Misc

PHOTOS: Top 20 Dogs at Memphis Redbirds’ Bark in the Ballpark 2014

On Sunday afternoon, the Memphis Redbirds celebrated their annual Bark in the Ballpark game where fans are encouraged to bring their canine friends with them for an afternoon of baseball at AutoZone Park.

With help from Twitter and Instagram, we’ve compiled a collection of the Top 20 Dogs from the Redbirds’ Bark in the Ballpark 2014:

Twitter: @cerrito
Email: kevin@memphisport.net

SEE ALSO:

Memphis amateur phenom Indya Wooten making strides on swimming circuit

NO FEAR --- Memphis amateur swimmer Indya Wooten's grandparents signed her up for swim lessons when she was just five years old because they didn't want her to be afraid of water. Today, Wooten is a fixture on the swim circuit and will compete in an even in Tunica, Miss. later this month. (Photos by Barbara Thomas)

NO FEAR — Memphis amateur swimmer Indya Wooten’s grandparents signed her up for swim lessons when she was just five years old because they didn’t want her to be afraid of water. Today, Wooten is a fixture on the swim circuit and will compete in an event in Tunica, Miss. later this month. (Photos by Barbara Thomas)

Indya Wooten has a favorite T-shirt that features a rather compelling catchphrase.

It reads: “IF YOU THINK YOUR SPORT IS HARD, TRY DOING IT HOLDING YOUR BREATH.”

For Wooten, an 11-year-old Memphian, she has learned the art of holding her breath as an avid swimmer for the Mid-South Swimming League, an organization sanctioned by the Davis YMCA in Southeast Memphis.

By and large, Wooten, a fifth grader at Horn Lake Intermediate School, has made great strides as an amateur swimmer, a trend that, to her credit, has inspired her to adopt lofty dreams of appearing on a Summer Olympic stage someday.

Introduced to swimming by her grandparents six years ago, Wooten has gone from participating in an organized class in which she was taught the basic swimming mechanics for approximately five weeks to having competed in a numbers of competitive meets throughout the Southern region.

“She just loves to swim and hopes to one day swim in the Olympics,” Barbara Thomas, Indya’s grandmother, said during a recent interview with MemphiSport.

Although she has been swimming competitively for such a brief time, Wooten’s display in the water has benefited her considerably on the amateur circuit. For starters, this young, vibrant athlete has gone to great lengths to upgrade her swim skills, most notably in the free style, butterfly, and backstroke events, in large part because of the one-on-one attention she has acquired from her coach, veteran swimmer Dominique Primer.

Primer said what she labels mostly intriguing about Indya is the competitive drive she brings to her team, let alone her keen ability to devise ways to improve.

“Indya is very dedicated to swimming and her dedication to her workouts shows as much,” Primer said in assessing Wooten’s rise as amateur. “Indya constantly ask for feedback and continues to find new ways to improve her stoke, speed, as well as her endurance. She had a spectacular season as a new swimmer. I look forward to working with her for many seasons to come.”

To her credit, it’s safe to assume that Wooten doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon as it relates to her talents as a rising swim standout. Among the reasons is that even as an amateur, she devotes long hours to the sports, practicing as much as three hours a day, particularly when she is preparing for competition.

MAD SKILLS --- In a brief time as a competitive swimmer Wooten has upgraded her mechanic, most notably in the backstroke event.

MAD WATER SKILLS — In her brief time as a competitive swimmer, Wooten has upgraded her mechanic, most notably in the backstroke event.

Her next meet takes places later this month when she puts her skills on display in the Mid-South Swimming Championships at the Henderson Aquatics Center in Tunica, Miss.

“If you ask Indya, she will tell you that Coach Doma (Primer) is hard especially on days that she has to practice for over three hours,” Thomas said. “However, she understands that being tough makes her better and most weeks she is in practice for five days and for several hours.”

As far as Wooten is concerned, she doesn’t shy from the notion that swimming is beneficial in that it can help greatly with regards to enhancing one’s confidence and self-esteem, especially during times in which kids her age face an assortment of peer pressure.

“This sport will inspire them to try it,” Wooten said. “The discipline you learn in swimming helps you throughout life because it teaches you patience and it teaches you have to trust yourself.”

Not only that, among the key attributes Wooten finds intriguing is the camaraderie she has established with other individuals who have embraced the sport much like she has.

“I have a great deal of respect for my teammates and other swimmers,” she said, adding that her father, Nicholas Wooten is her grandest cheerleader. “I’m in the pool practicing even when there is no practice.”

Spoken like a future Olympian.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

 

Ka’Dedrick Richardson on Whitehaven football: ‘It’s like Friday Night Lights’

A number of sports fanatics grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys.

FANTASTIC FROSH --- Ka'Dedrick Richardson picked up where he left off this past season for Whitehaven after a memorable football stint at Bellevue Middle. (Photos by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

FANTASTIC FROSH — Ka’Dedrick Richardson picked up where he left off this past season for Whitehaven after a memorable football stint at Bellevue Middle. (Photos by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

A number of them also grew up watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As for Ka’Dedrick Richardson?

