Changing Lives Through Grassroots Basketball, with Terrell Myers and Keith Stevens

Many people think that AAU basketball is all about providing a path for elite athletes to showcase their skills for college and the NBA. But that’s only part of what Grassroots basketball is.  Coaches like today’s guests, Keith Stevens (Team Takeover – Nike) and Terrell Myers (We R 1 – Under Armour), work with young men to make them better basketball players, provide opportunities for higher education, and turn them into better people.

Advancement for Blacks in Sports (ABIS)

If You Only Knew with Dr Debby Stroman Keith Stevens and Terrell Myers

 

STROMAN: Welcome to “If You Only Knew” with Dr. Debby Stroman! And today is an exciting day because we’re going to talk about basketball, my first love. And we’re going to talk about it from the perspective of the “Grassroots.” Those young men who are out there trying their best to perform so that they can make their high school team, they can make their college team, and then one day possibly play professional basketball. And I have two of the greatest in our nation: Terrell Meyers from “We Are One” and I’ve got Keith Stevens from “Teen Takeover.” So I want to welcome you guys to the show.

TERRELL: Thank you. Glad to be here.

STROMAN: Excellent, excellent.

 

KEITH: Hey, Dr. Debby. Thank you, thanks for having us.

 

STROMAN: So I want to go to where it all started first, and let’s start with you, Terrell. Tell us about how you got involved with sports. And then, obviously basketball is obvious—well, it is! It is your first love, right? Tell us what happened and how you got to be this avid friend, coach, and advisor to basketball.

 

TERRELL:  For me it started actually on the baseball field. Uh, I started playing baseball and I just remember I’m not a good–I don’t really like being outside. And it just got– as I got older it just felt like it just got hotter. So I’m like they’re still–I have to find something indoors and I remember sitting in the dentist office and looking at “Sports Illustrated” and it was a player on the front of “Sports Illustrated” named “King Rice” and that just– that right there, I thought was the coolest thing ever. And I decided–you know, I decided from then on– you know, to pick up a ball and my father always told me, “whatever you do, just be great at it. I don’t care if you’re– if you’re the best garbage man be the best garbage man that you can possibly be.” So I picked it up and worked on my craft and fell in love with the game and that–that took me all to do some other things and then–then I had a lot of great mentors that really changed my life just with a few words so I just wanted to– I wanted to be that person in–in someone else’s life.

 

STROMAN: Wow, so baseball first that’s interesting. So, King Rice-UNC Tarheel. Do you know King? Did you get a chance to meet him, and hang out with him, and play ball, and dunk on him?

 

TERRELL:  King has been at my house! That is my man! I know King well. His son Xander actually played in our program. So I–I had the opportunity to coach his son–uh, Xander Rice, who’s down at Bucknell.

 

STROMAN: That’s right.

 

TERRELL: So we–we have a really good friendship so it’s funny how that goes full circle and now his son is playing in our program and I actually never told him that story–about how he was the one that inspired me because he was the number one point guard in the country at the time. So he doesn’t even know that–that, like–seeing him on the front of “Sports Illustrated” was-was the reason that I chose to–to pick up a ball.

 

 

STROMAN: That’s an interesting story. Keith how ‘bout you? Certainly–uh, being a leader in “Grassroots Basketball.” How did it all start for you?

 

KEITH: I think for me, it started–football was always my first love. It just–somewhat similar to Terrell like–I just–I wasn’t in to being out there in that hot sun every day–you know, with all that equipment on. So eventually when I got to–um, I did–I did play football my first year of uh–first year of high school and then after that, I just gave it up. Um, and I just think that basketball was just something I always liked doing. You know, I think it was challenging knowing–there’s knowing the fact that people said I wouldn’t be able to be as good because of height and stuff like that and being impactful on a high school team to things like that so it just–it was one of those things that kept me somewhat out of trouble. And just kept me um–just kept me active in a–you know, as far as just like having something to do when you know you–having to grow up in a household with seven kids, then–and a mom where you’re staying in a two-bedroom apartment. You know, any time you can get an outlet where it’s not as congested, you wanted to be out there doing something different.

