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Jr. NBA Court of Leaders mentorship program provides youth with voice

Who are the next generation of leaders?

12 high school student-athletes join the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders, announced on Thursday, November 10th.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” 
Simply put, that should be the official motto of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders.
It was announced Thursday that 12 supremely talented student-athletes were named to the second installment of the program. While their unbelievable talent on the basketball court played a big part in being selected, their outstanding leadership qualities were just as important.
The Jr. NBA Court of Leaders is a youth leadership council comprised of high school players from around the country. The goal is to help young adults learn how to amplify their voices not only in their local communities, but also across the basketball landscape.
“Coming out of everything that was happening in 2020 with the pandemic and just different things that were going on socially around the country, you saw a lot of our NBA and WNBA players use their platform to speak out,” said Candice Haynes, the NBA Domestic Youth Player Development Program Manager. “We wanted to make sure there was also an opportunity for youth athletes to have their voices heard.
“We saw a lot of kids that we had relationships with through our JrNBA programs that were being vocal and being active on social media and felt like it was a great opportunity for us to connect with those young people and introduce them to some additional opportunities and resources that we can provide,” Haynes said.
The first cohort of the program is co-chaired by the WNBA’s Naphessa Collier, who plays for the Minnesota Lynx, and the NBA’s Jaren Jackson Jr., who is a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. NBA and WNBA players will be named as co-chairs of this second group at a later date.
The second class of Jr. NBA Court of Leaders is comprised of:
Jaloni Cambridge
Nashville, TN
Justice Carlton
Katy, TX
AJ Dybantsa
Needham, MA
Joyce Edwards
Rembert, SC
Isaiah Evans
Charlotte, NC
Caleb Gaskins
Melbourne, FL
Leah Harmon
Frederick, MD
Isiah Harwell
Pocatello, ID
Olivia Olson
St. Louis Park, MN
Jason Richardson II
Las Vegas, NV
Bryson Tucker
Bowie, MD
Ava Watson
Flowery Branch, GA
This weekend, the dozen student-athletes will participate in a variety of activities that are sure to provide a lifetime of memories, including:
  1. Friday: Participate in a leadership development workshop and basketball workout session.
  2. Saturday: Attend Saturday’s Utah Jazz vs. Washington Wizards game, receiving a tour of Capital One Arena and watching the pre-game shootaround. The educational trip will also feature tours of the White House, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Jr. NBA realizes that these rising stars have the ability to drive change and is giving them the tools needed to help empower them.
“It’s a one-year program,” Haynes said. “There is a one-year window where we focus our programming effort on a particular group of kids. But, the kids, once you’re in the program, are in it. So, those relationships they’ve established, they continue to have. We still engage with the first cohort. They’re still very active in the group. So, it’s less of ‘the program ends’ and more about introducing a new wave.”
“There are some kids – for example, Kendall Dudley – who is starting a non-profit,” Haynes said. “We’re helping to support her efforts and her desire to give back to her community. So, she is still part of the program. Every kid that was in that first cohort is still part of the program even though there is a new cohort.”
The student-athletes are matched with mentors who work in the various NBA, WNBA and G League departments.
“We bring in different executives and community leaders and a bunch of different people that will come and speak to the kids about their journeys,” Haynes said. “We listen to some of the things that these kids are interested in. Whether that’s understanding how to navigate being a student-athlete, managing relationships or time, making better decisions and mental health and wellness. We use those virtual pieces as an opportunity to have a forum for them to connect and grow.”

Kendall Dudley and Kanaan Carlyle, of the first Jr. NBA Court of Leaders class, will serve as alumni co-chairs – continuing to help shape the program while supporting active members.
“It lets me know that my personality shines just as bright as my basketball skills,” Carlyle said on being able to represent his class.
“I feel empowered by being given this opportunity,” Dudley mentioned. “It made me realize that other people see something in me. It gave me the extra boost to continue to inspire other people.”

This new step for Dudley and Carlyle has given them an opportunity to reflect on their time so far in the program. “The experience was amazing,” Dudley said. “We’ve met so many influential people that are great contacts to have in life. We’ve also (as a group) become close and now supportive of each other.

“We had many teaching moments about being a leader and how to lead,” Dudley said. “Personally, I found that most helpful. Being able to help people get better effectively is the best skill to have in any career.”
Their advice for the next group coming in?
For Carlyle, “Embrace opportunity, learn as much as you can, talk to as many people as you can, soak it all in.” 
What makes this program so special is that it gives the student-athletes the opportunity to leave a legacy off the hardwood.

The inaugural program was announced in April of 2021. Athletes get on the council’s radar by showing great leadership qualities at camps and tournaments in the United States.
“I think based on the feedback we received from the kids themselves, the program was a success,” Haynes said. “I think seeing how active the first cohort has been, identifying a personal investment in the program and hearing from them. Hearing from a kid who will say on the first Zoom call, ‘I didn’t say a word. Then, a year and a half later, I feel comfortable expressing myself and I feel comfortable in leadership. It’s helped me on and off the court.’ Just the feedback from the kids, I think is my ultimate measure of success.”
While this second group of student-athletes already have the foundation needed to be leaders, the council will provide them with support, guidance and mentorship. The trips put the young athletes in a unique learning environment. Training tools include workshops, webinars and guest speakers.
“We hear from parents, coaches, even hear from some of the folks that we bring in and introduce them to from these different experiences and hearing them talk about how they see the growth in these kids,” Haynes said. “I think that is a good measure of success. And even in launching the second cohort, having players that we reached out to be part of the group are like oh yeah, ‘I heard about Court of Leaders, I want to be part of this program.’ I think that is definitely success to us.”