Well, he grew up watching the Whitehaven Tigers.

As the 15-year-old Richardson is quick to acknowledge, he grew up praising the Tigers’ tradition-rich football program.

“When I was little, I wanted to go to Whitehaven,” Richardson told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I always liked Whitehaven.”

Much to the delight of Richardson, the feeling is mutual among the Tiger faithful.

That Richardson had emerged as one the area’s finest young wide receivers during a freshman season in which he enjoyed quality minutes for the Tigers, it’s safe to assume not only is he savoring his dream of playing for his childhood team, but he’s already drawing rave reviews from numerous college scouts in the process.

While Richardson did not start any games for a Whitehaven team that was destined to defend its Class 6A title, the true freshman demonstrated time and again why he was named to the Tennessee Future Stars All-Star Game in Knoxville last summer.

RISING STAR --- Richardson was as good as advertised during a freshman year in which he complemented fellow wideouts Braylon Rochell and Kerrick Jones to form a potent offensive attack.

RISING STAR — Richardson was as good as advertised during a freshman year in which he complemented fellow wideouts Braylon Rochell and Kerrick Jones to form a potent offensive attack.

The 6-foot, 160-pound Richardson showed no signs of jitters for an unproven newcomer. Instead, he quickly became acclimated to the Tigers’ potent offense and flourished into a pivotal threat for a team squad that was already stacked at the wide receiver position.

Richardson, whom Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry believes has arguably the best hands among his deep receiving corps, did a masterful job of complementing fellow wideouts Braylon Rochell and Kerrick Jones, a trio of fierce receivers who will likely provide fits for defensive coordinators over the next few seasons.

“Ironically, (Richardson) and Kerrick played at the same middle school (Bellevue),” Saulsberry said. “He’s a great kid academically and he shows that same competitive nature in the field. His hand coordination is extremely great for a kid his age.”

Not to mention his persona on and off the field.

According to Saulsberry, many have mistaken Richardson — who is almost certain to be considered one Shelby-Metro’s top players for the Class of 2017 — as someone who often appears cocky. But as his coach is quick to point out, it’s merely pure confident for the sport he’s come to embrace since his middle school days.

“He’s not arrogant at all,” Saulsberry said. “He’s just confident and knows he can get the job done. I like the fact that he’s like that, that he has as they say that swagger about him.”

What’s so scary, Saulsberry said, is that given Richardson is one of the Tigers’ most dangerous offensive threats, he has three years left to a high school career that is already shaping up to be a memorable one.

Especially for a team in which Richardson watched growing up, let along one for which he dreamt of playing.

“I always looked at (Whitehaven) like the big time program of Memphis as far as Memphis preps,” Richardson said. “Like when I go to White Station or Ridgeway games, it’s wasn’t as exciting to me.”

So exactly what makes Whitehaven’s football program stands out above the rest?

“It’s like the movie, Friday Night Lights,” Richardson said.

A real life movie, of sorts, in which he is currently playing a lead role.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Kerrick Jones quickly evolving as a dangerous wideout for tradition-rich Whitehaven

MAD SKILLS --- After a productive freshman season in which he saw quality minutes, Whitehaven wide receiver Kerrick Jones emerged as one of Shelby-Metro's top players at his position in his first full season as a starter. (Photo courtesy of Whitehaven High School Athletics)

MAD SKILLS — After a productive freshman season in which he saw quality minutes, Whitehaven wide receiver Kerrick Jones emerged as one of Shelby-Metro’s top players at his position in his first full season as a starter. (Photos courtesy of Whitehaven High School Athletics)

Tiphonie Davison knew exactly what she was doing.

Following three seasons in which her son, Kerrick Jones, blossomed into a football standout at Bellevue Middle School, a number of individuals approached Davison to inquire about where Jones would play high school football.

As Davison tells it, she and her son were already sold on Whitehaven’s tradition-rich program, in large part because of its sustained success in recent years.

“(Whitehaven) Coach (Rodney) Saulsberry was like, ‘Yeah, you can get playing time if you work,’” Davison told MemphiSport.

However, long before Jones enrolled at Whitehaven, there were a slew of coaches who tried to convince Davison that Whitehaven wouldn’t be a suitable place for son, given the Tigers boast a lengthy depth chart at the wide receiver position. While she chose not to name coaches who contacted her about her son’s football future, she said among the things she deemed intriguing about Whitehaven is that Saulsberry and his staff never spoke against other programs throughout the Shelby-Metro area.

“Whitehaven was the only school that didn’t bash the other schools,” Davison said. “And that was the reason Whitehaven was my presence. And because (Jones) is starting is because he put in the work. Nobody gave him anything.”

Saulsberry said he is aware of how a number of coaches throughout the city tried to persuade Davison to allow her son to play for their program.

“We don’t have to talk down on anybody else to build us up,” Saulsberry said. “The name and product speaks for itself.”