 

STROMAN: Absolutely. Now, I’ve played some basketball with a lot of football players, and what they play is not basketball. Now are you one of–

 

KEITH: (Laughter) Exactly.

 

STROMAN: (Laughter) Just not–just not the people—

 

KEITH: Nah, nah, nah, nah. No I wasn’t dumb. I was aggressive, but not to that same point. (Laughter)

 

STROMAN: (Laughter) Okay, I’m just amazed at how you have these amazing athletes and football players, but when you get them on the basketball court, their coordination seems to– I’ll just say shift a little bit.

 

KEITH: Oh yeah. Without a doubt.

 

STROMAN: So what type of athletes were you all? Were you all like, super super competitive like in your face– I just took you, talkin’ smack, or were you more like let my game, you know, speak for itself. Terrell, how ‘bout you?

 

TERRELL: Um, where I– where I’m from, New Haven, Connecticut–at a time it was the number one place to play high school basketball in the country. We had the number one and two high school teams in the country. So that’s what I saw growing up. So you had to be extremely competitive, so I was the kid that would go down to the courts and they wouldn’t let me play. And when they wouldn’t let me play when they went down to the other end, I would take a bottle and bust it on the court. If I don’t play, nobody plays. And they would chase me home every day until you let me play—

 

STROMAN: Wow.

 

TERRELL: –So eventually they said, “alright, alright, we’re going to let you play because you keep ruining our game.” And I’m going to let– you’re going to chase me home every day so that competitiveness to wanna play–it just was in me from the neighborhood, from being one of the smaller guys. Not a lot a lot of trash-talking, or if it was trash-talking, it would be witty it wouldn’t be just– going back and forth. It would be like shaking hands at the jump ball and saying hey, you know don’t take it personal, it happens to everybody that’s in front of me.

 

STROMAN: Oh, that-that’s trash talking!

 

TERRELL: But that’s all I would say the rest of the game!

 

STROMAN: Oh, okay.

 

TERRELL: And that’s it. Um, but the trash-talking was part of it, but it was more of just being able to put the work in and and have the confidence in in my ability or whatever, my coaching or my team knowing that we worked really hard to get where we were and we just wanted to prove it.

 

STROMAN: Yeah, excellent. How ‘bout you Keith? Were you a trash-talker or were you pretty quiet and let your game speak?

 

KEITH: Um, I’m not gonna say it. Like, I didn’t back down, but I was more so a competitor. You know what I mean? Like, where I was definitely a sore loser. So for me, it was just like whatever it took to win, like I would do anything. I mean whether it’s cheat a game point, or you know, hard foul, like I was just very competitive and I think that kind of carried over to you know, me as an adult. And whatever I do, I just wanted to be number one at whatever. And I think that was kind of the mentality–like I said, when you grow up and youngest of seven, you gotta compete. Like, you know, or otherwise you get pushed around the house so it was always like, you know, like, who can be on top? And that was just always the mentality I carried in whatever I had done.

 

STROMAN: So tell me about those people who influenced you when you were young? You know, we think about our parents, our guardians, our grandparents, maybe coaches, religious leaders. Were there one or two people that influence you in terms of how you become such a wonderful gentleman today?

 

KEITH: I mean, I’ll say for me it was my mom. You know, just like I said, my mom was a single parent raising seven kids. And no one helped her. You know, and she made sure that we all had what we needed and that she provided so for me, that was always–you know, my motivation was to be able to you know–help out and do things that my other siblings might not have done and also  like–note, the day when she ended up moving–when I had a house built, and she moved in with me–like, that was the most proudest day of my life. Just knowing that–all the value that she instilled was paying off and I was able to take care of her. And you know–and give her a better place to live than which we’ve ever had in our life. So that was always my goal.

 

STROMAN: Now that’s beautiful. To be able to do things for our mothers. Absolutely. Terrell, how ‘bout you? Who influenced you when you were- I know a lot of people, but anyones in particular?

