Whitt, program providing positive influence for youth

Published 5:57 pm Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jeremiah Whitt, organizer of the Disciples of the Game basketball association in Selma, talks to his team during a practice last week at Concordia College Alabama. --Daniel Evans

Jeremiah Whitt, organizer of the Disciples of the Game basketball association in Selma, talks to his team during a practice last week at Concordia College Alabama. –Daniel Evans

It was getting late Wednesday and the players in Jeremiah Whitt’s Disciples of Game basketball program were ready to go home, but they had to pass one final test to end practice.

Somebody on the team would have to make two consecutive free throws and for every miss the entire team would have to do another sprint up and down the court at Concordia College Alabama.

Players clanked shot after shot and ran lap after lap. Somehow still full of energy after a long day, Whitt ran around the gym egging it on. Who was going to make a free throw so everyone could go home?

Email newsletter signup

Finally a player stepped to the line and rolled in two shots. When the second went through the net, the team celebrated in unison as if it had just put the finishing touches on a win in a summer basketball tournament.

“You put a guy out there on the free throw line, and he may not be the best, but the team has to believe this guy can hit two free throws so we can go home,” Whitt said. “Now it goes from the guy may not be our best shooter to everybody is on the sideline rooting for him, and we’re ready to go home. It builds team camaraderie.”

That’s exactly what Whitt is doing with the players in the Disciples of Game program, which is in its second year and is a licensed member of the Amateur Athletic Union.

Whitt said he saw a need for an AAU league in Selma, given all the talent in the area. He was involved with another AAU league with ties to Selma, the Tuscaloosa based TNA Heat, but came to the realization the Queen City needed its own league.

AAU basketball has become a necessity for athletes hoping to be recruited. Summer tournaments allow an area’s best players to team up, making it easy for college scouts to watch multiple players at once. Whitt said Selma, an area rich in talent, needs to catch up to other cities.

“The area is basically 10 years behind Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa as far as the AAU circuit not being here,” Whitt said. “The youth and the talent and developmental skills of other areas is way higher than here, and we are trying to catch up.”

Last year was the first year of the program, and he had 14 total players. This year the league has four teams — 16-and-under boys, 16-and-under girls, 14-and-under boys and 11-under-boys — and 50 total players. He even had to hold tryouts.

“People are inquiring about it and getting interested because they realize [their] kid can get the AAU exposure here in Selma, so a lot of people are trying to get their children involved in it and see what it’s about.”

The money for the program is raised through donations and fundraisers. Whitt said the program has help car washes, barbeques and has received help from donors who have asked to remain anonymous. The team will hold its next fundraiser May 2 at Advance Auto Parts in Selma.

The team will play four to five tournaments this summer with many of those being out of state. Last year the team went to Atlanta, St. Louis and Panama City, Fla..

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to get out and go to places [they’ve] never been, see things [they’ve] never seen, do things [they’ve] never did before,” Whitt said. “That’s what it’s about. We are inspiring them to grow and to think bigger than Selma. The world is a lot bigger and has a more to offer. We are just trying to broaden their horizons.”

The program will host a tournament in Selma this year June 26-28. Whitt said he’s had over 30 teams inquire about playing in the tournament but that details are still being worked out at this time.

Whitt, who is a personal trainer, said he’s always enjoyed helping kids. While he’s interested in helping hone their basketball skills, he said he’s trying to paint a bigger picture.

“It’s bigger than basketball. We are trying to mentor kids to become good young men and good leaders for the future,” Whitt said. “That’s what we are trying to teach them — white, black it doesn’t matter about color. We can all work together and come together for one positive reason.”

Parents, such as Mike Bruner, whose son Hayden Bruner plays on one of the teams, have bought into Whitt’s mission. Bruner said the time and effort Whitt has put into the program is making a difference in the future of the Queen City.

“We’re taking a community that has been driven by black and white being separated but it’s bringing them together now where these kids are now friends on Facebook,” Bruner said. “They are spending weekends together in hotels. It’s meant a lot and has done a lot for the kids. It’s been a good thing for everybody.”