Nuggets' new Director of Youth Basketball wants to reinvigorate city’s hoops scene
Kieon Arkwright has had to adjust to the finer nuances of corporate life in his first week as the Denver Nuggets Director Youth Basketball. That means large stacks of paperwork, terms such as “workflow” and countless meetings. But for Arkwright, he is excited and enjoys the process.
He knows just how far he and his good friend, Nuggets guard Monte Morris, have come as two men who used hoops to get past dire circumstances in Flint, Mich.
“I buried a lot of my friends at 16, I didn’t even know I could live to 21,” Arkwright said to Nuggets.com.
After months of pitching his case to the Nuggets to help run the team’s grassroots and youth basketball programs, Arkwright finally got tapped up for the job two weeks ago. The 29-year-old has known Morris since the Nuggets’ reserve was in the ninth grade and has served as his trainer since the guard’s draft process in 2017. However, Arkwright’s experience is much more far-reaching than his experience with Morris…literally.
He spent a few years playing professionally in Central America, and after hanging up his sneakers, he focused on training other players and constantly learning new techniques. In addition to Morris, Arkwright also trains WNBA superstar Skylar Diggins and numerous pros who make their living overseas. Arkwright has also run basketball clinics both in the U.S. and on the other side of the globe in Japan. In Denver, Arkwright sees a situation that is similar to his time spent in Japan – a chance to lay the foundation in a largely fragmented youth basketball scene in the city.
“That is the one reason why I wanted the job…This is familiar territory, being able to start something and just build it. Giving it an identity is the first thing.” Arkwright said.
Amy O’Brien, the Nuggets Director of Team Operations and Player Development, immediately noticed Arkwright’s passion for youth basketball upon meeting him. At Morris’ first community relations youth clinic, she noticed how Arkwright, in an unprompted and voluntary move, gathered some kids and ran drills with them. She was impressed with his ability to communicate and attention to detail. It was for those reasons she recommended him for the Director of Youth Basketball role.
“He really had a good vision of what youth basketball should be,” O’Brien told Nuggets.com. “He just seemed like the perfect person to rehab our youth basketball program.”
She added, “He believes it’s really important for the Nuggets to be entrenched in the youth basketball community of Denver…He wants the Nuggets to have the pulse of youth basketball in the city."
O’Brien hopes Arkwright’s leadership will help the Nuggets in creating a similar youth setup to what the Avalanche have with local youth hockey programs in the city. The Avs work directly with Colorado Hockey in a collaborative effort to optimize youth development at all levels.
“With basketball, there are so many entities that are running great programs. The hope is that Kieon’s program with the Nuggets can kind of be the hub for all of those programs,” O’Brien said.
Arkwright’s vision is simple: He wants to use his resources at the Nuggets to provide Denver’s young basketball players with professional-level training and equipment.
“From my experience, I’ve really grown in love with bringing the youth up to speed with the professional style,” he said. “With the Nuggets, I have the platform to really bring a community up to speed and give back to the youth.”
Morris detailed why he feels Arkwright is an ideal fit for the role.
“That’s his passion and that’s what he feels like he’s put on Earth to do, to give back the knowledge he’s got playing professionally…He’s a basketball junkie,” Morris said. “A guy like that he’s always on his computer [studying basketball]. Even after work, [he’s] up all night putting together projects. There couldn’t have been any better guy for that job.”
Basketball brought both men out of poverty and Arkwright is determined to provide similar opportunities to kids of all backgrounds. His initial goal will be learning more about the community he’s working in and trying to refurbish a few courts around the city. He says the bulk of his clinics and camps will take place during the summer, but his efforts to instill a new youth basketball culture will be a year-long endeavor.
Arkwright is driven by the opportunity to potentially inspire another local legend such as former NBA star Chauncey Billups, a Denver native, or help a young athlete get a scholarship. He wants to play a role in raising the level of passion of the sport in the Mile High City.
“Here in Denver, it needs to get up to speed a little bit. I don’t think it’s enough going where its bringing awareness and showing the Denver community that ‘Hey, this is a basketball state as well.’ That’s going to be my goal, to really get a basketball in the hands of every kid here in Denver and really change that culture. That would be awesome.”