The talent level is on the right track, thanks to people like Kareem Brown
New London — Soundtracks don’t change much in the bleachers at the games our kids play. Town by town, city by city, the greatest hits include varying levels of sniveling and the general lament that everything was better in the good ol’ days.
Author Brene Brown says it this way: “A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance.”
Ah, but there are some people — the few, the proud — who not only want to help, but actually do something about it.
Exhibit A happened Friday night at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, a “showcase” night for the region’s girls’ basketball players, who got to play in front of some college coaches. This was the brainchild of the young man who is slowly becoming basketball’s pied piper here in this corner of the world.
Kareem Brown needs no introduction to anyone familiar with sports around here. He’s all grown up now, a 2006 graduate of New London High, where he played on two state championship teams and later a graduate of Coppin State, where he played Division I basketball.
Brown, an assistant with the boys’ team at Fitch, has a whole other gig going. He runs the Kareem Brown Skills Academy inside some rented space at the Mystic Business Park, honing skill development for more than 50 clients now seven days a week. Brown’s business, open since March, was the inspiration behind Friday’s showcase.
“As a player, I always took pride in getting better. I knew what it took to get better. And now I want to show the kids that,” Brown said Friday. “Training is what I love. Coaching, I don’t love it. But I do it. In training, you can see the development. I’m passionate about that.”
Pause briefly to reflect: Brown is not about the adulation that comes with winning. He’s into teaching the skills necessary for kids to succeed.
“The process is better,” he said. “You can see the growth and how it develops into winning. They understand the game better.”
The clients at Brown’s academy range from two-years-olds to professional players. He recently worked with former Connecticut Sun center Kristine Anigwe, who was traded to Phoenix. He doesn’t charge much: $25 per session.
“I’m not in this to make millions of dollars. I mean, I have to pay my rent, but I try to balance it for parents who may have more than one kid,” he said. “I try to use the numbers as best I can so kids can get the most out of it.
“We try to focus on mechanics. Footwork, proper stance, balance, shooting and most important: ballhandling. Kids can have good shooting ability. But it’s easy to guard someone who can just shoot. You’ve got to be able to handle it. I’m not saying you need a Kyrie Irving handle. But you need to be able to create space and get your shot off. All you need is a split second to score. You can do that, you can play anywhere.”
Friday’s showcase featured players from many schools within the Eastern Connecticut Conference. Brown says the league is hardly just about New London anymore, in spite of the Whalers’ recent success.
“I played in a lot of showcases growing up. I know how much they helped me as a player,” Brown said. “People who didn’t know about me could see me playing against other kids from different towns. It’s a platform. All these girls can play.
“Just my opinion, but girls’ basketball, not just New London, is dominating eastern Connecticut right now. There are kids who can go Division I, II and III in multiple towns. The wave started with Jada (Lucas) and India (Pagan) in New London and I see it more in the surrounding schools now.”
Brown would like to expand the academy one day and even buy a shooting machine to help his clients along. But for now, he’s about the process of getting better one bounce at a time.
“This is a good starting point,” he said. “I’d like to expand to one whole full court, so I can maybe host an AAU tournament and make this like a farm system for kids who want to get to the next level. I’d like one day to get a waiver from the NCAA to get Division I coaches to come here. My goal is to have coaches from every Division I school in Connecticut in that gym looking at all our kids.”
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro