By: Molly Weber
On Tuesday, 300 Sacramento youth got to live out the dream of being an NBA player as the Kings and Queens Rise Summer Co-ed Basketball League wrapped up their second successful season with a championship tournament at Golden 1 Center. Their authentic game experience included locker room access, a running clock, scorekeepers, referees, pre- and post-game interviews with the Sacramento Kings content team and playing on an NBA court. The players competed to secure the championship titles for their division, with Valley Hi team winning the 7th-8th grade bracket and Meadowview team winning the 9th-10th grade bracket.
The second year of Kings and Queens Rise, a league formed in partnership with the Kings, the Build.Black. Coalition and the Black Child Legacy Campaign, was packed with activities for the athletic and personal development of the youth participants and development of the coaches including a training with the Positive Coaching Alliance. After an exciting first season, the league launched its second season in 2019 to continue providing an opportunity for underserved youth to play basketball while also gaining valuable personal and interpersonal skills.
“The league builds our players’ confidence and the commitment of coaches, families and community organizations lets them know we respect and value them. We’re giving them our time and our love and they’re doing the same for us and for their fellow players,” said League Commissioner and Always Knocking Executive Director Gregory King. “The results aren’t just personal – the league prioritizes family and mentorship, interrupting violence by building connections to resources and creating healing and safe relationships and opportunities to learn.”
All participants played games throughout eight Sacramento-area neighborhoods, each of which was represented by two co-ed teams: a 7th-8th-grade team and a 9th-10th-grade team. In addition, this season the league added five 5th-6th-grade teams, bringing the total to 21 teams.
"It’s fun to get to play with kids from other schools and get a chance to see different places in Sacramento," said Fruitridge/Stockton 7th-8th Grade Team Player Ahmani Collier Jones.
During the season games, Kings and Queens Rise players received special visits to their games from members of the Sacramento Kings. Kings’ Mascot Slamson visited the league on June 1 to tip-off the season, cheer on the teams and even joined in on the fun as a new recruit. Sacramento Kings two-way player Wenyen Gabriel visited during a weekend game to show his support and provide some inspiration to the young players.
“Being a Sacramento Police Officer and a coach in the League allows me the opportunity and privilege to demonstrate how team dynamics work on the court and in the community,” said Del Paso Heights 7th-8th Grade and 9th-10th Grade Coach Benjamin Gray. “Building trust with the community and showing that when people can work together as a team, we are all stronger and complement each other to reach common goals. Each of us becomes better when we work as a team and learn to rely on each other. These lessons are relevant and when properly implemented, can become defining moments in all of our lives.”
“Playing with Kings and Queens has meant a lot [as] I got to play with a different variety of people and people of both genders but also got to see how I got better from the beginning of the season to the end and not just by skill but also knowledge of the game itself,” said Valley Hi 9th-10th Grade Team Player Ania Simmons. “I had friends from last year, but I got to get closer to them and got to meet some new people and see their skill levels. I believe that if I went to a different neighborhood I would be a little more comfortable because I could connect with kids just by saying I was a part of Kings and Queens.”
"[I enjoyed] getting the chance to play up with older kids,” said Fruitridge/Stockton 7th-8th Grade Team Player Kevin Hawkins.
"I didn't think I would like playing with boys,” said Fruitridge/Stockton 7th-8th Grade Team Player Kamiyah Hawkins. “But I think it made me better."
In addition to playing in summer basketball games, players from the league as well as youth from Build.Black. Coalition got to take part in a career mentoring session hosted by Kings legend Chris Webber, prior to the tip-off of California Classic. During the session students learned about career development from employees of the Sacramento Kings, Kaiser Permanente, Sierra Health Foundation and more. They also created vision boards to help brainstorm and envision their future careers, and received words of encouragement from Chris Webber. For a closeup look at the event, watch the video recap.
“The Kings and Queens Rise Basketball League has greatly impacted my student players by teaching them structured basketball,” said Marina Vista 7th-8th Grade Coach Shelbi Oliphant. “They have been taught empathy, sportsmanship and leadership and how to utilize those as life skills. We are better because of it!”
Sacramento Kings Owner and Chairman Vivek Ranadivé and The Center at Sierra Health Foundation President and CEO and Founding Member of the Build.Black. Coalition Chet P. Hewitt shared the benefits of the basketball league in a Sacramento Bee published op-ed, highlighting how the league is “a chance for these future leaders to meet and learn from youth and mentors beyond their own neighborhood boundaries.”
The Sacramento Kings look forward to their continued partnership with Build.Black and to providing more opportunities for Sacramento youth in years to come.