I know, I know, its HS and College basketball season. So why am I talking AAU and Travel Team basketball? Because everyone else is talking about College and HS at this time. Besides, in many cases these are the guys that can assist college programs as much as HS Coaches. As I mentioned in the past, there are some HS coaches who do it just for the stipend as was the case with the NYC Coach I observed a few years back reading the NY Times during the game.
Travel and AAU Teams
Another day in hoops has gone by and I continue to think about great guys who seem always ready to assist kids. Guys like Rich Leary, Brian Crawford, Ed Butler, Jim Salmon, Gary Charles, Stearling Nunley, Herman Snyder (Teaneck, NJ) and Jim Couch. These guys often take hits concerning their intent, etc. What folks do not realize is these guys do alot to help our youth because they care and want to make a difference. But the attacks always come, and they continue to go on like the energised bunny.
I am sure there are more like them all over the NY Tri-State area. I should take time to acknowledge teams that continue to assist area youth. Teams such as the Gaucho's, Riverside, Metro Hawks, Dyckman, NJ Allstars, Newark Rams, Playez, New Heights, Westchester Hawks, and LI Lightening. In addition to having teams, many of these programs provide free SAT assistance, career advice, and even "REAL" Prep School referrals. In fact, New heights does an outstanding job placing young people at some of the top prep schools in America. Schools that send students to the best colleges and universities in America.
Also to all the teams and people not mentioned, I should also say thanks for the great work you do, even if it goes un-noticed at this time. I am sure you are making a real difference.
The Panthers Travel Team
One of the real elite travel programs in the NY and NJ area is the Panthers. They were not always one of the top teams. here is a brief story of how they became a major player on the travel and AAU team circuit.
The Panthers are run by a great guy named Gary Charles. Gary is a systems VP by day at a large NYC bank. Gary takes lots of hits from folks who do not even know him. But he continues to pay for most of his teams expenses from his own pocket because he loves the game and assisting kids. It could be ego, as it is with many. But if it is, it's OK because the end result is what really counts and he is a genuinely great guy!
Gary started his program many years ago in the Roosevelt LI area he lived. It was nowhere near the strong program it is now. I remember watching Gary and his team in small tournaments around NYC because he always arrived from work and coached with suits on. It was a really odd sight watching this little guy with the hat and suit on coaching. But he did his thing and even though they lost alot, he kept bringing teams to play.
As time went on, he became involved with a few folks who provided some advice and even steered a few players his way. He started to win a few more games than usual. All of a sudden many of the LI kids wanted to play because of the exposure his teams received playing around NYC.
Fast forward a bit and Gary now is taking a team to Las Vegas for the annual Biog-Time tournament. This is a huge event with the top teams being wined and dined by the sneaker companies with great hotels and athletic gear. Gary had none of this. They scrapped the money together and made the trip. They stayed in a small Motel near Las Vegas to save money and just played the games and left. Right around that time Sonny Vaccaro was seeking a good person to work with him on the grass roots level. Gary's name and team came up. They met, and Gary went out to proof his team was worthy of sponsorship.
Gary received a little sponsor money initially in the form of limited gear. He still, and continues to this day, paid alot of the bills. But he was starting to attract better players. Players knew Gary would make calls for them and assist them in getting into a D1, D2, or D3 school. And he often did! One player in particular he begged FDU to take. The Assistant at that time Rob Holford, was a good friend of Gary's. Rob also wanted the kid at FDU. But Tom Green, a great Coach and a real gentleman, made one of his greatest errors by turning the kid down. Those who follow the NBA should know the kid as Rob James. Fred Hill, current RU HC should also remember this because he was also on the FDU staff at the time. Rob is now a millionaire with quite an impressive NBA resume.
But Gary's real break came when he did a home visit with Lamar Odom. who was a Freshmen at Christ The King HS at the time. Yes AAU and Travel teams do home visits believe it or not. Lamar has an Aunt who is a brilliant educator. She called all the shots. She liked what she heard and Lamar became a Panther for summer travel when school was out. This was huge because Lamar attracted other kids and gave Gary more credibility. My son happened to play on a local team in NJ called the NJ Jayhawks. Nice little team. but no exposure and just a bunch of solid D3 type guys looking to run and gun. Though my son was a fixture at Rich Leary workouts and even played some with him, he changed to the panthers and playing with Lamar, he looked 10 times better than he was. Lamar was that good and unselfish. They were all young, but 12 out of the total 12 on the team went high D1 for college, even though a few transferred to mid major schools later on. Its all about exposure and playing with good players (see NJ All stars as example).
Fast forward and now Gary goes to Vegas and he stays at the finest hotels with his team. They have better uniforms and sneakers than most HS teams. Gary himself stays in a suite fit for a King as does other top AAU and travel team coaches. Later Gary is put on the staff of the prestigious ABCD camp. Than he becomes a Co-Director and does a great job. He has had no fewer than 100 high major players in his program.
Gary still has the NY Panthers, but also is the President of Grass Roots basketball USA