Hard Work And No Excuses Sends The Wildcats To AAU Finals

For many parents, sending their kids off to practice for some type of organized sports team is both a mundane and expected part of family life.  It is nice to be reminded that those opportunities aren't always available for a vast majority of aspiring athletes.  Economic challenges, parent commitments or even modes of transportation can keep the next Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard out of the gym.

Coach Anthony Clary is determined not to let that happen to 11 fourth grade boys in Norfolk, Virginia.  He is the basketball coach for the Wildcats, a talented bunch of 9-year-olds who are headed for the AAU national tournament finals this summer with the motto: Hard Work, No Excuses.

So impressed with this bunch of kids, Coach Clary is creating a documentary film about the team's journey, hoping to inspire other coaches to step up and grab their own team of future stars.  This week, a fundraising campaign was started on Indiegogo to help finish the film.

Recently, I had a chance to interview Coach Clary about the team and this project.

What is your background in coaching?  Were you a player?

Anthony Clary: I have been in the coaching arena for 7 years.  I started as a recreational coach, and I have been an AAU basketball coach for the last 4 years. I also played basketball for four years in high school and in the Air Force before a knee injury cut my playing career short.

How did you become the Wildcats’ coach? 

AC: A friend and I stepped in for the original coach because he was juggling multiple teams and had an out of town obligation. So that’s how I became lucky enough to end up the assistant coach.  One practice turned into two and next thing you know we were coaching the team full time.

What makes this team different than others that you’ve coached?

AC: The passion that these 9-year-olds possess for the game, even though they are in their infancy of understanding it, has blown me away. They are incredibly dedicated to excellence and becoming better players as a team.  I was used to coaching teenagers, so to find this level of dedication in such young men was an amazing surprise.

Are these boys from disadvantaged homes?  What would they be doing with their time if not playing basketball?

AC: About 75% of the boys come from disadvantaged homes. Without basketball, there’s no telling where they would be. Some of them had little interest in school, a few were dealing with discipline issues, and some were hanging with the wrong crowd.  Our involvement as coaches and mentors and the discipline of basketball has been key in turning their lives around. Norfolk, VA is one of the forgotten recession towns. Unemployment is quite high and only about 1 in 4 kids graduate with their class. Being a part of the WILDCATS team, these kids are finding structure and discipline that they may not have gotten anywhere else.

What is the main message you are trying to communicate in the film?

AC: The biggest message is a call to action for adults: Become more involved in the lives of our youth. Mentorship carries more weight than you might think and the little moments that we may take for granted will follow a child for life. But there’s a message for kids, too. No matter where you come from, what hardships you’ve had to face in your life, you can work to make it better. There’s hope.

Can you give us a specific example of how these boys have taught you something about life?

AC: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that patience is really important when dealing with a younger audience. The kids that we deal with often need extra attention because they don’t get a lot of it at home. This often leads to them craving attention while under our guidance. But the lesson goes beyond the court. We could all be a little more patient with our friends, family, and people we care about. It’s all about understanding.

Good luck to the Wildcats and we look forward to seeing the finished film!