To his credit, the 5-foot-9 1/2, 159-pound Jones picked up where he left off after a freshman campaign in which he quickly evolved into one of the area’s finest young receivers. As a true freshman for a Whitehaven team captured its first ever Class 6A championship, Jones was a good as advertised. Then after being installed as a full fledge starter, Jones didn’t disappoint, having amassed 600 yards on 35 receptions and five touchdowns for a Whitehaven team that finished the 2013 campaign with a 9-3 mark.

“I would say I progressed a lot in my tenth grade year,” Jones said in assessing his overall display. “And my teammates encouraged me a lot on and off the field. Each Tuesday and Thursday, we were required to go to study hall. And on the field, (the upper classmen) pushed me. Even though I was a sophomore they looked to me as a leader.”

HUGE IMPACT --- In his first full season as a starter, Jones was a pivotal force for Whitehaven, generating 600 yards on 35 receptions and five touchdowns.

HUGE IMPACT — In his first full season as a starter, Jones (right) was a pivotal force for Whitehaven, generating 600 yards on 35 receptions and five touchdowns.

Among the reasons it didn’t take long for Jones — who simultaneously is a member of Whitehaven’s track and field team while participating in spring football drills — to establish a camaraderie with his older and more experienced teammates is because of the rave reviews he generated during several 7-on-7 camps last summer. The Sardis, Miss. native demonstrated time and again why he assumed a considerable amount of reps with the Tigers’ first stringers, a trend that ultimately left a favorable impression with Saulsberry and his staff.

Following his first full varsity season in which he earned First-Team All District honors, Jones — an honor student who boasts a 3.8 grade point average — also had the luxury of appearing at a number of 7-on-7 camps and combines at several Mid-South area colleges, most notably at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas State, and the University of Memphis. This offseason will be no different for a rising junior who is almost certain to fall more under the radar as college recruiters have already taken notice of his skills.

“Kerrick has become one of the top receivers in the area, and as a sophomore that’s big,” Saulsberry said. “Among the things I noticed about him is his competitive nature for kid his age. We’re excited because he had a great sophomore season and we’re excited greater things from him next year.”

Among the reasons if that mom knew exactly what she was doing all along.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Ex-Arena Football star Johnny Loper enjoying greener pastures as Jaylo Fitness owner

GREENER PASTURES --- Johnny Loper enjoyed a brief professional football stint with the Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league from 2000-2003, earning about $300 a week. Today, the owner of Jaylo Fitness has witnessed his annual income increase considerably now that he has partnered his AdvoCare. (Photo submitted by Jonny Loper).

GREENER PASTURES — Johnny Loper enjoyed a brief professional football stint with the Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league from 2000-2003, earning about $300 a week. Today, the owner of Jaylo Fitness has witnessed his annual income increase considerably now that he has partnered his AdvoCare. (Photo submitted by Johnny Loper).

When Olive Branch, Miss.-area entrepreneur Johnny Loper started his business seven years ago, a regular work day for him lasted nearly 16 hours.

He didn’t see a problem with that.

“I was actually enjoying life because I didn’t have kids,” Loper told MemphiSport. “It was just me and my wife. But when my little boy came along, it wasn’t about me anymore. I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth because my dad had to work all the time. He couldn’t make all of my sporting events.”

Now a father of two, Loper sensed immediate changes needed to take place once his wife, Weslynne, gave birth to their first child. Among those changes was to make certain he didn’t spend lengthy hours at Jaylo Fitness at 8325 Highway 178 in Olive Branch, the business he founded roughly four years after his minor league football career had ended.

For Loper, a Waynesboro, Miss. native who starred at wide receiver for South Carolina State from 1995-2000, he had lofty aspirations of making an NFL roster, in large part because he wanted to retire his mother from the factory job she had for years in his native hometown.

However, after being invited to try out for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers following a three-year stint with the now-defunct Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league, Loper’s dreams of embarking upon NFL riches ended abruptly when he failed to earn a spot on the teams’ 53-men rosters.

“That wasn’t my purpose,” the 37-year-old Loper said during a recent interview from his residence in Olive Branch. “It was good for a season to learn different things. But that wasn’t my ending point.”

To his credit, among the things Loper learned during his brief tenure as a professional athlete was the importance of staying in good health. More than 10 years removed from having earned an Arena Football League check that paid him about $300 a week, Loper has cashed in mightily because of his stern commitment to helping individuals establish a healthy lifestyle.

Since 2011, Jaylo Fitness has partnered with AdvoCare, a premier health and wellness company that offers world-class energy, weight-loss, nutrition, and sports performance products along with rewarding business opportunities. For the Lopers, they have reaped the benefits of having joined one of the world’s premiere wellness companies, whose endorsers include an array of professional athletes, most notable Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl 44 MVP Drew Brees.

Loper, a former South Carolina State star wide receiver, had lofty dreams of playing in the NFL when he was invited to try out for the Pittsburg Steelers and Carolina Panthers following his brief Arena Football stint. (Photo courtesy of South Carolina State University)

Loper, a former South Carolina State star wide receiver, had lofty dreams of playing in the NFL when he was invited to try out for the Pittsburg Steelers and Carolina Panthers following his brief Arena Football stint. (Photo courtesy of South Carolina State University)

Last month, Loper helped produce a 24-minute DVD for AdvoCare with appearances by Whitten and Brees, as well as a host of NFL players.

