TSPL for Kids returns with Williams and others happy to work with youth in the community again

Corey Williams has coordinated the Tucson Summer Pro League since 2004 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Unable to operate Tucson Summer Pro League for Kids for past two years due to never-caused COVID-19 restrictions Corey Williams doubt his return.

It was its inception from 2004 when college-aged players, some of whom were past and present Arizona players at the time, competed during the summer at the Jewish Community Center.

In 2014, the league expanded to include boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 13 playing together in their own division. The event, now played at Gregory School, has only included youngsters since 2019.

Most youth participation costs are covered by sponsors The Bruce Foundation, Picture Rocks HVAC, Window Depot, Ace Hardware, The Moore Law Firm, Crest Insurance, Truly Nolen, Pascua-Yaqui Tribe, Bruce Baca Real Estate and Casino Del Sol Resort.

Williams’ goal is to give local youth a chance to play summer basketball when their families may not be able to afford to charge their children to participate in a traveling club team.

“I was thrilled to bring him back,” Williams said Saturday at the Gregory School. “I was so disappointed that we couldn’t have him for the past two years. To be honest with you, it’s so much fun working with young people.

“Knowing what everyone was going through and the kids couldn’t play — I mean the whole basketball world took a hit during the pandemic — once I saw that the colleges were open and that the kids were playing for the schools, I knew this summer we could come back with the league so that was really exciting.

“It’s great for me because it brings back memories of when I was that age playing pickup ball. We told the parents that we have a lot of new kids because we missed it for two years, we missed two whole sets of kids. Talking to parents and explaining to them our philosophy of how we just want kids to have fun and enjoy the game is exactly how we were introduced to basketball when we were that age.

The TSPL for Kids includes eight teams of players aged 11-13 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Many of the same people volunteer with Williams to make sure the TSPL gets back to shape without a hitch.

This group includes the former Arizona softball and basketball umpire and college hoops umpire Felicity WillisArizona Daily Star reporter and host of ESPN Radio 1490-AM Justin SpearsSierra Middle School educator and basketball coach Terrence Valerani-Knoblichpresident and broker of Arizona Housing Solutions Brenda Bacaretired air force veteran Eddie Crandal and Westward Look Resort & Spa Tennis Director/Fitness Supervisor Jeff Gallego.

Willis coordinates the officials for the games. Referees include local Arizona Interscholastic Association referees in addition to college officials, including former standout CDOs and Pima. Nadi Carey.

Spears, Valerani-Knoblich and Crandall are serving as coaches in addition to helping Williams with day-to-day duties at the Gregory School when games are played on Saturdays and Sundays through July 16.

Gallego is the director of operations and Baca is the internship supervisor.

Terrence Valerani-Knoblich (left) and Justin Spears watch the action (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

TSPL is once again affiliated with the Pascua-Yaqui Tribe, which provides young interns for Williams and his team to help them with a myriad of tasks, including tracking game scores, managing the scoreboard and timer and providing players with Gatorade during games. .

“It’s their first summer job, so it’s a paid internship,” said Williams, who is entering her eighth year of broadcasting college basketball games for ESPN. “It really gives us a chance to put them on the path to employment and earn some pocket money for back-to-school expenses. It’s a great program.

Two new faces involved are former Arizona women’s basketball players Desire Wheeler (now Tucson Unified School District athletic director) and former Arizona football and basketball player Kelvin Eafon (coach a basketball club with Desert Storm for the past 15 years).

The Gant siblings (left to right): Zena, Savion and Razin all play on the same team (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Wheeler returned to Tucson two years ago to replace Hermann House as athletic director of TUSD after spending more than a decade in her native Chicago working in the populated school system as an educator, youth coach and administrator.

She volunteers for TSPL as a referee. She refereed youth and high school basketball games in Chicago.

“It’s a crew that was there when I was there (in Arizona from 2001 to 2005),” Wheeler said, referring to Williams, Willis and Eafon. “It’s phenomenal to see that they are always involved, always giving, whether it’s organizing tournaments, coaching or training. I think to myself, ‘How can I get involved?’

“I haven’t refereed in maybe four years. … It’s just an amazing experience to do something like this for our community.

Former Arizona star Desire Wheeler is in his first year helping TSPL organizer Corey Williams officiate some of the games (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Wheeler said she could resume her officiating career locally, potentially as soon as the next school year.

“I was a licensed official in Illinois,” she said. “I want to make sure that my requirements, tasks and obligations are taken care of first with TUSD. I think going into year three, it’s probably time to branch out and get back to officiating.

