Giving Back Where It All Began for Dre

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Over a decade ago, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker walked into the small gymnasium inside the Davis-Scott YMCA, situated on the dividing line of the Nevada Street and Denver Heights neighborhoods on the east side of the city. On Friday, one of the kids that Parker mentored that day will play for the Thunder against the Spurs. But first on Thursday evening, just an hour after the Thunder arrived in San Antonio, Andre Roberson was back at his old YMCA, giving back to the people who helped raise him up.

Teaming up with a Texas grocery store chain, Roberson supplied 200 needy families from the surrounding area with Thanksgiving meals. The line of people streamed out the door, but thanks to some special helpers in the form of Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis, Dakari Johnson and Terrance Ferguson, Roberson and Thunder staffers were able to hand out the turkeys, stuffing, potatoes and other traditional foods in short order.

“It shows the commitment of the organization. We’re all in this together, we’re one big family and I appreciate the support,” Roberson announced. “They didn’t have to come out and do it but they did. It means a lot to me.”

“There was a lot of joy. I love this time of year,” Roberson smiled. “I have a lot of memories here and it’s good to be in this position of giving back because they’ve been supportive since day one of my basketball dreams.”

The Davis-Scott YMCA was where Roberson developed into the athlete he is today. At first a shy kid, mentors at Davis-Scott like Kirk Brown, the former sports coordinator, and Rufus Miller, the former athletic director, served as guides on his journey to be recruited to the University of Colorado. Roberson took care of the rest, standing out in Boulder then getting selected in the first round of the NBA Draft before marking his mark in the Thunder’s starting lineup.

“He was kind of an introvert to start out with. He kind of started to come out a little bit. He was really quiet, but he was a good kid,” Miller recalled. “He was a good athlete. He was a little green. Pretty much all the good basketball came through this gym.”

Still, years later, he has memories of his court and his hoops, and the people that made the building special. One time, Brown and Miller helped organize a trip up to a basketball tournament in Austin. Roberson and longtime friend and high school teammate turned NBA guard Jordan Clarkson helped lead their team, and won the tournament.

Those types of moments have lingered with Roberson, and that’s part of the reason why he was so gracious on Thursday, but also why he was so excited to see everyone. It seemed the entire time, the Thunder guard had an arm around someone’s shoulder, just catching up. His reach extended to his community, giving those 200 families a chance to have a much happier Thanksgiving than they might have had before.

“That’s what we had always taught, anything you had, share it with others. Evidently, he got that message,” Miller said. “It’s a tribute to him and to his organization to allow him the time off to do something like this.”

“We’re always glad to see our kids succeed out of our branch and our community,” Brown added. “To come and give back, that gives the other kids the opportunity to see what they can achieve and come back and do in the community too.”

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A great big blue partition divided the basketball floor along the midcourt line on Thursday night, and Roberson was taking photos, talking to kids and passing out turkeys on one side of it. Something else was happening on the opposite side.

It was Michael De La Rosa’s Under-12 YMCA basketball team, practicing on the other half court. De La Rosa’s shirt was soaked with sweat. He had just run himself ragged to keep up with his kids, and to help them get better. After practice was over, his players rushed over to get a glimpse of what all the commotion was about.

“The kids all recognized him,” De La Rosa said of Roberson. “The people of the community recognized him.”

“It’s so awesome to see him giving back today. We know they have a busy schedule,” De La Rosa added. “We’re very grateful that he was here.”

You couldn't help but wonder which of the kids in that bunch might one day remember Andre Roberson’s visit, and coach De La Rosa’s tutelage the same way the Thunder guard carried around his own recollections. Recollections of trips to Austin, of an NBA legend coming to visit his gym and those who made something of themselves reaching back to lend a helping hand.

“That’s how it all started for me,” Roberson reflected. “It brings back a lot of memories.”

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