 

TERRELL: For sure it was my grandmother. Just seeing her, you know–same thing. Five kids, and I was the youngest of the five, so I was kind of like the grandson. But the–the uncle, you know the nephew, right there under my–my youngest aunt so I was part of that group. And just watching her just get up and just work and just work and just come home with a smile and just always was pleasant and you know, even if there was a kid or on the street that she knew didn’t have a good meal like, or didn’t have a meal that night, she would just say, “Terrell, tell so and so to come in and grab something to eat.”  And I’m like, “well, there’s six of us in here. Plus, grandad.” And she was like, “look, I want–when I pass, I want someone to treat my kids the same way that I’m going to treat theirs.” So she worked her–she worked, and she always just said, “anything you want, you gotta work hard for it.” And just, you know, appreciate every day. And she was really kind and some of the lessons that she–she had, you know, and definitely during that time, it was amazing because I know how hard it was for her at that time. To think about how she just had that positive spirit and–and continued to grind every day is astonishing to think about.

 

STROMAN: No, that is so true. In my daily prayers I give acknowledgement to our ancestors. To those who have gone before us, and how they sacrifice and how they prayed and believed that one day we would be able to do what we are doing now. So, that’s a great acknowledgement. So let’s talk about these businesses that you all have. I really wanna talk about grassroots basketball. Because for many people, you all have become the replacement for high school basketball for many young people. And I know a lot of people shine the light on you all and think that it’s all about elite players and you know, making sure they go to a “Power Five” school and go to the NBA, but you work with just, a lot of young people who might not even be on a college team. So Keith, how about if you start off. How did you get “Teen Takeover” started? Tell us what it does and I know you were in the Washington–greater Washington, D.C. area, but tell us more about “Teen Takeover.”

 

KEITH: Well we started probably–it’s probably been fourteen years now.

 

STROMAN: Wow.

 

KEITH: Um, it started off as a um…like a breakoff prog–just just a–uh secondary program to other–to the other bigger programs in the area. You know, with time, we just grew and I think a lot of it was just because we–we were kind of instilling different values in everybody else. It wasn’t just about winning basketball games as much as it was about you know, helping kids earn scholarships um–and helping kids become better and more um, steady academically. And–and then, you know, we had another component where it was giving some of the adults–males at the time that wanted to go into college coach and high school coaching, but we were giving them a platform and a mentorship to help them become better in that area to end up achieving those goals. And it, you know I think for–for us, the biggest thing is not just the elite athlete, but the athlete in general that wants to have the opportunity to go to school for– so, I think a lot of times, people who only focus on, and I know TERRELL does as well, like they focus on our main team, which is the elite team. Without realizing, there’s always usually and “out program”, we’ll call it “orange team” or “gray team”, but there was a kid that was not as elite but was still trying to give him the opportunity to earn a division in the low division one or division two scholarship or a grant and aid at a division three school so you’re still trying to be impactful to as many kids as possible–male or female, and just get–and just finding ways that I think so–so often people just focus on the elite. Like, but when they speak about us, and what we do, all it says, we have elite kids not knowing the whole–the entire infrastructure about programs and what all we do as far as giving back to these communities. You know, and the other thing I always says like, people look at sponsorships from these shoes companies not realizing that small piece of money that they give is only really apart of the foundation. Like it costs so much money to give these kids the opportunity to earn these scholarships and keep them off the street and assure them their academic needs and stuff like that like–it’s so much more to it than just that shoe company or just  that elite athlete.

 

STROMAN: No that’s absolutely true. Terrell, tell us about your start and what you have going with “We Are One”.