As Loper recalls, if it weren’t for the long hours he invested to a fitness business that had already earned a favorable reputation among Mid-Southerners, it likely would have taken longer for him to realize why a career in the NFL wasn’t meant to happen.

While at his facility in 2005, Loper noticed a client leaving the building. In her bag, he saw some AdvoCare products. Once he inquired about the items, that’s when his life began to change.

“It took me at least five years until I started doing AdvoCare with our business,” Loper said. “I knew the products worked because we used it when I was in college. Everybody was coming to me to get me to do direct sales because everybody’s got juices and things of that nature. But what I loved about AdvoCare  was that your money was 100 percent back guaranteed. When we began researching, we saw the credibility the company had being that Drew Brees was endorsing AdvoCare for free. It wasn’t a company that just started up.”

That Jaylo Fitness elected to partner with AdvoCare three years ago — he earned approximately $18,000 within his first month after joining — Loper has gained more freedom away from his gym and now savors a carefree lifestyle that has enabled him to spend more time with his family. A usual work week at his fitness facility is comprised of between five-to-eight hours in which he mostly spends that time teaching what he calls “Fitness Bootcamps” or conducting hour-long total body workouts before a class of about 50 participants.

In other words, a majority of Loper’s work is done from the comfortable confines of his home.

“Within a matter of a month, we had earned $18,000,” Loper said. “Tears just came to my eyes. “When (his client) explained to me what had happened, I had a golden opportunity that I really couldn’t let slip away. That changed my life completely.”

Not to mention the livelihood of his mother, Fannie Loper.

Loper not only was able to retire his mother from the factory job she held since he was a child, but she has lost about 50 pounds because of her commitment to using AdvoCare products.

“That was my whole reason of trying to get to the NFL,” Loper said. “I was trying to get my mom out of that trailer and to retire her from her job.”

He managed to do both within just three months.

Never mind his dreams of playing in the NFL are now a distant memory.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

FACS star Douwante Thomas progresses, raises his stock on recruiting circuit

Douwante Thomas’ constant progress on the basketball court in recent years, to his credit, has given way to his coming under the radar by a number of college scouts.

ELECTRIFYING --- First Assembly Christian School swingman Douwante Thomas spent a majority of his senior season converting high-percentage shots. Thomas led the Crusaders in scoring, averaging better than 15 points a game while make 20 starts. (Photos submitted by Lothera Thomas)

ELECTRIFYING — First Assembly Christian School swingman Douwante Thomas spent a majority of his senior season converting high-percentage shots. Thomas led the Crusaders in scoring, averaging better than 15 points a game while make 20 starts. (Photos submitted by Lothera Thomas)

Among the key attributes recruiters have noticed is that the First Assembly Christian School’s swingman’s relentless leaping ability, quickness, and his ability to penetrate to the basket have provided fits for opposing teams, both on the AAU circuit and high school games.

Thomas’ continuous improvement was among the key factors that prompted FACS coach D’Marius Wilkes to switch him to a two-way athlete for the Crusaders during what was an efficient season for his star player.

For starters, the 6-foot-5 Thomas — just as he’s done since he was installed as a starter his freshman year — proved to be the centerpiece of an FACS team that finished 12-8 this year and witnessed it season end in a loss to St. George’s Feb. 13. Thomas was the Crusaders’ leading scorer, averaging better than 15 points a game. In addition, he managed 8.3 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, three assists, and 1.4 steals.

And, because he spent a better part of this campaign playing above the rim, Thomas witnessed his field goal percentage soar to a remarkable 61.3 percent, while shooting 72.9 from the free throw line, all of which earned him All-District honors in TSSAA Division 2-A for a third consecutive year.

Still, following a year in which FACS didn’t make a lengthy postseason run, Thomas admittedly became his own worst critics, of sorts, saying among other things that he could have done more to help propel the Crusaders to a better overall showing.

“I would say I could have done a lot better than I did,” the 17-year-old Thomas told MemphiSport. “I played a little bit timid at times. I played as if I didn’t want to mess up. But I just kept playing through (mistakes) and my coach challenged me to play through them.”

Wilkes among those who relishes the fact that Thomas, his featured player, didn’t shy away from taking ownership of his weaknesses and occasional mishaps this season. However, he sensed that Thomas still made continuous strides and, most importantly, upgraded his mechanics in this, his final season as a high school basketball player.

“He has been the heart and soul for us offensively and defensively,” Wilkes said. “He is probably the best athlete in the city as far as running and jumping. His progress this year has been tremendous.”

LASTING IMPRESSION --- Thomas' performance on the AAU circuit in recent has generated interest from several Division 1 colleges.

LASTING IMPRESSION — Thomas’ performance on the AAU circuit in recent years has generated interest from several Division 1 colleges.

Never mind that his progress unfolded in the private school sector.

Although Thomas didn’t garner as much exposure in recent years as his peers in the public school system, his presence as a member of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s Team Penny 17-and-under AAU squad boosted his stock with college scouts.

