Professional basketball player Jordan McRae was back home in Midway last weekend, offering professional training tips to the next generation of hopeful hoops players.
McRae teamed up with Higher Learning Hoops at Midway Middle School to host the first of what they expect to be an annual elite training camp. The former Liberty County High School and University of Tennessee star, who currently is in the Philadelphia 76ers organization, teamed with another former Panther player, Germaine Sparkes, whose wife, Shennette Sheffield-Sparkes, founded Higher Learning Hoops in 2011.
“The idea is lead, build and accelerate,” Sparkes said, stating part of Higher Learning Hoops’ mission. “It’s about providing opportunities for the youth primarily through sports.
Sparkes and his wife met while both were playing basketball at the University of North Florida. He said Higher Learning Hoops also provides tutoring programs and mentoring and is involved in community activities.
“We collect books for middle-school reading programs, we donated to Haiti when they had their hurricane … we are involved in many community programs, but our primary focus is teaching them through sports and having them see a positive role model,” he said.
Camp participants got to go one-on-one against McRae during defensive-scrimmage drills on the second day of camp. And if the campers missed shots, Higher Learning Hoops strength and conditioning coach Khadija Young made sure they did their push-ups.
“I am really passionate about helping kids utilize sports as a way to guide them academically as well as in life development,” Young said, adding that she has been with Higher Learning Hoops since its inception. “Sports has allowed me to do a lot in my life … not just basketball. I ran track and played volleyball. … It gave me a greater sense of life. It led me to my career of strength and conditioning. I want to make sure the kids have the proper movement so they can be stronger and faster and more agile.”
Sparkes said it was the first time Higher Learning Hoops was able to offer the camp in Georgia.
“I reached out to him (McRae) one day, just checking how things have been going with his career, and we started talking about the idea of doing something here in Hinesville,” Sparkes said. “I’ve wanted to do a camp in Georgia for a while, but we had not been able to get it put together. We both wanted to do it, and we ran with it.”
Sparkes, McRae and Young, with coaching help from B.J. Miller, Jessie Fleming, Faret Estriplet and Julian Stokes, put the participants through stringent agility drills and scrimmages.
McRae said it was great to be able to offer this program so close to home.
“I just wanted to give back. I’ve been playing for a while and have been kind of successful, and I wanted to give back to the kids,” he said.
Soon, McRae will be on the road again as he prepares for the NBA Summer League in the beginning of July. McRae, who played for the National Basketball League for Melbourne United last year and finished second in the league in scoring, said the 76ers retain his rights.
After his season ended in Australia, he averaged
18.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest in
13 games for the Delaware 87ers, Philadelphia’s development-league affiliate, according to the 87ers’ website.
McRae said he wasn’t sure if he would play in Las Vegas or Utah Summer League games.
Sparkes and McRae were coached by outgoing Liberty County High School varsity boys’ coach Willie Graham, and both expressed their gratitude.
“I would just tell him ‘thank you,’” Sparkes said. “He was great to me and was always good to me and believed in me and was always in my corner. He always tried to motivate me to be better, and now that I’m older, I can see and appreciate the different things he did and said and how he impacted my life. For that, I will always be appreciative, and I wish him the best in whatever he chooses to do from here on out.”
“Coach Graham did a lot for me, and I think he did a lot for the majority of his players,” McRae said. “He really helped me in my career, and I really hate to see him go.”