCM: That’s great. Did you play sports growing up?
Schultz: I was actually a track athlete. That’s what I did in high school, and I went to Arkansas State as a track and cross-country runner as well. However, I don’t have any basketball background. I played pickup in my yard with my friends all my life but I never played on a team or anything like that. Not at all to the extent to what I have the kids doing right now. Honestly, everything that I’ve learned about basketball and coaching I’ve watched YouTube videos and tutorials and things like that.
GCM: Once you got out of school and started your program, did you know right away that starting a basketball program was what you wanted to do? To do what you’re doing takes a lot of dedication and there’s a lot of thankless work you’re putting in. How did you know this was the right thing for you?
Schultz: You know, it’s like you don’t even know what you’re doing until time has passed and you look back at it. That’s kind of how it was for me. I didn’t know any different. I just was doing it because I love doing it and I love the kids and the success that we were having. Of course, success fueled it, although we also lost our fair share of games, and it was tough. Right from the get-go, nothing ever turned out to be what I expected.
For example, I can assume that parents are going to pay their dues or everybody’s going to be able to have their kids travel here and there, but at the end of the day it’s not like that. I remember the first time that we were going to travel out of town and I had all the kids in the gym and I had a few kids come up to me saying that they needed a ride. It was like the last practice before the next day we were leaving to go to Branson, Missouri, or Hot Springs or something. We were all sitting there in the gym and I said, Okay, raise your hand if your parents are not going and you need a ride tomorrow. And literally the whole team raised their hands. So, from the get go it’s like, okay, this is what I’m faced with. This is what I’m doing and honestly I don’t know how I can tell you why I continued to keep pushing on, but I think it’s just because I just fell in love with the kids. I love the kids more than the game, and it’s like you keep pushing forward and wanting them to have success.
GCM: What kind of growth have you seen from the kids? What have you seen them learn while you’ve been doing this?
Schultz: Well, of course I’ve watched their basketball skills grow exponentially. That’s been amazing. My main group of kids that I work with, I’ve been working with them since they were in first grade. This past year was their very first year of school ball. They were in seventh grade, and literally after their first game I had all of their parents text me saying, Oh my gosh coach, look what you did! And they were showing me videos and this and that because their skill level was just so far ahead of everyone else. You don’t really notice those things on a daily basis, but then when they are back at home and they are amongst their peers you’re like, Whoa, they’re really good. And so that has been great for me. And then just from a non-basketball side we have a lot of kids that come from pretty tough home lives, and a lot of those kids that I have on that particular team come from some of the toughest home life.
There’s one kid in particular that when we first got him, he was kind of rough around the edges. I could already tell I think when we first got him he was maybe in third or fourth grade. He was taking care of some younger siblings at home. You could see him do things like hoarding food or maybe he had clothes that were too small for him, he had some anger issues and things like that. Just watching his growth and his personality and his character grow over the years with us has been something that I have been just so proud of. Of course, he can still have his outbursts here and there, but it is night and day compared to when he first started with us. He’s always been more mature because, of course, he’s had to take care of younger siblings, but just watching his maturity paired with his growth, those are the types of things that keep pushing me.
Even when things get tough and I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore, just thinking about the impact that we have. Which is again something you may not think about in the moment, but it may be something that you reflect back on and you’re just like, Wow. Maybe his situation will be different in the future because hopefully maybe some of the guidance that myself, the team, my wife and some of the other local leaders have in the community will continue to help push him forward and maybe he can really be something special, whether it’s academically, athletically or whatever he chooses.
GCM: What has the association with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Jr. NBA meant to your program?
Schultz: The Jr. Grizzlies have been a phenomenal experience for us. Antonio, Lindsay, Marshall and everyone who works within the Jr. Grizzlies program has been outstanding. It has impacted our organization on a monumental level. Since partnering with the Jr. Grizzlies, we have been able to offer camps and clinics that have given Jr. Grizzlies basketballs, Jr. Grizzlies jerseys, game tickets, and 60-90 minutes of skills training to all participants. Many of the participants have never owned their own basketball, let alone traveled to the FedExForum or watched a Grizzlies game, so being able to provide that to the youth within our community has been a blessing.