 

TERRELL: Same thing, we started um, it’s funny. I-I just wanted to train kids. Right, and then started training some kids in the area. I moved to Delaware, realized they had some talent and um, just–the talent wasn’t being cultivated you know– they were getting a lot of the wrong messages, the easy way out. And I decided you know, the couple of kids I trained said you know, “can you make a team?” And I’m like, “ugh, I don’t really don’t wanna coach.” But I made a team. And then next thing you know, we had two teams, and then we had three teams, then we had four teams, and it just grew because they grew–they they grew to be honest and you know, me and Keith hit it off– we tell the kids and their parents the truth. You might not like what we say, you might not like me, but you will respect where we are coming from and then later on down the line, you will try and understand the message we were trying to give you. So we started and–and and it got bigger and we got the sponsorship and as Keith said, “people assume that with this sponsorship, it takes care of everything.” That’s just the beginning. It’s so much more to this than the sponsorship. You have real relationships with these kids, you have real relationships with their families, you have life-long relationships. The reason–my goal–continuing to do this was I wanted to get the kids away from the car salesman. That was my motivation and and that’s– and if I can just get a few to understand that this is the truth and it’s so hard, especially now with social media–it’s it’s–the time has changed, but I’m not gonna change who we are or what we believe in. And people don’t understand when you talk about our program, we were very-very fortunate. So the other guys that helped me run it, one owns a–a pharmaceutical company, and the other one is a CFO of a pharmaceutical company. And it’s us three that run an AAU program so when you read this stuff online, it’s like, you have no clue the type of minds you have behind this. Or the type of coaching. To be able to coach two or three games and adjust within two hours, you’re not–and to get the kids to understand that we just lost a big game or won a big game, and now we gotta rethink what we’re doing, and and be ready to coach on the fly–

 

STROMAN: Yes.

 

TERRELL:  It’s so difficult. I coach high school. High school basketball for me is boring. It’s boring. I coach, my team’s not very good, we went to the final four this year, and I don’t have one kid that’s going to play in college.

 

STROMAN: Wow.

 

TERRELL: Because I’m coaching AAU, my mind is sharp. It’s still sharp and still um–one of my greatest achievements, not the NBA guys, not the guys playing professionally. One of my kids–the first kid that I ever trained, the first one, just bought a house in my neighborhood with his wife and child.

 

STROMAN: That’s awesome.

 

TERRELL: He’s getting a house of his own in my neighborhood, and he’s like, “coach, I’m moving in the neighborhood with my wife and my child.” That’s what I get excited about.

 

STROMAN: That’s suc–that’s success. For sure. Wow, both of you know, it just takes me back to entrepreneurship as well. And not only are you helping them physically and you’re helping them mentally because we learn so much from uh, playing sports, but also the role modeling as black men. Having an organization where these young men and young ladies, girls and boys can look up to you all and say look what they’re running, look at this operation. So that says a lot as well. And so, we’re all connected through ABIS– the advancement of blacks in sports. And indeed it is a wonderful umbrella organization nonprofit to help blacks advance in this vast industry in whether or not you’re an athlete whether you’re a coach with your administrator, a franchise owner, a business owner, a vendor. What can we do to improve our lot in the sport world? And so I want to ask both of you, what is your why? Why did you connect with ABIS and why are you on the team? Keith, how ‘bout yourself?

 

KEITH: I think for me, when a guy reached out to me to be a part of it, the biggest thing was how can–if I was to be a part of it, how can–how can I be a voice in the havoc and for the kids? You know what I mean? Like so, I knew that you know there, not to say that the adults didn’t matter because I knew we could find a way to help them, but when it’s a group of adults, like you can sometimes–you can easily lose the sight of the kids and I-I just felt like there were some moves and they–that we needed to challenge to get these mostly African American kids an equal opportunity or as equal as possible, to have a chance to get a college education, and that for me was my why. You know, how can I use my somewhat of I guess say–power? Or my voice to make a difference and be an advocate for these kids when it comes to the–you know,  the “ten-setter rule” or which–which is considered a modern day (inaudible) things like that like how I can I help to challenge some of those rules so they would at least change it? So some of these kids who might start off slow will have a– have a chance to recover during the high school years and still be able to take college.

 

STROMAN: Thank you, thank you. Terrel, what’s your why?

