By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

Butch Brown, a coach for the G-Town Tigers basketball team affiliated with Grant (MI) High School, had to fight to get his kid’s basketball program to accept the wisdom of participating in American Youth Basketball Tour (AYBT) events.

But once the program became involved, participation and skill levels have risen each season.

Members of the G-Town Tigers, participating in an AYBT event.

Members of the G-Town Tigers, participating in an AYBT event.

“At first the coaches running the school programs didn’t want the kids playing in AYBT,” said Brown, a maintenance supervisor for a trucking company. “It took me seven years to get a coach to believe in the benefits of it and that is why we have more teams getting involved. There were 20-22 kids involved (at the start of the school’s AYBT participation) and now we have almost 50 kids. It is a great thing.”

And Brown knows a bit about what he is talking about.

A Hoosier by birth, Brown played high school hoops in Indiana before moving on to play junior college basketball in Wyoming. He joined the Air Force, playing on various base teams while he was transferred around Europe, even playing against the Turkish National Team and the best college teams in Turkey.

Eventually transferred stateside, Brown played on the San Antonio base team and for a semi-pro team in the city before he got out of the Air Force.

Brown, who moved to Michigan for a job, learned about AYBT while working with a varsity player at Grant High School. When his own kids were old enough, Brown started coaching their youth teams. AYBT was a part of Brown’s plan.

Coaching his daughter’s AYBT team, Brown mentored the same 10 players for three years until he formed a 8th-9th grade girls team that included another of his daughters. At the same time, he formed a AYBT fourth-grade boys team when his son was old enough to play.

“I coached all of my children through AYBT until they graduated,” Brown said with pride.

Brown has gone on to coach more teams, and was the school’s lone AYBT team coach until last year, when another AYBT boys team, made up of junior varsity players, started under the guidance of a school alumnus.

As classes graduate from Grant High School, like this, the 2011 varsity team, many will carry with them some the lessons they learned at an AYBT event.

As classes graduate from Grant High School, like this, the 2011 varsity team, many will carry with them some the lessons they learned at an AYBT event.

This year, the program has four teams – a boys 5th/6th team, a boys 8th grade team, a girls 7th/8th team, and a boys varsity team.

Brown’s AYBT teams travel to several District Series Events every summer, including, depending on the year, the May Madness event in Mt. Pleasant, the Holland Shootout, and DSEs in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, and Ludington. A trip to the Fort Wayne Nationals event is often in the cards as well. In fact, Brown’s daughter’s team, following a runner-up finish in 2006, took a national title in 2007.

“(It) was great for the girls and they went on to have a great varsity career,” said Brown.

Even now, though the program sends players to skills camps at Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, and Adrian College, AYBT is the only tournament in which the program participates.

“I think AYBT offers us a better chance of playing like teams, meaning teams from one school. It is all about developing our program,” said Brown.

Brown also noted that the pull of summer tournaments designed to highlight only the best players is a double-edged sword

“Having a kid who goes off to play for these elite teams doesn’t help the school team,” he explained. “It helps the kid, but when he comes back to play with his school team he doesn’t have the camaraderie that is needed; it takes time for him to learn his teammates skill levels.”

He said AYBT’s team-tournament atmosphere, 60/40 philosophy (every player gets to play between 40-60 percent of tournament), and the opportunity to play teams from all over the Midwest are what set it apart from the rest.

Members of the Grand Public Schools youth program practicing hoops skills.

Members of the Grant Public Schools youth basketball program practicing hoops skills.

“I like that the managers of the DSEs work with the teams on setting up the schedules, to the best of their abilities,” he said. They try to have (similarly skilled) teams play each other, but can’t always. We will play anyone anywhere. The kids like it when we play teams from across the state or even from another state.

“I think as a coach it is important to me, especially when I am helping the school coach, to develop every player on the team,” Brown continued. “Player No. 1 to Player No. 15 should get equal attention and be held to the same standards. The bench players are the ones who keep the starters and subs skilled during the season.”

Brown said that AYBT’s focus on developing character along with basketball skills fits nicely with his own goals.

“The main thing we should be working on is life skills,” Brown said of coaches. “Most of the kids from small schools like we come from are not going on to college to play basketball. They need to have skills to go to college for an education or skills to go off in to the workforce. They need to be ready to be productive members of my community.”

And it is sports in general, said Brown, that teach kids a lot more than just how to dribble, shoot, and defend.

“I think that a lot of the skills you gain from playing sports can translate over to every day life,” said Brown. “Being able to handle the pressure of someone in your face on the court will help with the pressure put on you at work. Learning trust and all of those things.”

But has it made a difference on the court as well?

“The Grant Public Schools programs are on an uptick,” he said. “I see them continuing to get better each and every year.”

 

The American Youth Basketball Tour is America’s foremost leader in team basketball skills and character development. For more information on AYBT district tournaments and events, head over tohttp://aybtour.com/.

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