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Success in life and basketball
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Success in life and basketball

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Fundamentals are key to the game of basketball -- it takes a solid defense and offense to win consistently.

Success in life is much the same way, some of Virginia's best-known hoops stars told Richmond-area youth yesterday.

"The game of life is more important than all the [basketball] games you will ever play," Calvin Duncan, a local pastor and former basketball standout at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the young people at the Richmond Midnight Basketball League's first daytime event. "The question you have to ask yourself is, how well are you playing that game?"

About 140 local youth ages 8-17 picked up basketball and life lessons at the hoops clinic and tournament at the St. Christopher's School Kemper Athletic Center.

For local teenagers such as Brandon Helm, it was a chance to meet and get autographs from basketball stars with Virginia roots including Duncan, Gerald Henderson, Johnny Newman, Tony Massenburg and Terry Davis.

"I'm here because I love the game of basketball," said Helm, 17, who attends Thomas Jefferson High School and participates in the Richmond Midnight Basketball League, a nonprofit organization that offers weeknight basketball programs for local youth ages 11-17 and young adults ages 18-28.

"It's a great program," said Helm. "It's not just about basketball." The Midnight Basketball League also includes a strong dose of life-skills training, including speakers and mentors who emphasize the importance of education and avoiding drug use, as well as such lessons as job-interview skills, said Robin Foster, president of the nonprofit's board of directors.

The midnight league, largely supported by donations from foundations, typically draws about 40 to 50 young people from Richmond's urban neighborhoods to its weeknight programs, executive director Janet Campbell said. "What we want is for all of them to finish high school," and go on to college or vocational education, she said.

Richmond resident Edward Riley, a coach in the league, counts himself among its success stories. He joined the program when he was 17, and ultimately played college basketball. Now, he is working on a graduate degree at VCU. "If it hadn't been for the league, I would not have gone to college," Riley said.

The event was open to urban and suburban youth, many of whom left with multiple signatures on their T-shirts and shoes from all of the stars. An evening gala was scheduled last night at the Science Museum of Virginia to benefit the program.

"Basketball was good to me, and I want to give back," said Newman, a former University of Richmond star and NBA player. "Changing attitudes takes motivation, and for a lot of these kids basketball is a big motivation."

Contact John Reid Blackwell at (804) 775-8123 or jblackwell@timesdispatch.com.

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