At the Jamie Stewart’s ‘ELITE BASKETBALL TRAINING ACADEMY’, the stars come in all sizes, yet somehow they all shine with equal brightness.
DeShawn Stewart is just a few short weeks past his sixth birthday and still a few hearty breakfasts shy of four feet, but on this day at the Academy’s summer basketball training sessions in Windsor, he’s getting a taste of that sweet star-feeling.
He’s just sped through the afternoon training session, where a few trips down court he could be found swishing through a short jump shot, then coolly swishing two of three like he thinks his name is Magic–even though the basketball, in proportion to the rest of him, looks like a bushel basket nestled against his frail chest as he lines up the rim, a moon-shot away from where he’s standing at the foul line.
On the far side of the gym, the “elder statesmen” of the Academy are scrimmaging. These are the big boys in camp, the top of the class, and it doesn’t take long to spot Ryan Robinet as a star pupil, from the natural grace of his co-ordination and his deftly confident touch with the ball.
Others have also taken to this 17-year-old’s precocious shine. He has been invited to the precious “Ace Shootout” in September. He’s been awarded a scholarship to Hillsdale College in Michigan.
A Small D2 College, Hillsdale is itself a light year from Riverside High in Windsor, Ontario, and a gateway to more glittering constellations beyond the college NCAA division and ultimately professional success in the business world.
A pipe dream, maybe, wrapped up in a hoop dream. But who’s to tell Ryan Robinet not to shoot for the stars? Or Jamie Stewart, for that matter? Not Jamie Stewart, for one. The operative philosophy of his Academy is quite the contrary: get a dream and go for it!
“Basketball can add so much confidence, not only on the court, but in every area of someone’s life,” said Stewart during a break from instructing his Academy’s 40 students as they try diligently to ‘make it through the workout’
“Once you’ve developed that confidence, you can take it into a school or business environment and apply it there. At the Academy we try to motivate the kids and push them to excel. If they start to see that they can accomplish things on a basketball court, they usually start to feel good about themselves in general.”
Stewart grew up in Amherstburg, Ontario, about 30 minutes from where he operates his Academy currently in the Windsor area. Now in its fourth season, Stewart was in serious discussions to building a state of the art Basketball facility a few months ago, before he accepted to take the Assistant Coaching Position offered to him at The University of Windsor. When he speaks, his budding all-stars sit up and listen because he’s been there and done it.
As a former captain at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, Stewart is a self described basketball fanatic who in his college days and currently, has 3 televisions in front of him at home at all times with at least 2 basketball games and sometimes three from the past or present that he watches and studies to come up with new ideas to help teach his kids at a more productive level.
Stewart began the Academy as an outlet from some of his former college coaches criticisms of him ‘wasting’ his knowledge about the game, and that he should pursue a career in becoming a Division 1 College Coach.
“They would call periodically with offers from whatever schools they where currently at & other schools. They would (without my permission) set me up with interviews, conference calls, lunches with Head Coaches etc. At the time, I honestly wasn’t ready to leave home again. So I turned them all down. They would be very upset and would not be shy in voicing their opinions of my career decision. At the time, after having been away from my family for 6 years, I just wanted to spend time with them and reconnect.”
Inner-city youngsters who might otherwise slide into delinquency during the idle summer months. Now, with its growing reputation for outstripping its original neighborhood, the camp attracts young players from all over the metropolitan area and more distant points in Canada and the U.S. Some parents schedule their vacations in accordance with the camp schedule.
With its reputation and client base firmly established, to the point where college scouts have put the academy on their talent pool itinerary, Stewart is working to develop a sponsorship base that would allow the Academy to assist the people it hasn’t been able to assist in the past, and furthermore; expand its activities.
The camp operates on the same principles as the growing co-op learning movement in the U.S., where Personal Learning Using Sports (PLUS) programs have sprung up in a number of cities. The idea being to use sports as a means to imbue youngsters with the values of teamwork, respect for others, fair play and perseverance.
“We want to produce scholarship & CIS players here,” said Stewart, “but our number one goal is to make good people. “
The sheer energy flowing on the court on any day at the Academy is exhilarating for both participants and observers. Everybody gets room to participate, and steady urging to do their best. Boys, girls, black kids, white kids, kids wearing yarmulkes, kids who speak French and kids who speak English, all of them doing it together and high-fiving each other like mates on a N.C.A.A. championship squad.
You notice after a while that nobody here is telling the kids what they can’t do, only what they’d be better off doing, and none of the kids are doing anything they shouldn’t be doing–at least not on purpose.
Adam Bering’s father, Bill, is on hand for his son’s star-turn in some one on one competition, and if anything the beam of his face is brighter than Adam’s. He says Adam had always been on the shy side, but since coming to the Academy, his self-confidence has blossomed.
“I haven’t seen anything like this,” he said, surveying the teeming gym with a practiced father’s eye, and noting that even with all that rolling youthful energy confined in one place, there wasn’t anyone misbehaving. “You should see how well the kids get along,” he marvelled. “I’ve been coming for a year now and I haven’t seen a discipline problem yet”
Role models are a critical factor in the Stewart Academy formula, starting with the Academy’s self exposed work ethic. The Academy’s philosophy of God, Family, Books, EBTA, extra studying & year round strength & conditioning is firmly prescribed.
There are Elite’s glamorous alumni who made their dreams come true: the likes of Dan Trepanier, who currently plays for Columbia University’s basketball program; Andre Smyth, who plays for Central Michigan University’s basketball program & Josh Abbey, who plays for Graceland University in Iowa.
Stewart regularly has them in for truthful & or inspirational talks. Especially, if a potential prospect is loosing his focus, motivation, becoming discouraged by negative coaches and or critics.
Charlie Stewart, Windsor’s own Olympic Boxing Coach for the last 2 Olympic Games 2000 & 2004 recently visited EBTA to watch his nephew is action, “I went by a few times and I watched them train and work,” he said. “I saw what a tremendous job Jamie does with these young people. They’re teaching a lot about basketball, but also about the work ethic.”
The beauty of basketball is that it’s at once a magnet for a youngster and a framework for learning skills that go beyond dribbling, passing and slam-dunking, says Stewart. “We stress the relationship between sports skills and life skills. We try and get across any way we can that it’s important to not only stay in school and get a well-rounded education, but to strive for a Masters Degree & possibly a Doctorate’s Degree”
Take it from Ryan Robinet, who went from a grade 8 center, to a grade 11 player in the Windsor area who didn’t make the All Star team, to a Full Scholarship NCAA basketball player; the message gets through when it’s put the Jamie Stewart way. Ryan’s eyes sparkle as he talks about training to the Academy, and maybe someday playing overseas pro-ball. Yet for a 17-year-old he’s remarkably composed about his dream.
“If it comes, it comes,” he said. “If that doesn’t come along, a Masters Degree in Business Administration will give me a good foundation to begin my life, get into a great Law school and to Establish a great life in the future. Playing sports isn’t a lifetime dream for me–I just want to be an extremely successful person that Jamie has taught me to be; and trust me, he wouldn’t stand for anything else.”
If he stays on that course, he’ll still be showing star quality 10 years from now, come what may of his playing dreams. And quite possibly the college recruiters will be beating a path to DeShawn Stewart’s door by then.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” — EBTA.