The Tony Harris Basketball Academy becoming a West Coast fixture in Los Angeles

TH6Tony Harris earlier this week was asked if he could put a number on how many major Division I colleges extended to him scholarship offers during his playing days at Memphis East High.

“Man…how can I say this without trying to be cocky?” Harris told Sports Journalist Andre Johnson on Wednesday during a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Just about every major Division I school in the country.”

So what figure did Harris come up with?

“First, I’d have to see how many schools are in each conference,” Harris jokingly said.

By and large, it is because of Harris’ remarkable resume as a product of the hoops-crazed city that is Memphis that essentially prompted a slew of big name college coaches to hasten to his Binghamton residence in hopes of landing the then-Tennessee Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American — from then-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson to then-Kansas coach Roy Williams.

THAnd so on and so forth.

“When I came out (of East), the top two point guards (in the country) were me and Baron Davis,” Harris said.

Davis ultimately took his talents to UCLA in Los Angeles, the exact same establishment to where Harris and his wife, Alena Kelley-Harris, moved recently.

That is also where Harris has taken his vision of ensuring that his business venture, the Tony Harris Basketball Academy, is a constant success.

An up-and-coming institution that is a little more than two years removed since its inception, the THBA offers a variety of entities to better help young athletes excel and compete at the highest level.

Who better to run such a business than Harris?

Given his outstanding track record as a basketball player, it’s a foregone conclusion that this widely-regarded #BALLIN4CHRIST personality exemplifies the smarts patience that will catapult youngsters to what he describes as the “next level.”

“The purpose is to develop the youth…not just the youth athletes, but for college and professional athletes to enhance their skills set,” Harris said in revealing the mission for THBA. “The game is also mental. There are so many athletes who play the game who are not mentally tough. You can go to camps and academies all day, but are you mentally strong?”

MEMPHIS HOOPS LEGEND --- By and large, it is because of Memphian Tony Harris’ remarkable resume as a product of the hoops-crazed city that is Memphis that essentially prompted a slew of big name college coaches to hasten to his Binghamton residence in hopes of landing the then-Tennessee Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American --- names such as then-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson to then-Kansas coach Roy Williams. And so on and so forth.

MEMPHIS HOOPS LEGENDBy and large, it is because of Tony Harris’ remarkable resume as a product of the hoops-crazed city that is Memphis that essentially prompted a slew of big name college coaches to hasten to his Binghamton residence in hopes of landing the then-Tennessee Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American — names such as then-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson to then-Kansas coach Roy Williams.
And so on and so forth.

ENROLL NOW IN THE TONY HARRIS BASKETBALL ACADEMY: https://www.coachup.com/coaches/tonyh-15

Generally, because a number of athletes often struggle with the mental aspects of sports, Harris believes that is where his notable attributes as a licensed minister will come into play.

In a nutshell, THBA isn’t designed solely to teach young athletes the mental aspects of the game but, more than anything, Harris’ objective is to often encourage them to become good spiritual stewards long after the sport has passed them by.

Just as he had done when he organized his academy in Memphis, Harris said plans are currently in the works to conduct classes for his athletes that would be geared largely toward learning the pros and cons on how to handle and interact with the media. In addition, he plans to erect a chapel, where they could become spiritually enhanced much like NBA players meeting with chaplains prior to their games.

A little more than seven years removed having a earned his degree, Harris starred at point guard for East High from 1994-97 before ultimately signing a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Tennessee.

To his credit, the Vols re-emerged as a national standout, having appeared in the NCAA Tournament in each of Harris’ four seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2000.

Following his collegiate stint, Harris played professionally overseas for seven years before returning to the states to coach high school ball and eventually starting his academy, which opened for operation a little more than two years ago and was held at STAR Academy Charter School in Northeast Memphis.

Now that he’s on the West Coast, Harris conducts his sessions at the Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, Calif.

HUGE ASSIST --- In moving his academy to L.A., Harris acknowledges much of his success wouldn’t have been possible if not for the unyielding support of his wife who, like him, is a native Memphian. “She’s been very instrumental,” Harris said. “She’s been doing all of the work that you don’t physically see in terms of finding clients. She’s been really innovative in enhancing the process.”