Currently, Thomas has generated interests from Tennessee State, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Union University, and Southeast Missouri State. While neither school has made an official offer, Thomas — who is scheduled to make official visits to these schools in the coming weeks — is confident he’ll ultimately fulfill his dream of playing college basketball.

“I’m willing to do anything necessary to receive a scholarship,” Thomas said.

Even if it means doing the little things that will leave a favorable impressions on recruiters as he prepares to set foot on several college campuses soon.

“I know I’ve got to lift weights more, condition, and work on my ball-handling,” said the 178-pound Thomas, adding that he plans to improve his mid-range jumper and 3-point field goal efficiency. The scouts say I’m one of the most athletic people they’ve ever seen. I guess I get that a lot.”

Given his constant progress on the basketball court in recent years, chances are he will hear it a lot more this fall.

Only this time, he’ll hear it wearing a college basketball uniform.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

East High band president Maurio Betts aiming to make JSU’s Sonic Boom of South

MEMPHIS SOUNDS --- Maurio Betts first took part in band five years ago while at Wooddale Middle School. He has since flourished into one of the best young musicians in the city as the president of East High School's marching band. Betts is taking is his talents to Jackson State University this Fall. (Photos by Kaye Davis)

MEMPHIS SOUNDS — Maurio Betts first took part in band five years ago while at Wooddale Middle School. He has since flourished into one of the best young musicians in the city as the president of East High School’s marching band. Betts is taking is his talents to Jackson State University this Fall. (Photos by Kaye Davis)

During a recent interview, Maurio Betts is going on and on about his passion for band. As Betts tells it, becoming engaged in band five years ago is the best thing to happen for the 17 year-old East High School senior.

“It was something new for me,” Betts told MemphiSport of his desire to take up band. “When I first started band, I was just trying something new. I didn’t know I would grow to love it.”

Betts, in fact, has become so fond of music that not only does he spends countless hours at home watching video footage of college bands, but he often pretends as if he’s playing his trumpet even when his instrument isn’t in his possession.

“I go above and beyond,” Betts said of his aspirations of evolving into a fluent musician. “I’m very ambitions about it. I don’t know…I guess every day, I’m always practice because I know I have weaknesses.  So every day, I’m learning to perfect my weaknesses.”

To get a clear understanding why Betts has developed a deep admiration for music, look no further than his days at Wooddale Middle School. When Betts’ mother, Kaye Davis, enrolled him at the school, it didn’t have a marching band, but had a concert choir for those who were interested in joining.

Consequently, Betts took a chance and joined the concert choir, considering it would help prepare him for the marching band that was currently in the works at the time. Within a matter of weeks, Betts came to enjoy what the choir had to offer and figured he’s take music more seriously. The very next year, Wooddale Middle’s marching band officially had been assembled and was comprised of about 40 members, one of which included Betts.

That’s when he first began to play the trumpet, an instrument in which he seemingly can’t live without today. In a nutshell, Betts without band, as his mother said, is like a pencil without an eraser.

To his credit, that Betts has steadfastly matured and flourished as an accomplished musician for East High’s band has gone virtually unnoticed by his peers, who unanimously voted him the band president this year. But according to Betts, the featured member of the Mustang marching band, his accolades and rise as a musician wouldn’t have come to fruition if not for Ollie Liddell, the former director of East’s band who is not overseeing the band at nearby Central High.

Liddell taught and mentored Betts his first two years as he became acclimated in the varsity band, teaching him everything from being dedicated to his craft as a musician to learning to simultaneously lending his ear to recognize other instruments besides his own.

“It wasn’t about him, wasn’t about one band,” Betts’ mother said of her son’s commitment to improving his musical mechanics. “If you’ve got one (musician) that’s good at what they do and everybody else is not on the same page, then the entire band is not on one accord. He’d come in there like, ‘It’s all about me.’ And he couldn’t do that. It’s one band and one sound. (Liddell) helped him a lot in that area because that was a struggle for us.”

Betts was among the East band members who voiced his displeasure when they learned Liddell would be leaving for Central after his sophomore year. Still, he said the life-changing lessons his longtime mentor taught him were priceless and will prove beneficial as he look ahead to college this fall.

LOVE OF MUSIC --- Betts admittedly has developed such a deep love for music that he often pretends to play his trumpet even when he isn't holding his instrument.

LOVE OF MUSIC — Betts admittedly has developed such a deep love for music that he often pretends to play his trumpet even when he isn’t holding his instrument.

Like Liddell, a former member of Jackson State University’s renowned Sonic Boom of the South, Betts has lofty aspirations of joining the school’s tradition-rich band that performs annually in the Southern Heritage Classic at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Judging by how much he’s blossomed as a musician in recent years, Betts admittedly feels good about his chances of securing a spot in one of the most prominent college bands in the America.

“I know I have all the criteria to get accepted to the (JSU) band, probably an 85 percent chance,” said Betts, who plans to audition for the band in the coming weeks. “But that’s not what I’m focused on. I’m focused on scholarships from the band.”

