Basketball league for teens offers more than hoops

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A group of teen boys gathered Saturday morning at Oak Park’s Calvary Memorial Church to practice for a basketball tournament that starts this week.

The boys from Oak Park, Maywood and Austin ran up and down the court shooting baskets, rebounding and passing with Coach Matt Jones.

9312The team was born out of an after-school program run by the church’s youth ministry that hosts up to 80 kids every Tuesday night.

They play basketball, eat dinner, play other games and talk about God, said 15-year-old Anthony Stewart.

“It’s a fun place; it’s like a family to tell you the truth,” said Stewart, who’s been part of the group for more than two years.

He said he has learned how to be a leader.

“It’s selfish thinking you can do everything on your own.”

And that is one of the lessons Jones said he wants the teens to learn.

“There is a big ‘me mentality’ in this neighborhood, and you see that on the basketball court,” said Jones, a resident of Austin.

He wants the teens to learn how to be part of a team and support each other, so the team has been working on passing and other drills where players have to rely on each other.

“Basketball teaches discipline, motivation and keeps [kids] off the streets,” said Jones.

The team also gives kids who love basketball but don’t make the school team a chance to play the game, he said.

A big part of 931 is mentorship groups. Kids have to be involved in a group to be on the team.

“Every kid has a mentor. Yes, it’s about basketball, but it’s also about mentoring kids,” he said.

The team hangs out at McDonald’s after games and goes to coaches houses to watch NBA games. 931 Basketball has even bailed kids out of jail, he said.

Shaquille Veasely, 18, just graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School. The soon-to-be Southern Illinois University student goes by “Shaq” on and off the court. He’s been involved in 931 since freshman year of high school.

“When you come here, it’s a good, safe environment. It’s like a family. Everyone gets along – it’s like no worries,” he said.

The tournament, hosted by the 931 after-school program and By the Hand Club, will be held at By the Hand Club for Kids’ new Austin location at 415 N. Laramie Ave. at 7 p.m. July 16, 18, 23 and 25. The public is invited to attend.

Click here to see more pictures of the team.

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