The DeJuan Blair All Stars

photo For those of you who know me and those of you who know me through the blog, you know that I am an outdoors guy. I ski, hike, ride mountain and road bikes, showshoe, all things outdoors- all the time. I had my son Jack up on a pair of skis at 2&1/2 and on a bike by age 4. I had visions of Jack, Janet and me spending our lives together as an active, outdoors family. Imagine my surprise when in the 5th grade, he started shooting basketballs at my in-laws carport with lessons from my ex-hoopster father in law and my mother in law who was the consumate cheerleader. He came to me and said that he wanted to play basketball. I said,” Basketball? Basketball?” ” We don’t do basketball, we are an outdoors family- we ski in the winter.” My lovely wife gave me a look that said all too clearly that,” its not about you big guy, it is about him and what he wants to do with his friends.

Well, being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, I got him involved with the Eden Christian Academy grade school team.In addition, I talked to Ernie Kuysner, the Adidas Rep, that we met at the Y who got us involved in AAU Basketball and Daryn Freedman- Basketball Stars of America We were on our way and Janet and I never missed a practice or a game. Fast forward, and now we are involved with North Allegheny High School freshman and JV ball and still with BSA which has proven to be a great experience. There is a bit of a riff I have discovered between high school coaches and AAU coaches. High School coaches believe that AAU is unstructured and emphasises the individual instead of regimented team play. But all the college coaches come to AAU tournaments to view top college prospects so you can come to your own conclusion. Suffice to say that the tournanments were a lot of fun with interesting parents and well coached teams. The travel as a family was really the best for me. People asked me if I trained Jack and I always say,” I can’t even dribble. I am an outdoors guy – remember.”

Well at the beginnning of last season after JV ball was over, we were playing our first tournament with a BSA team when Jack drained 11 three point shots in a row against a Maryland team. There was a team on the sidelines who were watching him and from that moment on, they kept texting him and asking him to play for their team- the DeJuan Blair All Stars. This team is an inner-city team named after the former Pitt player and current San Antonio Spurs star. As it turned out, one of the coaches is Darelle Porter who played for Pitt and coached DeJuan as a young boy. His son DJ is on the team and is a legitimate D-I college prospect. Maurice Montgomery is the head coach and called Jack and asked him to play. Well circumstances played out and the next thing we know, Jack is wearing the black and silver of the DB squad at the King James Tournament in Cleveland.

This was a whole different experience for us but the family of DB was very welcoming and easy going. Honestly, I didn’t have much reference with city kids and parents and this came as a welcome surprise to me with their friendly and welcoming demeanor. As it turned out, we had a great season which culminated in the Nationals in Orlando,Fl. The boys finished 10th out of 114 teams in AAU Division II. Division I is the tournament where all the kids going to Duke,NC, Pitt, etc. play and D-II is all the rest which is pretty competitive seeing that teams qualify from all over the country for both tournaments. But this is not the story I want to tell.

Jack had some great coaching along the way and learned life lessons from guys like Pete Strobl and Steve Brodzinski Along with Daryn Freedman, these guys taught Jack the importance of commitment to a sport and to a team. That is what impressed me as I learned more about basketball. I still don’t know jack about most of basketball, but I am learing and listening to these guys. I learned a lot about many aspects of team sports and sportsmanship. When we met up with Maurice and Darelle, they continued on this path and got the boys involved in community service like Ronald McDonald House Charities. The boys serve meals and interact with the children who are waiting on life saving operations from UPMC-Children’s Hospital. Their stories touched the hearts of our coaches and their commitment to RMHC as “their team” has been commendable and has taught the boys that service is most important in this world.

The DB family is not all about fun and basketball games. These folks work very hard to give their kids the opportunity to play basketball at a high level with great personal sacrifice. There have been tough experiences,for example, with kids who have lost their fathers to manslaughter and have been raised by hard working single moms. Others who have had a myriad of personal and financial difficulties but manage to keep a smile on their face as they see their sons compete and succeed. You learn a lot about people when you see them under stress but the thing about the DB family is that they are loving and helpful even under dire personal struggles. When Janet and I found out about the Nationals last year, we learned that 26 people would be staying in one house. We wondered how all of that was going to work but with kids all over the floors at night, constant trips to the grocery store, running back and forth between games, cooking, cleaning, it was one of the best weeks that we have ever spent in our lives. We can’t wait to go back and do it again for the last time seeing that U-17 is the last age group for AAU.

Perhaps the best lessons learned through DB and basketball in general were learned by me. You can’t live vicariously through your children and you have to let them grow without interference. Jack will be 18 soon and the days of me really telling him what to do are over. I have to let him experience life as a man and if he asks for advice I will give it in the best loving way that I can but not until he asks. We have had our ups and downs with basketball but for the most part what I have experienced is 30 percent basketball and 70 percent life lessons and relationships created. When that last basket is made at the Nationals this July(swish- nothing but net), this outdoors guy will shed a tear or two. I am not sure what lies ahead for Jack and basketball but if the DB experience is the end of the trail, he has had a great run and he, his mother and I will move on to the next adventures in life. As usual, we will be watching from the bleachers, but we will see a young man mature and grow into the man that God created him to be. The game of life is next and we can’t wait to see the score. Thanks for reading.