Each time former Georgetown hoops standout Mark Tillmon talks to a group of young basketball players, he’s faced with a sobering reality.
“If there are 100 kids in the room and I ask them ‘who wants to be
a professional basketball player’, 99 hands will go up,” he said. “Now I’m not trying to kill anyone’s dream. “But like Coach Thompson used to tell us: One day, the ball is going to stop bouncing. What are you going to do then?”
With that in mind, Tillmon, now a college basketball analyst for Comcast SportsNet, started a non-profit organization dedicated to educating young basketball players in the Washington area about life beyond basketball. And this weekend, Tillmon and his organization, the Shooting Straight Program, hosted it’s 2nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoopfest Showcase, which included a morning of workshops focused on financial literacy for young basketball players.
For Tillmon, the group’s work- and this weekend’s festivities- is about helping broaden the perspective of young basketball players so they can see that their love for the game can include more than just being a player.
“There are so many things that they can be besides just being out thee on the court that they aren’t aware of,” said Tillmon, a native of the District who was a standout at Gonzaga High School and is the son of a professional football player. “They can be a sports writer, or a team doctor; there are so many things they don’t know about.”
He added that it’s important for young players, even before they go to college, to understand how they can leverage their athletic experience into other opportunities in life. He admitted that even as a young person who had a father who mentored him, he didn’t understand how his skills on the court were attractive to the professional world.
“Corporate America loves athletes because they usually are good under pressure and have a strong work ethic, “ he said. “That’s an advantage that these kids need to know they have.”
So to fulfill this piece of his mission, the weekend featured a day full of workshops on Saturday where about 100 area young people participated in a three hour workshop that taught them about the basics of how to manage money and think about options for the future that may or may not include playing basketball.
“It was a really good experience for our kids,” said Tony Bentley, 41, the head basketball coach for Wakefield High School in Arlington. He brought 14 players and three of their parents to Saturday’s workshop and said he was most impressed with the discussion about how instead of buying sneakers, the young players should consider investing in the companies that make the shoes.
“Kids are so focused on the now, it was good for them to think about the future,” he added. I’m sure they can help their parents at home with some of this knowledge, too.”
But Tillmon knows that to attract young basketball players to the seriousness of building lifeskills you have to let the players play. So on Monday, the second part of the weekend kicked off with a all day basketball tournament that featured schools from as far and New York and North Carolina. The one day co-ed tournament featured twelve teams in a six game format showcasing athletes from Philadelphia, Maryland and the District.
Tillmon said that despite the seriousness of the Saturday workshop, he wanted to make sure the kids did what they love to do the most: hoop.
“We’re gonna put on a show,” he said before the tournament was to begin.