Occasionally, Antonio will reach out to me in regard to our organization participating in special events they are hosting. Usually this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of my players, as they have been able to practice and play with members of the Grizzlies on the FedExForum floor during preseason practices, played knockout with Ja Morant and others on the Grizzlies team, and have participated in a Season of Giving event with Jaren Jackson Jr. at the Nike Outlet. All of this would not have been possible without Grizzlies Youth Basketball. They have provided so many experiences for the youth in our program that will last a lifetime.
GCM: You have a pretty clear idea of what you were going to do with the money if you’re able to win it.
Schultz: Yes. So man, we’ve been bouncing around gyms. When I first started the program I was able to use my alma mater’s gym which is the same gym that we started Rec League in and that was great. But over the years I think it was a combination of we were getting too big for the gym and then I think some of the types of kids that I was working with didn’t mesh with what the school wanted. So I’ve just kind of made it a point to keep pushing forward and finding other places. We kind of had a period there where we were practicing on the track and practicing on concrete pads and just anywhere I could lay out some cones. It really didn’t even matter if we had a goal or not.
Then there’s an area of West Memphis, and there is actually a school over there which I think they’re closing next year or the year after that. Crazy enough there’s a Boys and Girls Club over there and even crazier than that they had a blind lady who was running the whole thing. She would just sit at the front and lock the door when a kid would come in and then unlock it when they were leaving. It was just a wild scene but I was hurting so bad for a gym and for a place for us to call home and that’s where we practiced for a few months. It was rough. We left there looking for a new place and finally I was able to work something out with the Catholic church over there in West Memphis off of Missouri Street. Ever since then we’ve been able to practice over there and they’ve just treated us great. In the winter and stuff it’s no problem because it’s a nice gym and it has heat. However, in the summers and especially with you being from around here you can understand how hot and humid it can get. And really the spring and summer for us that’s our biggest time for basketball because the kids are out of school, we’re able to do camps and clinics and events. But it’s just so hard because we’re having to push practices back to seven or eight o’clock just so it can be slightly cool to get in there and practice.
What we decided if we were to win I’m going to get one of those giant 14- or 15-foot ceiling fans, which don’t turn very fast at all but they generate so much wind. We thought about doing an air conditioner, but of course with air conditioning you’re going to have the bill associated with it. We just thought in lieu of the air conditioning the fan might be a better option. I think if we were to win we’re going to use a portion of the funds for the giant fan and then what I said with another $1,000 what I would like to do is, of course with everybody in the world right now, everyone either has or knows someone who has been affected by the pandemic. Of course, here where I live a lot of people that I know and a lot of kids on our team, their parents have been affected one way or the other, whether they’ve been laid off or furloughed or their shifts have been cut. With kids hopefully going back to school soon, I know it’s going to be a tough time, because I know back to school time is a big money hit for a lot of people. I wanted to help relieve some of that burden for a lot of people, and hopefully maybe with $1,000 or so we can go out and purchase backpacks and maybe pants and shoes and shirts and things like that. Kind of necessities, and also my wife is a teacher so she helped me out with what they may need as far as school supplies that we could get as well.
Then, the last thing that I said that we would do is I was going to take the whole organization to Magic Springs, which is a water park. For a lot of kids around here and especially a lot of the kids that we work with, going to Disney World is just out of the question. I tried to think of a realistic event that we could do because usually every year as our back to school/end of season event we used to do a slip and slide or I would rent one of those giant inflatable blowup water slides. I thought this year if we’re able to win, I would just blow all those out of the water and get everybody tickets to Magic Springs.
GCM: That’s awesome. Last thing: What keeps you doing this every day? I know it’s a lot of work and a lot of times it’s thankless. What keeps you invested in this?
Schultz: It’s the kids. It’s the kids. It’s being able to give to them and just see their faces. For example, we got the Jr. NBA gift package that we received for being one of the six finalists. It was backpacks and shirts and socks and basketballs and everything like that. Being able to give it to them and watching their faces just light up keeps me going, because some of those kids they may have never had a new backpack before. They may have never had their own basketball before. Everything that’s come with the Jr. NBA so far the past couple of weeks is something that, of course, I’m extremely grateful to have coming, but it’s something that even if I hadn’t have gotten I would continue to do this, just because I love those kids and I just want to see the best with them, and hopefully they can succeed. I tell them the same thing every year. I say, As long as you still want me to be your coach and you want to keep playing with me then hey, I’ll still be your coach. That’s how we start every season and we’ve just been doing it for the past six years now.