 

TERRELL: I-I’ve always enjoyed being black. And I–and and–I love it. I love it and I–I saw at a young age I just saw the system, I’m like, “wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense. We have all the talent.” What we don’t see are people that look like me in these powerful positions. So growing– you know–as a high school player, um–I always wanted to play for a black coach. I thought I was going to play for Mike Jarvice at George Washington um, I thought I was gonna play at Georgetown. Um, really quick story. I thought I was gonna play at Georgetown, went to a prep school, I had a great day when Georgetown was there. Big John was there. I had a great day. Probably my best day ever, and he offered me a scholarship so I tell my coach and my friends that I’m going to Georgetown. My coach looked at me and said, “You’re not good enough, money.” (Laughs)

 

STROMAN: Wow.

 

TERRELL: He was real. He–I actually talked to him this morning. And–and he was right. That next year, Georgetown got Victor Page and Allen Iverson. I would have never played. Um, so he was right. So my thing is–I just–I had this dream of just–I would love to see our black coaches be successful. I think there’s a lot behind that. If you have a black coach win a national championship, what happens then, it starts the trickle-down effect where now his assistant coaches get jobs. And now they’re in the final four and now their–their–their assistant coaches get jobs. So, my goal and my dream, my lifelong mission, and Gary, you know, he reached out–he–I’ve talked about this for–for years. If we can get a top three recruiting class to go to an HBCU–the number one recruiting class. We will change the dynamics of this sport. The money’s gonna come, the endorsement’s gonna come, and these kids are still gonna get what they should out of it. Now, we just have to get people that are–like me and Keith talk about, on our side. On our side, it’s ‘cented 51-49. We just have to get like-minded people that are woke, that want to see this happen as well.

 

STROMAN: Well, you both reference the founder of ABIS, Gary Charles, who’s considered the Godfather or Grandfather of Grassroots basketball in New York who– who brought everybody together really. His reach– his extensive reach and thinking about HBCU’s and the role that they played in education for many many blacks in our country. And my thought is that if we get at least get the top 50 players to put a HBCU as one of their finalists. At least take that step because that would draw the media people be will inquire more about these schools, and quite possibly they might be the final selection, but at least put them in their final group. So let’s talk about life after these amazing organizations, your legacy. And so, if you had a magic wand, what other profession outside of your current role, what other profession or job would you want to do? or would you have pursued if it wasn’t this? Keith?

 

KEITH: Honestly, I don’t think it was ever anything. Everything I always said I would do would be around basketball. You know, there was–be it coaching, be it playing, be it you know–you know at some point working in the NBA as an executive. Like it was never anything else, and it still–and that–that hasn’t changed. Like, I think when I stop whatever I’m doing is going to be me stopping something in the basketball realm. Like, I don’t think it would–I will waiver away from this because I think this is where I can–I can still be impactful at every level and help. Be it young kids or–or grown men. You know, to see what is really out here now in our– in our society, and how to prep for it and how to deal with adverse situations. So for me, I think this is pretty much–this is my world–this is my–this is my sanctuary.

 

STROMAN: Well then I have to ask you, is there a particular modern day–modern day player or team that you follow for their excellence on the court or for their activism, their social justice work?

 

KEITH: You know what, the majority of–the majority of players that I follow honestly is just the players that came out of my organization. Um, and same thing with, you know, we saw– we saw as far as teams. I think if it’s anything I look for, it is–like I like people that speak what they really feel and what they really believe and stand for something. Always still got–like I feel like–that’s what we lack. You know, in the late nine–in the late eighties and early nineties, we had guys like John Cheney and John Thompson Jr. and Nolan Richardson, and guys that really stood for something, I don’t think we have that now. So to be honest, there’s really no–not knocking anybody with what they’re doing I don’t really follow people because–in a sports world because I just don’t think they have the same values and morals and–and standings for things that we see are wrong right now.

 

STROMAN: Well stated, I would say courage. A lot of– a lot from their platform.

