The St. James Coastal Crew Rebels have been around since 1993, and next Saturday the organization is planning to honor the AAU program that has sent more than 20 players to the collegiate level.
Ernie Walthour, who coaches Rebels and Fort Stewart’s Youth Challenge Academy team, will offer a free basketball camp beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at the St. James Sports Center. Following a game between the Rebels and YCA, at 2 p.m. Walthour plans to recognize the coaches and current and former players who have made his program successful. The event is open to the public.
“The program has grown so much, and we figured it was time to honor all the coaches and players for all their hard work, dedication and all the long hours they’ve given us in making the program successful,” Walthour said.
The Rebels have made strides during the past few years and have traveled to several national tournaments, usually placing in the top four or better. The success has garnered looks from scouts and recruits who represent several top NCAA Division I and II schools like Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Moorehouse and Tennessee.
“When I first started the Rebels back in 1993, my goal was to get these kids exposure and ready to play at the college level and it has paid off,” Walthour said. “It makes you feel good to work hard and take all these kids to major tournaments throughout the states and then see them sign a scholarship and play in college. It is rewarding to see the program starting to bear some good fruit.”
Walthour has invited several former Rebels’ players to the ceremony adding many of them and current Rebels’ players will also serve as instructors for the morning fundamentals session.
Walthour said playing basketball is a small part of the Rebels’ program. Playing well helps when looking to play at the collegiate level, but the Rebels focus on academics in order to stay eligible.
Walthour wants to transfer that success over to his other program the Youth Challenge Academy team. For several years, Walthour has coached YCA and toured with that team. But Walthour said recent budget restraints have diminished the team’s ability to travel to other states.
Walthour said he is planning a series of games pitting his YCA team against other local prep basketball programs.
“If you had no sports, it would be hard to run a high school … we want to run this program just like a varsity program,” Walthour said. “They will be playing First Presbyterian Christian Academy, and I’m working on getting a game against an Augusta program. Eventually, we would like to have them play Bradwell, Liberty, Faith Baptist and other local schools.”
In November, YCA is scheduled to play two games.
“We’ve been working for the last two months preparing for the upcoming season, working on zones and the press … teaching them a lot of stuff that we taught the Rebels and FPCA,” he said.
Walthour thinks the YCA team can be just as successful as the Rebels in getting some players a chance to play in college.
“They are on the right track in earning their GED, and we want to try and place them in colleges with the connections we’ve developed with the Rebels,” he said. “A lot of these kids have played AAU ball, so it’s a matter of getting their grades up and making a call to the college coach and telling them come check out this player.”
First-year player Cadet Drayson Jones said the YCA team has helped him move forward in getting his degree, and he is considering playing basketball at the next level.
“It’s really a great experience,” he said. “I am learning the fundamentals here that I can take home later in life and use them to play in college. I find the game to be very fun, and I like the challenge of moving the ball down the court and scoring.”
Small forward Antonio Brooks said the team has come together and can move the ball well. Brooks said YCA is helping him achieve his goal of playing for Moorehouse or Florida.
“This game has helped me develop teamwork and how to get along with my players and how to have self-discipline,” said Ba’che Griffin, who has played basketball for roughly four years and would like to play at Valdosta State.
Kaleak Watts said the opportunity to turn his life around through the Youth Challenge program was something he is grateful about.
“Growing up in New York, everybody wants to play basketball, but no one knows a thing about teamwork,” he said. “When you come to a program like this, coach Ernie taught us a bunch of techniques and taught us how to play as one.”