What is basketball to you?
Think about it for a second. Many would say it’s a sport, many would say it’s a hobby and there are many that would say its life to them. To Darrell “D-Solo” Harris and Robert Griggs, both dads’ to boys who play Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, it’s all three of those, but most importantly, basketball is education. “It teaches young children fundamentals of life on and off the court,” says Harris.
At T.J Ford basketball, the AAU teams run by former University of Texas and NBA basketball player, Terrance Jerod Ford, young adults are taught the art of basketball but on top of that, education is the most important thing being ingrained into the bright minds of the student athletes in his program.
Notice that the student came first and then the athlete. That isn’t the case in many AAU basketball programs. The athletes only exist while the student is nonexistent. For TjFordbasketball, the athlete doesn’t exist without the student. Each and every one of the players, when they are at the gym, in the weight room or on the court, they represent student athletes.
Even though coach Griggs son is not in the program with T.J, he admits that the TjFordBasketball is like none other. “No disrespect to the Blue Chips or the Houston Hoops, but they aren’t preaching this in their programs. They might mention it from time to time like “”Oh education this and that,”” but it's just something for them to say, they aren't truly preaching it like this program is.”
In AAU basketball, one’s performance in school doesn’t hurt one’s chances of playing, but it’s a simple philosophy for T.J Ford, “If you don’t pass, you simply don’t play.”
“Education is knowledge and knowledge is the key for empowerment with our youth,” said Ford.
“We stress that a lot ourselves as parents,” said Harris. “That the student comes first and then the athlete. There have only been three people that have worked out my boy, coach Griggs, T.J and I, and we’ve always stressed to our boys that education is the most important thing, if you aren’t getting the grades, you won’t be playing basketball. You can’t have one without the other.”
With a program of more than 60 student athletes ranging from the ages of seven to 17 years old, the discipline of balancing school, family, basketball and social life varies dramatically.
“My thing with that,” says Griggs is “I have three sons, my oldest son coming out of high school was compared to T.J Ford, to make a long story short, I always told him how well balanced you had to be as a person. He finished number 42 in Texas basketball history in scoring, but I was telling him you don’t want to be considered just an athlete, you want to be considered a student athlete, in order to do that you have to prioritize and manage your time wisely.”
After school and basketball practice, coach Griggs son would get home and do the necessary things to study to get the grades, spend time with family and at the same time he managed to put work in the gym outside of practice.
“I’ve preached the same method to all three of my boys,” said Griggs. “For my two younger ones, they look at me and they get it, they have been hearing it for so long and have seen it for so long that it comes naturally to them.”
With school being the important message in the program, T.J Ford doesn’t forget that you also have to be a student of the game. “If you want to be the best, the kids have to understand that they are going to have to give 110 percent on and off the court because the journey is not easy, you have to be willing to be coached and taught.”
According to NCAA research, approximately one in 30, or approximately 3.3 percent, of high school senior boys playing interscholastic basketball will go on to play men’s basketball at a NCAA member institution. About one in 75, or approximately 1.2 percent, of NCAA male senior basketball players will get drafted by a National Basketball Association (NBA) team.
“I realized how blessed and fortunate I was to play college and professional basketball, because like the numbers state, not many student athletes are as fortunate. But my professional career was cut short due to injury, and I understand how important education is on and off the court, and that’s why we stress it so much in our program.”
“My youngest boy, he loves the game of basketball,” said Griggs. “He knows that he needs to keep his grades up so that basketball isn’t stripped away from him, but he loves it so much that he is a student of the game, he googles his position, which is the point guard position, and he watches YouTube videos of drills to learn how to improve his game.” Now that’s what you call a student of the game
“It amazes me when I hear parents or people say that sports is a waste of time,” said Harris. Sports teach, grow and transform boys to men or girls to women. “So much is in basketball that you can equate to life. If you don’t see it, you’re just not looking for it. Basketball is one of those sports were its team orientated and driven,” said Harris. You have to play alongside others and get them involved, it’s not about yourself but rather comradery.
If you ever catch yourself at a T.J Ford camp or practice, make sure you take a note pad to take notes and running shoes with clothes suited for running because you will get a work out in, that is if you can keep up with T.J going from gym to gym to teach hands on the younger group and the older group.
“T.J Ford is so hands on with the program. I think that a lot of NBA players lend their names, but they aren’t hands on or even present with the program, and T.J is,” said Harris. “I brought my son Tylon here for the next level, and I know without question that T.J will get him there.”
For coach Griggs, he speaks extremely high of Ford, “I can tell you this right now, I am already seeing a difference in my boy,” said Griggs. “This is my first session with T.J, I sat down with him for 20 minutes and I was blown away by him. He doesn’t have to try to impress me, I’ve seen what he can do and I’ve seen what this sport means to him. He knows that education is way bigger than basketball."
With the AAU season looming right around the corner, you will catch the program practicing two or three times a week, but most importantly you will find the young boys and young adults in the class room five days out of the week getting there education.
“Our main goal as parents is getting our kids to college. The pro stuff is on them, we’ll be there for them every step of the way, but as parent’s out priority is getting our boys to college and getting that education,” said Griggs.