That, too shouldn’t be a difficult task for Betts, considering the face of East High’s marching band boasts a cumulative grade point average of 3.5.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

 

Memphian Harold Draper III making his presence felt on AAU basketball circuit

Make no mistake, Harold Draper III is only nine years old.

However, the general consensus among those who have followed his dazzling display on the AAU circuit is that he has the basketball IQ of someone twice his age.
HIGH RISER --- Memphian Harold Draper III first began playing competitive basketball at the age of five. Today, the nine-year-old hoops phenom is making his presence on the AAU circuit as a member of the Memphis Tigers 10-and-under team (Photos submitted by Andrea Alrdridge)

HIGH RISER — Memphian Harold Draper III first began playing competitive basketball at the age of five. Today, the nine-year-old hoops phenom is making his presence felt on the AAU circuit as a member of the Memphis Tigers 10u team (Photos by Jeff Rashad Thomas)

“He’s one of, if not, the hardest working child I know,” said University of Memphis senior guard Trey Draper,” the cousin and mentor of Harold Draper III. “If he’s not in the gym, he’s outside trying to get better. What impresses me about him is his ability to retain information at nine years old. He’s a student of the game. If you tell him something one time, he’s trying to apply it in the next game.”

Among the reasons Harold Draper III has become empowered to acquire so much knowledge about basketball is that it seems he doesn’t grow tired of studying the game. In fact, if basketball was a pop quiz, this kid would master in flying colors.
Take, for instance, how Harold Draper III commemorates the game, particularly when he isn’t clamping down in defensive stances or pulling cross-over moves on opposing players in gymnasiums across the city. Nicknamed “HD3” because of his prowess and assertiveness on the court, Harold Draper III spends an ample amount of time watching NBA Hardwood Classics with his father, Harold Draper II.
So what exactly has prompted an amateur basketball player to adopt such a unique trend for his age?
“He has basketball intelligence like his dad,” said HD3’s No. 1 fan, Andrea Dandridge. “He would rather study the game, learn the game, and watch what the legends did. When he goes to games, he watches the older kids.”

YOUNG VET --- Nicknamed HD3, Draper III has become accustomed to competing with older and bigger players in his time as an amateur basketball standout.

YOUNG VET — Nicknamed HD3, Draper III has become accustomed to competing with older and bigger players in his time as an amateur basketball standout.

His keen desire to observe older players, to his credit, has enabled him to build a solid rapport with a host of U of M players, most notably Joe Jackson and Shaq Goodwin, among others. Add to the fact that HD3 first took part in competitive hoops when he was five years old, and it’s no wonder this young hoops prodigy has blossomed as a catalyst for the Memphis Tigers 10-and-under team, who competes mostly against 12-and-under squads.
“I love to watch older players because I’m able to learn different moves for my game,” the soft-spoken HD3 told MemphiSport.
And because he’s quickly evolved into what Dandridge describes as a “fast learner of the game”, it didn’t take long for HD3’s coaches to discover his skills on the AAU circuit. For starters, his development coach, Eric ”Cowboy” Robinson, immediately became sold on his display during his first workout in which the Double Tree Elementary fourth grader drew rave reviews during a brief shoot around session.
“He went to practice, shot around, and the coach Vincent Grady said, ‘I’m going to let him play for me,’” Dandridge recalls.
SHUT 'EM DOWN --- Draper III has lofty aspirations of playing basketball at the University of Memphis just like his mentor, Tigers point guard Joe Jackson.

SHUT ‘EM DOWN — Draper III has lofty aspirations of playing basketball at the University of Memphis just like his favorite player, Tigers point guard Joe Jackson.

One moment, HD3 is making his AAU nationals debut in tournament in Little Rock, Ark. The next moment, he’s upgrading his stock as a speedy point guard who doesn’t shy away from penetrating to the basket and knocking down shots over bigger guys much like his favorite player, Joe Jackson, the former White Station star who is considered one of the elite point guards in all of college basketball.

Given his eye-catching display on the AAU circuit coupled with his deep affection and knowledge of the game, it’s safe to assume that HD3 is destined to duplicate the accolades orchestrated by his basketball role model, Jackson.
“He’s a point guard like me,” HD3 said of his admiration for Jackson. “And my dream is to play for the (U of M) Tigers.”
Given how the U of M players have monitored and embraced his basketball craftiness of late, it appears HD3 is already being recruited to play for the hometown team.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Preps hoops star Khalill Spencer adjusting nicely after tumultuous tenure at Mitchell

TRADING PLACES --- Ridgeway junior swingman Khalill Spencer (No. 15) played his first full season of prep basketball for his grandfather, Fred Horton, at Booker T. Washington. After his relationship with Mitchell coach Faraji Phillips deteriorated in mid-December, Spencer enrolled at Ridgeway last month. (Photos submitted by Khalilah Horton-Spencer)

TRADING PLACES — Ridgeway junior swingman Khalill Spencer played his first full season of prep basketball for his grandfather, Fred Horton, at Booker T. Washington. After his relationship with Mitchell coach Faraji Phillips deteriorated in mid-December, Spencer enrolled at Ridgeway last month. (Photos submitted by Khalilah Horton-Spencer)

About 12 years ago, Khalilah and her husband, Kenneth Spencer, resided in an apartment in the Raleigh community in Northeast Memphis.

