By Rachel Belle
In the offseason, a lot of NBA and international basketball players head home to Seattle and a bunch of them get sweaty on the court at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to the A PLUS Youth Program, basketball loving kids from all around the Puget Sound are lucky enough to get to know NBA players like Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford and Will Conway. A Plus is an after-school program for kids who love basketball, but whose parents understand the importance of education. Executive director Tavio Hobson says for every hour and a half the kids get on the court, they have to spend an hour and a half doing school work.
"Our kids love playing basketball. We use that as a carrot. They can't play basketball unless they go to academic sessions so that they understand they need to work as hard off the court as they do on the court. So even though our kids might not be excited about it to begin with, they eventually realize the importance of education."
The program is for 4th to 8th graders, who love sports, need help in school and maybe have some problems at home.
"We're talking about kids who are first generation graduates, kids that are coming from single family homes, kids who have dealt with domestic violence. If those things exist, we want to help service that kid."
The kids, from Tacoma to Shoreline, get picked up after school and they spend the afternoon working with mentors, tutors, life coaches and then playing basketball.
"School was just really hard for me because I didn't have a lot of help," says 12 year old PJ Fuller. "But when I came to A PLUS, the academic part of the program really helped me."
PJ says he wants to be an NBA player when he grows up, and his passion is basketball.
"I love it. It's in my blood, I'm really good at it and I want to go big one day. All the people that are around me give me confidence. They cheer me on."
PJ's getting taught life lessons from players like Alvin Snow, who has played basketball in 29 countries.
"We have a guy now that we heard he's getting kicked out of classes and things like that, so we're there to explain the importance of not just schools, but interacting with people around you. Your peers and your teachers."
Alvin says getting advice from a basketball star is a lot different than getting it from a parent or a teacher.
"Absolutely, it's night and day. A lot of times you hear from parents and you're like, OK, mom." But when you hear it from someone you look up to in a different way, it makes all the difference in the world."
Tavio says the players teach the kids that they shouldn't base their entire future on the NBA.
"Even though [the NBA players] made it, they saw ten guys who were better than them who didn't make it. So it's important to have a backup plan. They also understand that even if they do get to the NBA, education helps them be more savvy. The kids really buy into it because they are so awestruck by their status and what they've accomplished."
But eventually they're not so awestruck, and they simply consider these guys to be their friends and mentors.
"Sometimes, when I'm overseas," says Alvin. "I might get a message on my Blackberry and they'll just ask me small things like, 'I'm doing really well, now girls are starting to give me attention. What should I do?' They ask me all types of questions about real life issues in their world."
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