Basketball league for teens offer more than hoops

Keeping their eyes on the ball - and the future

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By Katie Kather

A group of teenage boys gathered last Saturday morning at Oak Park's Calvary Memorial Church, 931 Lake St., to practice for a basketball tournament starting 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. The 931 team came out of an after-school program run by the church's youth ministry, which 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 has been part of the group for more than two years.

Stewart's also learned how to be a leader.

"It's selfish to think you can do everything on your own."

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," Jones said.

The team also gives kids who love basketball, but don't make the school team, a chance to play the game, he added. A big part are the 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," Jones said.

The team hangs out at McDonald's after games and goes to coaches' houses to watch NBA games. They have even bailed kids out of jail, Jones said.

Shaquille Veasely, 18, just graduated from Oak Park and 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 the 931 program 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.

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