HUGE ASSISTIn moving his academy to L.A., Harris acknowledges much of his success wouldn’t have been possible if not for the unyielding support of his wife who, like him, is a native Memphian.
“She’s been very instrumental,” Harris said. “She’s been doing all of the work that you don’t physically see in terms of finding clients. She’s been really innovative in enhancing the process.”

MORE ABOUT TONY HARRIS: https://www.coachup.com/curry

Hours of operations are typically from 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Harris said that will change during the summer months.

As usual, THBA offers a variety of entities, most notably teaching youths various fundamentals and mechanics as they prepare for competitive play.

“How my drills are set up, they’re game-like situation drills,” Harris said. “You’ve got a lot of trainers who use cones for skill work. You know, that’s okay and all. But you’ve got to put the athlete in a game-like setting. That’s what separates me from other trainers. It enhances the player IQ. But if you’ve got them drilling through cones, that’s not going to help them.”

In moving his academy to L.A., Harris acknowledges much of his success wouldn’t have been possible if not for the unyielding support of his wife who, like him, is a native Memphian.

“She’s been very instrumental,” Harris said. “She’s been doing all of the work that you don’t physically see in terms of finding clients. She’s been really innovative in enhancing the process.”

Not to mention grasping a feel for how much the athletes progress days or, perhaps, weeks upon enrolling in THBA.

“He takes phone calls from kids’ parents and reach out to college coaches in an attempt to help the kids build a rapport with them,” Alena said. “He’s putting them in front of the recruiters.”

As a result, the results have undoubtedly been favorable, which is to be expected from a former local basketball star, who admittedly still has his boatloads of scholarship letters tucked away back in Memphis.

Nowadays, his primary ambition, his wife said, is to help others’ dream come true.

TH2Notable past clients include former Memphians Nick King, Cory Bradford, and Alex Anderson, all of whom went on play major college basketball.

“When (parents) bring them to the academy, we’re thinking long terms,” Alena said. “The goal in mind is to enhance their fundamentals and turn them into five-star players.”

Much like her husband was nearly two decades ago.



AndreEDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an athlete, entrepreneur, business owner, producer, author, musician, barber, life coach, motivational speaker, cosmetologist, tax preparer, model, or pastor/minister who is seeking exposure and would like to share your story with an in-depth news feature, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him under “Andre T. Johnson” for details.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Memphian Alena Kelley a thriving fashion designer in Dallas, surrounding areas

DALLAS — Alena Kelley was only six years old at the time.

FASHION AND BASKETBALL --- Memphian Alena Kelley used basketball while living in Binghampton as a child to inspire her to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer. Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz in Dallas, Texas. (Photos submitted by Alena Kelley)

FASHION AND BASKETBALL — Memphian Alena Kelley used basketball while living in Binghampton as a child to inspire her to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer. Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz in Dallas, Texas. (Photos submitted by Alena Kelley)

Still, despite her young age, she was just as electrified and enthused about what transpired to unite the citizens of Memphis in March 1985.

That year, the Memphis State men’s basketball team mounted arguably its most memorable run in school history, upending Penn, UAB, Boston College and Oklahoma to solidify the school’s second Final Four appearance and first in 12 years.

SIBLING SUCCESS --- Kelley and her older sister, Petra Thomas, started VogueGirlz in February. Their business has since become a success throughout various parts of the United States.

SIBLING SUCCESS — Kelley and her older sister, Petra Thomas, started VogueGirlz in February. Their business has since become a success throughout various parts of the United States.

Kelley, like many Memphians, was left gazing at the television in wonderment from the living room of her home in the heart of Binghampton. Like thousands of Tiger fans, Kelley embraced wholeheartedly the unity and pandemonium that was brought to Memphis.

“I remember vividly when the Memphis State basketball team went to the Final Four,” Kelley, a native Memphian, told MemphiSport Tuesday night from Grand Luxe Café in North Dallas. “I just remembered the excitement from my family cheering on the Tigers and seeing them glued to the TV. From that point, I knew I wanted to be a Tiger.”

