How the Detroit Pistons summer basketball academy fosters growth and inclusivity

Joseph Hambrick was filled with excitement when his basketball coach at John R. King middle school mentioned an opportunity to attend the Pistons Academy.

The 14-year-old said the camp was important to him because of the relationships he built while playing basketball.

“It's not about what I learned (this week) because I know basketball but it’s building friendships with the coaches, even the little kids,” Hambrick said. “It's a fun experience.”

Hambrick was one of ten recipients of the Pistons Academy scholarships sponsored by Gatorade.

In partnership with Children’s Foundation and Priority Health, the mid-June camp was held at the Pistons Performance Center. It was one of 17 that the Pistons sponsored throughout the metro Detroit area during the summer. Director of youth engagement and development, Aaron Smith is running the ninth year of the program with a focus on building skills for on and off the court.

“At the end of the day, I think we all share the common goal of teaching, dribbling, passing and shooting, but more importantly, teaching life lessons,” Smith said. “Our staff understand how to utilize moments to teach and reinforce the idea that no matter what, respect and being a good teammate is mandatory.”

The sounds of dribbling basketballs and encouraging shouts filled the PPC court throughout the week while Smith and other coaching staff taught different basketball drills and exercises.

Detroit high school senior and Pistons Academy coaching staff Brandon Jackson Edwards said being involved in the Pistons Academy has been a longtime goal of his.

“It’s all come full circle for me,” Edwards said. “I always wanted to go to the Pistons Academy, but I was starting to age out of the program, so I was already looking at a road to start coaching.”

Each day of the program consisted of professional instruction with an emphasis on fundamentals during the morning hours followed by full-court games and contests in the afternoon.

“There are so many things you can do without the ball in your hand and that's what we try to teach here,” Smith said. “I think that's what separates us (from other programs), we really focus on the team aspects and being a piece of a bigger goal than just yourself.”

Campers were also surprised by visits from Pistons personalities.

“Kids need to get out and get their exercise up,” former Piston Earl Cureton told Pistons.com at his visit. “For them to be able to interact with each other, learn how to play team sports, and play with each other every day; I think it's extremely important.”

All youngsters who participated received a custom Pistons reversible jersey and a complimentary ticket to a Pistons home game for the upcoming season.

“I think basketball is so powerful, it's such a powerful tool.” Smith said.

“It enables us to put kids in situations that they otherwise would not be in and then utilize the game to help with other life skills; so that's why I'm just so grateful to be able to do this.” For more information about Pistons Academy, click here.