“Being on several AIA Boards of Directors, I know there is a shortage of officials. I said Brian (Gessnerthe AIA Director of Officials) that maybe I’ll be back there and maybe this would be the year.

Eafon, a pre-game and post-game analyst for Arizona football and basketball games on KCUB (1290-AM), is a first-time coach in the TSPL for Kids.

He was part of the original TSPL when college players participated. He helped coordinate and served as a coach for games at the Jewish Community Center beginning in 2004.

Former Arizona players who played in the league at its inception included Miles Simon, Joseph Blair, Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, AJ Bramlett, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frie among others. Top players from the local high school also participated.

Kelvin Eafon has a long history of coaching and training local youth and young adults over the past two decades (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The league became restricted to players between the ages of 11 and 13 in 2019 due to the difficulty of fielding enough teams with adult players, with current college and professional players more limited to compete for health and fitness reasons. welfare.

“It’s fun to add that element of having the young players here because it’s strictly for fun,” Eafon said. “But hopefully at some point we can revive the college guys.”

Eafon also served as the boys’ basketball coach at Pueblo High School from 2014 to 2018, in addition to his role with the Desert Storm basketball club.

He said coaching young people in the community “means everything to me”.

“Coaches have been a big part of saving my life by being positive role models for me,” said Eafon, who calls Tucson home after arriving in Arizona as a two-sport Dallas-area star. “It’s an opportunity to reach out to young people and show them how to have good qualities in life.

“We can show them that there are good people here. I love being able to give back and show them the right direction to go.

Two former members of the TSPL — Will Menaugh and Jake Cioe — are currently part of Division I collegiate programs. Menaugh, a Catalina Foothills alum, completed his first season as a walk-in center in Arizona in 2021-22. Cioe, of Salpointe, was a second-year goalie at San Francisco last season.

Here is the remaining schedule from next week (entrance is free to games at The Gregory School):

June 18

11:00 a.m. Moore Law Firm v. Picture Rocks HVAC

12:00 Bruce Baca Immobilier vs Window Depot

1:00 p.m. Crest Insurance vs. Casino Del Sol Resort

2:00 p.m. Ace Hardware vs. Truly Nolen

3:00 p.m. The Bruce Foundation vs. the Pascua Yaqui Tribe

June 19

11:00 a.m. Window Depot vs. Bruce Foundation

12:00 a.m. Moore Law Firm vs. Casino Del Sol Resort

1:00 p.m. Pascua Yaqui Tribe vs. Ace Hardware

2:00 p.m. Bruce Baca Real Estate vs. Picture Rocks HVAC

3:00 p.m. Crest Insurance vs. Truly Nolen

June 25

11:00 a.m. Window Depot v Moore Law Firm

12:00 p.m. Picture Rocks HVAC vs. Crest Insurance

1:00 p.m. Casino Del Sol Resort vs. Truly Nolen

2:00 p.m. Ace Hardware vs. The Bruce Foundation

3:00 p.m. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe vs. Bruce Baca Real Estate

June 26

11:00 a.m. Pascua Yaqui Tribe vs. Crest Insurance

12:00 Ace Hardware v Moore Law Firm

1:00 p.m. Picture Rocks HVAC vs. Truly Nolen

2:00 p.m. Window Depot vs. Casino Del Sol Resort

3:00 p.m. The Bruce Foundation vs. Bruce Baca Real Estate

July 9th

11:00 Ace Hardware vs. Casino Del Sol Resort

12:00 p.m. Bruce Baca Real Estate v Moore Law Firm

1:00 p.m. Window Depot vs. Truly Nolen

2:00 p.m. The Bruce Foundation v. Crest Insurance

3:00 p.m. Pascua Yaqui Tribe vs. Picture Rocks HVAC

July 10

11:00 a.m. Crest Insurance vs. Ace Hardware

12:00 p.m. Truly Nolen vs. Bruce Baca Real Estate

1:00 p.m. Picture Rocks HVAC vs. Window Depot

2:00 p.m. Casino Del Sol Resort vs. Pascua Yaqui Tribe

3:00 p.m. The Moore Law Firm v The Bruce Foundation

July 16

Championship Saturday

11:00 a.m. #1 seed vs. #4 seed

12:00 p.m. #2 seed vs. #3 seed

1:00 p.m. TSPL All-Star Game

2:00 p.m. Championship game


Javier Morales, publisher, writer and editor of ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com, is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News, and Baseball America, among many other publications. He is also the author of the book “The Highest Form of Living”, available on Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is currently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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