Like many of her peers — most notably fellow Binghampton products Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and former Universit of Tennessee star Tony Harris — Kelley used basketball as an outlet, or sorts, to vacate poverty-stricken Binghampton. Growing up, she spent years attending summer camps and playing pickup games Lester Community Center, which was roughly one block from her home.

As Kelley tells it, the neighborhood community center not only kept her out of harm’s way in a setting where senseless crimes were a customary trend, but it provided her with the competitive drive to fulfill her dream as a fashion designer.

SHOP ONLINE NOW WITH VOGUEGIRLZ AT: www.iamvoguegirlz.com

Today, Kelley is co-owner of VogueGirlz Accessories and Apparel. Based in Dallas, VogueGirlz offer ladies high-quality merchandise and gives them a distinctive look for casual and business settings.

CALIFORNIA ANGEL --- Kelley's career began 11 years when she relocated to Los Angeles, where she enjoyed a brief acting career.

CALIFORNIA ANGEL — Kelley’s career began 11 years ago when she relocated to Los Angeles, where she enjoyed a brief acting career.

Also, consumers are given the luxury of revitalizing their appearance with trendy clothes and accessories. Having opened for operations in early February, VogueGirlz has quickly flourished as one of the hottest black-owned establishments in Dallas and the surrounding the areas.

Four months removed from its inception, VogueGirlz is now starting to have a viable presence throughout the Southern and Eastern regions of the country. Not bad for a business that appeared difficult to come full circle seven years ago.

“I made attempts in 2007 to start a clothing line, but because of a lack of resources, we walked away from it,” said Kelley, who runs VogueGirlz with her older sister, Petra Thomas. “We gave it a shot, but it wasn’t our time.”

Fortunately for Kelley and Thomas, that certainly isn’t the case today.

Seven years ago, they were left selling clothes from the trunk of their vehicles in hopes of witnessing their business soar to immense heights. Today, however, their newly-established venue is drawing rave reviews from hundreds of thousands of consumers, many of whom have bought into VogueGirlz’s mission of providing customers with a wide selection of fashionable clothing and accessories at the most affordable prices.

RISING STAR --- Since moving to Dallas four years ago, Kelley has become a fixture in the fashion designing industry.

RISING STAR — Since moving to Dallas four years ago, Kelley has become a fixture in the fashion designing industry.

“It was funny because people were like, ‘This girl is hustling,’” said Kelley, recalling her initial attempt to launch her fashion designing business. “I took my student loan money and bought some merchandise and sold it out of my car. We didn’t get the building at Wolfchase (Memphis’ Mall). This is our second go around and this time we are hitting the ground running.”

Long before Kelley — who holds a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing from the University of Memphis — witnessed the progression of her up-and-coming clothing business, she admittedly had lofty dreams of becoming an actress, in large part because of her admiration for the renowned actress and super model Brooke Shields.

Luckily for Kelley, her break in Hollywood surprisingly happened within weeks after she relocated to Los Angeles in October 2003. Among the first celebrities she met upon her move to L. A. was singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes, who ultimately introduced Kelley to Tom Cruise.

Cruise, it turned out, was so intrigued by Kelley’s persona that she appeared in the movie, Collateral. Consequently, Kelley would later make appearances on The Bernie Mack Show, Gilmore Girls, Fat Albert The Movie, and OWN TV’s show entitled Help Desk.

For Kelley, though her move to the West Coast was short-lived — she resided in L. A. for four years — such memorable experiences, coupled with the competitive drive basketball created ultimately enabled her to become a more aggressive entrepreneur.

“With basketball being my first venture in being competitive, it taught me to never give up,” Kelley, a former Memphis East High graduate, said. “It taught how to be driven. I would say it carried over into my whole lifestyle. You have to know your competitor. You also have to have an eye for your surroundings. When you fall down, you get back up.”

To her credit, Kelley acknowledges that while she was raised in a poor community in Memphis, she always exhibited the notion of steadfastly seeing from beyond where she was.

