From Geneva With Love: Hooping For A Cure Sends 3x3 Team To National Tournament
Basketball has a way of bringing things full circle. For some people, basketball is purely pleasure. For others, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. For T.J. Bullock, it took him across the pond and then brought him back home. Along the way, he used the game to make a difference in his own life and many other lives, as well.
Bullock is the founder of the Hooping For A Cure 3x3 basketball tournament, which will see its winning team compete in the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s 3x3 National Tournament April 8-9 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The story of how Bullock helped send four hoopers from Florida to Colorado Springs actually began in central Europe.
Bullock is a native of Switzerland, born and raised in Geneva to an American father, Theren, who is from Chicago, and a Zimbabwean mother, Chedra. Theren rounded out his professional playing career in Switzerland, and it was there that he introduced T.J. to basketball.
The Bullock family formed a bond with basketball, building an inseparable relationship that T.J. wished to explore at similar levels as Theren. At age 17, T.J., who holds American citizenship, made the move to the United States, settling in Orlando, Florida, where he would play his senior year of high school ball, hoping colleges would bite.
One did. Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, was that school, and Bullock played there from 2011-15.
Boca Raton is where Bullock’s life changed forever. It’s where heartache struck. On Sept. 25, 2013, Chedra lost her third bout with breast cancer.
The sadness and pain Bullock felt in that time, is not what he feels now. Just in speaking with him today, you grasp the joy, positivity and courage he exudes. Life never slowed him.
He journeyed back to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida for graduate school as part of the Knights’ DeVos Sport Business Management program in Aug. 2015.
Bullock continued to cope with the loss of his mother at this time, but began brainstorming a way to honor her. When wasn’t the issue – he knew he wanted to do it on the day of her passing. It was the how and what.
Enter Donna Orender, former president of the WNBA and Board of Directors member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, named in honor of legendary basketball coach and co-founder Jim Valvano. Members of the DeVos program trekked to Jacksonville, Florida, to attend the Generation W event on April 8, 2016, and there, Bullock built a connection with Orender.
“I talked to her and told her about this thing I really wanted to do, and I was thinking of possibly doing a 3x3 tournament, because when I came back home to Geneva and had meetings with FIBA in April  – I know a guy that works with 3x3 at FIBA, and he suggested I organize my own tournament at UCF, but kind of as a joke.”
The idea wasn’t a joke to Bullock.
“Through talking with Mrs. Orender, she was like, ‘I want you to do this for The V Foundation.’ They have had things like this in the past, so she suggested I look things up and see how to do it, and if I wanted to do it, she would put me in touch with the people over [at the V Foundation] that could help me.”
Orender followed through with connections to The V Foundation, while the DeVos program connected him in another direction with an alumnus – Rita Grayson, who now is a youth development program manager for USA Basketball.
Bullock wanted his event to be meaningful, going beyond being just another fundraiser. Grayson and youth development program assistant Sam Schultz assisted Bullock in laying out the requirements for the competition to be a qualifying event for the USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournament, and by the end of June 2016, the organizing began in Orlando.
“I started reaching out to different people. I spoke with the FIBA 3x3 people [in Geneva] to get me on track with what I had to do,” he added.
“As time came closer to the tournament, things were really moving in a good way. I got my fundraising page up on the V Foundation a month before the event.”
On Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, the three-year anniversary of Chedra Bullock’s passing, T.J. hosted Hooping For A Cure.
Twelve teams, mostly from the central Florida area, took part and played a minimum of five games, while the top eight teams advanced to bracket play.
This competition was for his mother, for The V Foundation, for a trip to the national tournament, and yet, Bullock made sure this event was for everyone else, too.
“A guy that was in our DeVos program a year before me, was roommates with Zach Hodskins, the one-handed basketball player from Florida. He heard about my event. They were starting to do their own business, motivational speaker thing. He reached out to me to see if they could be in the tournament, and then if Zach could talk, at some point, during the tournament. I was like, of course.
“That fed right in to what I wanted this tournament to be all about. My mom passed away on her third bout with breast cancer. She was all about fighting, and that never-give-up attitude, and that is the motto of The V Foundation. That was right along the lines of everything Zach went through. I was all for it.”
Former NBA assistant and current Central Florida director of program development Tom Sterner aided Bullock as the director of operations for the event. The Knights’ head coach, Johnny Dawkins, alongside Sterner, judged the competition’s dunk contest before the championship game. Fellow UCF classmates volunteered, as well.
“It was fulfilling and for multiple reasons. Being close with T.J. and getting to know him, I not only saw but could feel how close he was with his mother,” said Jamaal May, a UCF DeVos graduate and event volunteer.
“To see how hard he worked to market, organize and execute an event of this magnitude during the last semester of a dual graduate program was remarkable. His natural ability to bring everyone together made it easy for myself and others to rally behind him to ensure his event was a success.”
TNT, a team of Orlando natives Spenser Mitchell, Nick Trapp, Gerrod Trytten and Alfredo Williams, was crowned the inaugural Hooping For A Cure champion, and will travel to Colorado to compete in the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s 3x3 National Tournament.
In terms of the event and the purpose, there was no failing. Hooping For A Cure carried more sentimental value than anything to Bullock.
“The first two years on this day were not the easiest days in the world. I would say, being able to switch that around, because I know my mom would not want me to be like that, was the best part,” he said.
“She was always a very joyful person, very upbeat, and always wanting to serve others. I think that was probably the best way, how I was able to honor my mother in the right way with all the values she instilled in me from a young age. It made that a special day.”
Bullock’s fundraising page listed a goal of $700. Contributors, so far, have raised $4,036 in honor of Hooping For A Cure. So far, because Bullock hopes to do this again. He would like to hold the event annually, right around Sept. 25. Eventually, Bullock hopes to bring Hooping For A Cure to every continent. Much of that depends on where Bullock actually is.
Upon graduation from the DeVos program in December 2016, Bullock returned to his native Switzerland to intern with FIBA’s foundation department. He’s living in his childhood home in Geneva just 10 minutes from the FIBA offices. The game he was born into, brought him right back to where it began.
“I’m at home with my dad and my brother. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Perhaps Bullock will tune in from Geneva to view the live online broadcast of the championship games, hopefully featuring TNT, in Colorado Springs, knowing four players from his previous home are there because of the love he has for his mother and for the game of basketball.