A little magic from Jameer

By Keith Pompey
Updated: August 2, 2009

PHILADELPHIA — Some NBA players sponsor youth basketball teams. The Orlando Magic’s Jameer Nelson is taking it a step further.

The Chester native and former star at St. Joseph’s promotes basketball and academics, responsibility, social consciousness, and pride in the community.

To give back to his community, the NBA all-star has created and sponsors the Chester-based Team Nelson AAU program. In its first season, the program has featured two teams: for those 13 and under, and those 14 and under. The players formerly competed for the Chester-area programs Youth Interlock and Educated Athletes.

“I just think that it’s needed,” Nelson said of his program. “I’m not able to help out every kid. But the ones I have in my program I am able to help out.”

While the teams are competitive, producing scholars outweighs wins and losses. During the season, from April through July, players are required to go through the Read to Achieve and Writing Enrichment Program, which consists of “four quarters” – Fundamentals of Reading, Community Outreach, Reading Is Fundamental, and Presentations.

In the first quarter, players are provided book bags, school supplies, and a book to read. After completing the book in a required time, the athletes must write a book report.

Players must devote 50 hours of community service with a nonprofit organization during the second quarter. They have to write about that experience in the third quarter, specifically, how they will devote time and effort to helping the community grow.

In the fourth quarter, players must complete a mock college application and present it to a group of community leaders.

Once they have completed all four quarters, the players will be eligible for scholarships from Team Nelson. They will also receive free tickets to a game between the Magic and 76ers.

Wanting his players to read well-written material, Nelson encourages them to read works by Shakespeare and W.E.B. Du Bois.

According to Nelson, doing that is a must.

“Unfortunately, not every kid has the same role model that I had at home,” said Nelson, referring to his late father, Pete Nelson. “So I just want to give these kids a role model, somebody to look up to.”

When his schedule permits, Nelson is present at practices and team functions. He also tries to know all the players on a personal level.

“I like Team Nelson,” said Mahir Johnson, a shooting guard on the 13-and-under team. “They care about the grades more than basketball, and how you carry yourself.”

In this league, talking back to officials is not allowed. And if a player receives a technical foul, Team Nelson enforces a one-day penalty.

“If kids aren’t playing well in school, they can’t play at all,” said Howard Hudson, a 14-and-under coach. “They know it. That’s first and foremost.”