Thursday, March 23, 2017

Basketball: An Escape Turned into Dreams

Written by Octavio Parral | @t_voloco

Taiwan doing some ball handling drills- Photo Cred: Dorina Pope
Basketball is the 2nd most popular sport in the world. Everywhere kids are playing at the parks down the street or at the local YMCA. For some, basketball is a fun hobby. For others, basketball is a serious business. In the case of Taiwan Hamilton basketball is an escape—an escape from anger, negativity, and hopelessness.

As a kid Taiwan saw his mother endure many struggles with domestic violence and hunger. There were countless nights where Taiwan had to jump out of bed and protect his mother from being hit. In return, Taiwan was physically and emotionally abused as well. Some nights his mother would have to steal food in order to feed Taiwan.

Life wasn’t easy but in the midst of all the abuse and struggle, Taiwan saw himself dribbling his way out. At the age of 11 Taiwan started playing basketball and it was a little orange ball that created hope. “I liked the game and had fun so I played every day, literally,” Taiwan states. His enjoyment for the game turned into passion.

After failing to make the Nashville Burners team in 8th grade, Taiwan pushed himself to get extra jump shots up, extra dribbles on the blacktop, and extra determination. He made the varsity team at LEAD High School—an accomplishment and reward. “I learned, [from the past], to never give up on anything.”

His basketball escape has turned into athletic opportunities and now, academic opportunities. Taiwan has been working with Next Level Skills Basketball Academy and Coach Pope. The basketball program focuses on training potential college basketball athletes. Training includes skill work and college prep.

Coach Pope and Taiwan after a drill- Photo Cred: Dorina Pope
For Taiwan, Coach Pope has been his support system to pursue dreams of academic success and college basketball. It’s the little things that Taiwan appreciates about his support system: a simple conversation, basketball training, life advice, and college prep. “Not too many people excel at training kids and having a relationship with them like Pope does,” Taiwan admirably says about his coach, he considers his new family member.

Basketball is a blessing for Taiwan. His determination is still running strong as his next goal is to find a college to play for. Until he finds his college, Taiwan will be on the court practicing his game and learning how to be successful in school. His escape has turned into a dream.

Check one of Taiwan’s games here. He is number 21 wearing the red shorts. Get to know him by contacting Next Level Skills Basketball Academy.

Why Next Level Skills was Created (Remix)

Next Level Skills: A Gateway for Young Basketball Players
Written by Octavio Parral | @t_voloco

“Be the change in the world you wish to see.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Coach Jeremy Pope teaching his trainees a few drills- Photo Cred: Dorina Pope
An idea can be a simple thought. It can happen at any moment and once the idea pops, courses of action take place. That’s what happened when I, Jeremy Pope, was sitting in my car thinking what I was going to do with my life. I had just quit my job and the road I saw coming was unclear. All I knew was that I wanted to make a change. Be something positive for people to follow. Help those in need.

Basketball is my life. Growing up a kid from Westerville, Ohio, I hooped all the time. I remember hitting up the parks with my friends or lighting up the three pointers at Westerville-South High School. I was good enough to land a scholarship at Goshen College and lead a life that was unexpected.

Playing sports in a college can do that to a person. It can take someone out the projects, where it’s highly likely to get shot, into a nice, modern gym shooting jumpers. I didn’t grow up in the projects but basketball was my way into changing my life for the better.

Sitting in that car, I ran back videos in my head of what my life had consisted of. Many times did I dribble the ball through my leg, attack the basket, laughed with my teammates, grinded in my sports management classes, died after coach made us run 1000 suicides, and thought about how blessed I am to be playing the sport I love. My idea began to brew.

The next week my phone vibrated. It was a notification from the ESPN app. Three Notre Dame football players had been dismissed from the university for possession of weapons and drugs. Dorina, my lovely wife, saw the negativity in my face after I read the article. She asked what was wrong. College athletes getting kicked out of school; now, that’s a big no-no.

26% of college athletes lose their athletic scholarship in less than a year. Scholarships are mostly one-year commitments and schools have the option whether to renew them or not. Thinking about this, stories I’ve heard from former college athletes, my knowledge of recruiting and college admissions at Goshen College, and my passion for basketball, I finally found my idea.

Next Level Skills is that idea turning into reality—turning into a positive change. After speaking with family, friends, and mentors, the vision of Next Level Skills began to develop.
Basketball, college-readiness training, and mentoring would be the driving force. Kids, like me, will get to experience a life-changing course.

Boom, I had my first player in August of 2016. He believed in the process I had to offer and he trusted the content of my character. This player is a 6'2 sharp shooter that I currently have averaging 20 points per game. His 3.9 GPA with all AP and Honors classes make him a college recruiter’s dream. We walked through the recruiting process and now he is being recruited by NCAA Division II and NAIA schools.

Be the change in the world you wish to see. I want to see kids go to school and be successful, much like I did.
Coach Jeremy Pope after a basketball drill- Photo Cred: Dorina Pope