Young Players in Maryland the Latest to Enjoy USA Basketball Open Court
Before a session of USA Basketball’s Open Court program started this August at Emmorton Recreation in Bel Air, Maryland, Jeroud Clark and other coaches wondered just how many kids would show up for each of the upcoming sessions.
“Our biggest worry was just because we thought, ‘Oh gosh, are we going to get enough kids here?’” he said. “And we put things out a week before, and the first session had almost 90 kids. And we were like ‘Whoa!’ That was not what we were expecting.”
In fact, Clark estimates that in about a month of Open Court sessions, more than a thousand kids have taken part, which is no surprise considering what the program provides to the kids.
Open Court - presented by Nike - was started by USA Basketball with sessions at various gyms for kids ranging from age 6 to 17 with the goal of helping them have fun, develop well and improve in the sport. While they and their parents must sign up to register, the sessions are free and are held in gyms during the typical basketball offseason. The practice session times are one hour for the 6-to-9-year-olds and two hours for the 10-to-13-year-olds and 14-to-17-year-olds.
There currently are Open Court locations in eight cities: Northeast, Maryland; Marion, Indiana; Salt Lake City, Utah; Jamestown, New York; Pasco, Washington; Munhall, Pennsylvania; Milton, Georgia; and of course, Bel Air, where the sessions started this summer with Clark as the site coordinator.
“A couple years ago I heard about the program and was just really intrigued by the premise behind it,” said Clark, who has coached basketball for 17 years at Patterson Mill High School. “The fact that kids can come to open gyms that were closed or you had to have a pass or be in a league, this program opens them up, and I thought that was pretty cool. I pursued it, and as I found out a little bit more about it, I fell in love a little bit more and a little bit more every time I found out more about the program.
“… I feel privileged and humbled by the fact that we have one of those programs.”
The youngest kids at Open Court are taught much they don’t know about the game yet. That includes such things as teaching the 6-year-olds the proper way to dribble the ball. The older kids participating in the sessions often also play for their high school or a travel team but can get valuable extra time on the court.
Kids move from section to section in the gyms where they will take part in sessions that include 3x3, five-on-five and occasionally two-on-two. Asked what all is taught to the kids at Open Court, Clark said it goes beyond just technical skills.
“If I were to pick a few, I would say the camaraderie and ability to get out there on the court where you don’t have a coach breathing down your neck. Where you don’t have a parent breathing down your neck,” he said. “We’ve seen growth from the beginning to where we are now and the first couple days the kids are looking over their shoulders waiting for somebody to tell them to make a better play, make a better screen.
“It’s to the point now where they are able to go out there and enjoy that free play and go where you want and enjoy the environment. … I’ve heard parents talk about how this is great compliment to the training that we’re taking our kids to.”
Although Open Court has only been held about a month in Bel Air, Clark says the players have definitely improved.
“They’ve evolved,” Clark said. “These were kids who were shy in the beginning and now they’ve come out of their shell. And kids who were really boisterous in the beginning have figured out how to be a leader and organize things and gets kids to be on their side and continue to play.
“Those are just a couple examples, and there are way too many to mention but it’s been fantastic to watch these young kids engage and older kids as well. That’s what the coaches do — they guide them through those particular elements of the program and it’s been a blast.”
The players also get to earn points by attending sessions or bringing a buddy and then are able to get a prize from USA Basketball.
While there are eight locations in 2019, the program could grow as USA Basketball accepts applications from facilities around the country.
“All the people from USA Basketball that I’ve dealt with are so passionate. They are so in to it,” Clark said. “I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I’ve never been tired of getting up in the morning to go to work. I live for my job, and I love it. You can tell that in all the individuals I’ve talked to that are running USA Basketball.
“In my opinion, it’s going to grow. And have sessions associated with it. I can just imagine they will have more.”