In their two-bed unit was a narrow hallway, a sizable area suitable enough for their then-four-year-old son, Khalill, to use as a basketball court.

“He had a Nurf (basketball) goal and his father handed him the ball and he went down and did a layoff off the right foot,” Kenneth Spencer recalls. “And then I asked him to do one off the left foot and he did. And then the next week, I took him to Raleigh Community Center and signed him up for a (recreational) team. He was four, but was playing with five-and-six-year-olds.”

As Khalill’s mother explains, her then-infant son often slept with a basketball since he was six months old, a trend that ultimately gave way to a fond admiration for the sport.

“He wouldn’t go to sleep until he had his basketball,” Khalilah said.

More than a decade removed from having erected a basketball court in an apartment hallway, Khalill Spencer is now making his presence felt in gymnasiums throughout the Shelby-Metro area. A junior swingman for a Ridgeway High team that is ranked No. 15 in Tennessee by Maxpreps.com, Khalill is the catalyst of a Roadrunner team that is vying the TSSAA Class AAA championship.

To his credit, the 6-foot-3 junior has demonstrated to be quite efficient, most notably on the offensive end of the floor, where he has recorded a double-double in nearly every contest this season for Ridgeway, this after one stellar season at Booker T. Washington, where he played for his grandfather, legendary coach Fred Horton.

“The sky’s the limit for this kid because he loves the game,” Horton said Khalill. “I was fortunate to coach him his freshman year at BTW.”

After coaching his grandson his first full season of high school ball, Horton decided he would call it a career on the bench, thus announcing that he would not coach beyond the 2012-13 campaign. Consequently, Horton and Khalill’s parents felt it would be best if he reunite with his middle school coach, Faragi Phillips, the current head coach at nearby Mitchell High.

“I was excited,” Khalill said of transferring to Mitchell. “Because we went through a lot of wars together and won state championships. I thought it was going to be a positive move.”

Unfortunately for Khalill, what he sensed was a reasonable transfer to Mitchell ultimately gave way to a colossal stumbling block for one of Shelby-Metro’s finest juniors. After a memorable sophomore campaign in which he quickly evolved into the Tigers’ marquee player, Khalill led Mitchell with 14 points per game, shot an impressive 52 percent from the field, and shot a team-best 41 percent from beyond the arc in helping propel the Tigers to the Class AA state tournament.

However, a bizarre sequence of events transpired during Mitchell’s recent Christmas holiday trip to Louisville, where the Tigers were invited to play in the King of Bluegrass Tournament that featured several of the nation’s best high school teams.

Moments before Mitchell’s second game of the tournament, Khalill re-aggravated his back during pregame warm-ups and was visibly whizzing in pain.

BOUNCING BACK --- After being dismissed from the team by Mitchell coach Faraji Phillips in December, Spencer enrolled last month at Ridgeway, where he has fit in nicely for the Roadrunners, averaging a double-double in nearly every contest.

BOUNCING BACK — After being dismissed from the team by Mitchell coach Faraji Phillips in December, Spencer enrolled last month at Ridgeway, where he has fit in nicely for the Roadrunners, averaging a double-double in nearly every contest.

As he tells it, he tried his best to play through the sudden injury, given the Tigers had been invited to play in a national tournament that lured a plethora of college scouts from around the country.

“That was a big tournament,” said Khalill, “but it (his back) hurting. I knew something was wrong because it didn’t stop hurting.”

Khalill said it wasn’t until the team returned to the locker room for final some pregame instructions from Phillips when things took a turn for the worst.

“Coach Phillips comes and says, ‘What’s up, Khalill, can you go?’ I’m trying to work through it for coach Phillips because of the game I love and because of the love I have for him. I was going to go against my dad’s wishes and play. He said, ‘Is it hurting?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Yeah right.’ By him saying that, he was really saying I just want to play, I don’t want to practice.”

Within minutes after the Tigers’ game, Khalill — who didn’t play but sat in the stands opposite Mitchell’s bench — said Phillips called a team meeting in the locker room, where he announced he was dismissing his star player from the team.

“In front of the entire team, in a sarcastic way,” Khalill said.

During an interview with Rivals.com in late-December, Phillips said he dismissed Khalill over “a situation that had been ongoing for quite some time.”

“It’s been going on for six or seven months,” Phillips told Rivals.com. “It finally got to a point that there was no fixing it. I had to dismiss Khalill from the team. When school starts back (in January), I assume that he will withdraw from our school. I don’t know where he will transfer to, but even if he stays here at Mitchell, he will no longer be playing for us.”

Calls and to Phillips Friday afternoon were not immediately returned, nor did the coach respond to text messages sent by MemphiSport.

“That was intentional,” Khalill said of abrupt dismissal from the team. “And that hurt. I was so caught up in my emotions. But I mom said (during a phone conversation from Memphis) that ‘God got me.’”

When Shelby County schools returned from Winter Break January 7, the Spencers enrolled their son in Ridgeway, where Khalill wasted little time becoming acclimated to Roadrunner coach Wes Henning’s system.