 

KEITH: Yes. Yeah yeah. Yes. Exactly.

 

STROMAN: Yeah. Terrell, how ‘bout you? Outside of what you’re current–currently doing, any other careers or professions you would have pursued?

 

TERRELL: To be honest, I mean like now I’m getting into politics. So I’m interested in it. I don’t know if I would want to do that. At a young age, I used to always tell my grandmother that I’m not–that I’m going to work smarter not harder. Because I saw how hard she worked. Um, so I honestly just, you know, always just wanted to make an impact in young peoples’ lives and–and for me, it’s kind of–it’s a blessing where I’m at–at a prestigious private boarding school so I can really–with our kids that are there–I can shine some light through their eyes. I call there a bubble, so I try to keep them woke. And I’m also in there, and I can see how things work. I–I get a good–I get a–I get to understand some things, but then I’m also on the ground floor and I’m in–I’m in the trenches. And, I love it! You know, I–I tell people, and they joke. It’s like sometimes I walk in a house and I cry and they’re like, “why are you sad?” I’m like, “no, because this–It can’t get better than this. I’m happy–I’m happy about what I’m doing. Um, I see when we make this–you know, we make an impact in these young–these young men’s lives and we have kids that are doing so many positive things. And I–you know, and I’m proud to say it, in our organization, we probably have like a 98 percent graduation rate. Our kids graduate, you know so that’s all I ever wanted to do–is just make an impact in peoples’ lives and then ABIS came and it’s like I think I can make a greater impact and that’s so Keith was on–and I always admired his program how he ran things straight-forward, no games, you don’t like the way we do it, find another team. Because it’s not gonna change. Um, so just making that impact and getting with other–other guys that see the same way or–it’s just–it’s just been really rewarding.

 

STROMAN: Well, thank you both. I’ve got to close with this last question and so when it’s all over and you’re sitting in your favorite rocking chair and you’re watching your favorite team or former athletes, what do you want people to remember you for. Terrell?

 

TERRELL: It’s a few things. So I have this thing, right? Where I feel like what I always used to talk to my grandma about slavery. Like I try to– I wanted to know like, how– how was it back–you know, back then? How was it? And what I always thought and I’m reading books and I’m watching movies and I’m saying if I lived back then, I wouldn’t have lived long.

 

STROMAN: (Laughter) I say that too.

 

TERRELL: I wouldn’t have lived long, but here’s the scary part. Right? Here’s the scary part. When my great-grandkids look back, are they going to look at us and say if I live back then, I wouldn’t live long. So are we just reliving what our parents would– or are–you know so if that– that’s for me I just want to be like somebody that put it out there– wasn’t afraid to fight for what I believed in and just was straight up like I’m just telling you how it is–is and– and I was who you thought I was. That’s it.

 

STROMAN: Keith, what about you? What do you want people to remember you for?

 

KEITH: For me, the biggest thing is just my legacy. You know, I want people to say that I did things the right way and I was selfless. And that I tried to help anybody that came across my path. Um, the thing is–just knowing that everything I did, I did for the betterment, not just for myself, but those around me. And those that was coming after. And just knowing that I was able to impact–you know, impact lives that would–that would carry on and chain down to their family and their family and their family and their family. Like, where I’m constantly doing things that make a difference in someone’s household. That’s–that’s my biggest thing is like– knowing that I set a standard that people will want to follow and be better.

 

STROMAN: Well, I appreciate both of you, ABIS appreciates you. And certainly the way that you are making an impact with so many lives. And it’s generational as well. And so, thank you again for joining me today, “If You Only Knew”, with Dr. Debby Stroman, TerrellMeyers, and Keith Stevens. Thank you,

 

TERRELL: Thank you. I appreciate it.

 

STROMAN: Thanks, guys!

 

KEITH: Thank you.

 

Full Episode Transcript

 

 

If You Only Knew…with Dr. Debby Stroman is edited and produced by Earfluence, and brought to you by The Diversity Movement.

Intro and outro music provided by Soteria Shepperson.

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