San Antonio youth basketball program Nike ProSkills gets help from former Spurs player Devin Brown to get kids past college scouts

Like Michael Jordan before him, Dominic Thomas was kicked out of his high school basketball team. Jordan went on to play in North Carolina and for the Chicago Bulls, winning six NBA championships, five MVPs and becoming arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

18-year-old Thomas is unlikely to get praise from Jordan. But basketball gives him the opportunity to study mechanical engineering so he can fulfill his dream of working for BMW. The freshman plays forward on a basketball on a partial scholarship to SUNY Canton.

Thomas credits a lot of that to the San Antonio Nike ProSkills basketball team he played on after being kicked off the high school team.

ProSkills is an affiliate of Nike’s Dallas-based Elite Youth Basketball League, which is made up of top young talent likely to play Division I college ball at schools such as Gonzaga, Duke and Kentucky. While top ProSkills players could be invited to join the Dallas team, most players (and their parents) hope the exposure they get playing here will catch the eye of coaches at smaller colleges and universities. and less known. Similar subsidiaries operate in Houston, Austin, Oklahoma City and El Paso.

The program teaches the basics of the game, and players compete in tournaments here and as far away as Dallas, New Orleans, Las Vegas and South Carolina, where they can show off their skills in front of coaches and college scouts.

“We give kids the kind of exposure that gives them a chance to play at the next level,” said coach Devin Brown, the former San Antonio Spur who is director of the ProSkills program for high school boys. He got involved with ProSkills two years ago when his son LJ, who now plays at Presentation College in Aberdeen, SD, was at Johnson High School.

professional basketball player Devin Brown was part of the San Antonio Spurs 2005 NBA championship team.”/>

Former professional basketball player Devin Brown was part of the San Antonio Spurs 2005 NBA championship team.

Kaylee C. Greenlee Beal / Contributor

“We’re trying to show these kids that there are a lot of great programs out there and ultimately they’ll get a great education as well,” he said.

There are other basketball club options for kids in San Antonio, including SA FastBreak, SA Hardwork Basketball, and SA Finest. But with 17 teams and a total of around 230 boy and girl players as young as freshman, ProSkills is one of the biggest even after just three years of existence.

“When I joined the ProSkills program, my confidence was shaken,” Thomas said from upstate New York, where he was trying to adjust to freezing winter temperatures. “Coach Brown supported me as much if I had a bad game as when I had a good one.”

The boys who graduate from the program are now enrolled at schools in Texas such as Prairie View A&M, Howard Payne University in Brownwood and Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. On the girls’ side, the older group is made up entirely of high school juniors and seniors, so none have yet signed to play varsity ball.

“But all of my girls this year made their varsity teams, so that’s a big thing,” said Meredith Kennedy, director of women’s basketball for ProSkills.

Entry fees for older teams, which travel across the state and beyond, range from $1,300 to $1,500 per season, which runs September through February and March through August. Most of this money goes to registration fees for the 10 to 14 tournament teams that play each season. This does not include travel expenses such as gas and hotels, which can bring the total cost to around $3,000. Scholarships are available.

“We know this is a huge investment for many parents,” Kennedy said. “But a lot of them see it as an investment.”

Jonas Carlisle, seen here driving to the basket, played for the Nike ProSkills team for only about a month and a half before signing to play for West Texas A&M.

Jonas Carlisle, seen here driving to the basket, played for the Nike ProSkills team for only about a month and a half before signing to play for West Texas A&M.

Trevor Fleeman/West Texas A&M

Suzette Manuel’s two sons, a 17-year-old senior and a 15-year-old second, are on the program. She said that as a single parent, the fees are a burden, but worth it.

“They’re giving me a discount because my two boys are enrolled and the payments are monthly so it’s more manageable,” she said of watching the House of Hoops team on Walzem, where they train several nights a week. “But I hope they get scholarships to play ball and get a good education from it.”

Parents and fellow coaches say Brown, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, had a huge impact, teaching players the “Spurs way.” That means a lot of time working on basic basketball skills, such as ball handling, passing, shooting and, of course, defense.

“Everything I do is everything Spurs do,” he said. “That means one ball movement, no one-on-one ‘hero ball’ and pass until someone gets the best shot.”

The Spurs Way also extends beyond the pitch.

“I’m trying to make them not just better basketball players, but better men,” Brown said. “That means everyone is where they need to be on time. I tell them, the day you enter the practice late in college, you are out of there.

Brown said 11 of the 19 players on his team last year are now in college and eight are on active rosters. “Some of these kids were cut from their high school teams and some weren’t getting important minutes,” he said.

He pointed to a photo of last year’s team.

“Jonas Carlisle played club ball in another program for three years, but wasn’t sniffed out by colleges,” he said. “After spending a month and a half with us and playing in four or five tournaments, West Texas A&M signed him.”

Offered a partial scholarship, Carlisle made the roster as a rookie and shot 47% from the field in minutes. Carlisle’s father, L’Quinte, known simply as Q, said he enrolled Jonas in the ProSkills program because of both Brown’s presence and the Nike name.

“I’ve known Devin (Brown) since I was in high school,” he said. “And then I followed his career in college and in the NBA. And I knew that the Nike brand would bring in more coaches and scouts to watch the games. It gave them the opportunity to see what Jonah could do.

However, not all stories are so successful. Some are even better.

Last year, for example, a player walked into Brown’s office looking like a dog, explaining that his mother was pulling him out of the program. He had graduated from high school early and landed an internship with a doctor because he planned to go to medical school to become a cardiologist.

Brown laughs at the memory. “He was so sad, but I was like, ‘That’s not a bad thing. Man, your life is about to begin.’ And that’s almost better than a winning buzzer beater. | Twitter: @RichardMarini

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