“In past conversations I had with Phillips,” he said Khalill is the real deal,” Henning said.

Although his grandson appears to have found his niche on Ridgeway’s roster, Horton, who confronted Phillips about Khalill’s dismissal, said his perception about the Mitchell coach has changed considerably.

“I personally felt betrayed from Phillips from the relationship I had with him,” Horton said. “If (Khalill) was doing all these things (violating team rules), why didn’t he tell me?”

Said Khalill’s mother: “I believe this allowed Khalill to release his stance on what happened regarding his dismissal from the Mitchell High School basketball team. When you are 16 years old and a trusted family coach and friend chooses to “demean your character,” it cuts deep.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Memphian LaDeitra Lee passing sports lessons along to her children in Texas

WE ARE FAMILY --- Former Whitehaven High basketball standout LaDeitra Lee and her family moved to Austin, Texas 14 years ago and have since been active in various sports, including swimming and the triathalon. (Photos by LaDeitra Lee)

WE ARE FAMILY — Former Whitehaven High basketball standout LaDeitra Lee and her family moved to Austin, Texas 14 years ago and have since been active in various sports, including swimming and competing in the triathlon. (Photos by LaDeitra Lee)

DALLAS — LaDeitra Walker Lee grew up in inner city Memphis.

She was determined not to become a product of her environment.

To her credit, she looked to basketball as an outlet, or sorts, to aiding her to earn a free college education.

All she did, in fact, was evolve into an All-State player while starring three seasons for Whitehaven High, an accolade that ultimately caught the attention of an array of scouts.

However, as much as Lee clung to dreams of playing basketball at the collegiate level, her craftiness as a prep volleyball standout overshadowed her display as one of Shelby-Metro’s premiere players. As a result, she still managed to embrace her dream of earning an athletic schlarship and signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Jackson State University.

For Lee, who first engaged in competitive sports when she was five years old, earning a full-ride scholarship proved beneficial in a variety of aspects, in large part because she did not want to follow the same path as her parents, who lessoned their children on the importance of going to college on an athletic scholarship.

“I was involved in sports because it kept us out of trouble as kids and hopefully pay for college,” Lee said Monday afternoon in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas.

Though her lofty dreams of playing college basketball didn’t come to frution, all was not lost. As Lee tells it, she used sports as a way of eluding student loans, a trend her parents wasn’t able to avoid when they enrolled in college.

“It was extremely rewarding because I got out of college without student loans,” Lee said. “So many people get out and have so many loans to pay. My parents were like, ‘You don’t want to spend your first five years (after earning a degree) and most of your paycheck is going to cover loans.’ They were so busy paying back loans.”

It’s safe to assume that Lee’s siblings also understood the advantages that come with earning an athletic scholarship. That’s because her two older brothers managed to earn football schloraships and avoid the stress of having to repay student loans. Her oldest brother, Eric Walker, is a former standout at Arkansas State, and her middle sibling, Reginald Walker, signed a letter of intent to play at Tennessee-Martin the mid-1990s.

“That’s what my parents taught us,” Lee said of using athletics to pay for a

The Lees and their children, Jaylen, Justin, and Sanaa, have become fixtures in the triathalon in the Austin, Texas area.

The Lees and their children, Jaylen, Justin, and Sanaa, have become fixtures in the triathlon in the Austin, Texas area in recent years.

college education.

A little more than two decades later, Lee and her husband, Mitchell Lee — who also earned a full-ride scholarship to Jackson State — are instilling the same valuable concepts into the lives of their three children, all of whom are active in competitive sports.

The couple’s oldest son, Jaylen, 10, first became involved in athletics when he took up soccer at the age of three. He has since become a fixture in other sports, most notably basketball, football, swimming, and triathlon.

Especially the triathlon.

“He usually wins all of his triathlons or has finished in the top,” Lee said of Jaylen, whose appearances in the sport have allowed him to compete in various venues throughout the Mid-South and several cities in Texas. “And in swimming, he’s always in the top 10.”

Like his brother, the couple’s six-year-old son, Justin also has become acclimated to the triathalon, swimming, and football in recent years, although he is currently involved in recreational basketball for Austin-area YMCA. Also, their youngest child, Sanaa, 5, is an avid swimmer and soccer player who is now starting to flourish as an amateur cheerleader and dancer.

Generally, although LaDeitra Lee said her children participate in sports for a combined 40 hours on a weekly basis, what she and her husband deems mostly intriguing is that sports have enabled them to develop camaraderies with others besides their family. And, aside from their jobs — Mitchell works in management for Dell, while LaDeitra holds a management post for Hewlet-Packard — sports allows the Lees to spend more time together as a family.

“We play sports together, we swim together, we do triathlons together, and we race,” Lee said. “We run together, we play basketball for fun, and we go to the pool. It just helps us love being around each other. It’s not just mom and dad taking them to school or mom and dad helping them with homework. A family that plays and prays together, stays together.”

That too, after all, was a trend in which her parents instilled in her and her siblings years ago while growing up in inner city Memphis.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.