VIABLE IMPACT --- Petra Thomas, like her younger sister, Kelley, has had a key role in the rebirth VogueGirlz this year.

VIABLE IMPACT — Petra Thomas, like her younger sister, Kelley, has had a key role in the rebirth VogueGirlz this year.

In a nutshell, Kelley always sensed there was more to life outside of the Bluff City, regardless of how much unity the Tigers brought to the city in the mid-1980s.

“I was (in Binghampton), but I knew I didn’t belong there,” Kelley said. “I knew that God had placed me in Binghampton for a reason. I always knew there was a world outside of Binghampton. I always thought we had money. I thought we were rich. Even though I was there, my thinking was outside of Binghampton. I was always a dreamer. Even when I was in the classroom, my mind was somewhere else. I just refused to be a product of my environment.”

Now that VogueGirlz is starting to evolve, Kelley has commenced to delve off into another business venture, one that has benefitted her considerably in recent weeks. Kelley has joined World Ventures, a home-based direct selling business in which individuals can become an entrepreneur and part of our travel club community.

Come Friday, Kelley will fly to Las Vegas to promote her latest business project, one that has already given way to her having an immediate impact since her arrival.

“I’m already leading the pack,” Kelley said. “It’s a growing company. They’re looking for people who are driven, so I’m looking to take my entrepreneurship to another level. I love it. I’ve already got my wings, which means I’m already qualified to make income.”

In assessing her career, particularly how she has managed to persevere through an assortment of challenges in recent years, Kelley is confident her best days as a rising entrepreneur are ahead of her.

So much for once selling clothes from the trunk of her vehicle.

“Since February, we’ve generated at least five figures,” Kelley, a mother of one, said of her business. “What we do is that we’re not on the payroll with VogueGirlz. We put the money back into the business. We want to grow the business because we want to tap into a market we haven’t tapped into yet. We know it’ll do well because of our taste.”

A taste that, to her credit, was first discovered while playing pickup basketball games at nearby Lester Community Center in the mid-1980s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are a business owner, entrepreneur, author, musician, singer, songwriter, cosmetologist, barber, athlete, poet, life coach, motivational speaker, or pastor or minister who is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth news feature story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him under Andre T. Johnson for details. 

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected] Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA’s Southwest Division. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Former East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather defies odds, celebrates his wife

Desmond Merriweather has every reason in the world to celebrate Mother’s Day.

After all, doctors didn’t think he would live to witness his 37th birthday.

LOVE AND BASKETBALL --- Inya Merriweather, the wife of former Memphis East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather, stood by her husband's side after he was diagnosed colon cancer in 2009. Although doctors had given him 24-to-48 hours to live, Desmond said he's alive today, largely because of his wife's strong support. (Photos submitted by Desmond Merriweather)

LOVE AND BASKETBALL — Inga Merriweather, the wife of former Memphis East High basketball star Desmond Merriweather, stood by her husband’s side after he was diagnosed colon cancer in 2009. Although doctors had given him 24-to-48 hours to live, Desmond said he’s alive today, largely because of his wife’s strong support. (Photos submitted by Desmond Merriweather)

Diagnosed with colon cancer toward the end of 2009, Merriweather was confined to a hospital bed in October 2010, fighting for his young life just as hard as he fought to survive the dangerous streets of Binghampton growing up.

He underwent rounds of chemotherapy. He partook in regular radiation sessions. Doctors performed multiple surgeries. Still, it seemed all hope was gone.

For the very first time, Merriweather’s life suddenly was hanging in the balance. Doctors, in fact, announced that he had between 24-to-48 hours to live as his family stood by his side. Just like that, his hospital bed seemed more like his death bed.

But just as he’s done so many times as a rising basketball star at Memphis East High in the early 1990’s, Merriweather manufactured a dramatic comeback for the ages.

“I mean, everything has gotten great since,” Merriweather told MemphiSport Friday morning. “Really, God has gotten control of me. I’ve really never been the one to listen to doctors because they really don’t know. They’re only going by what man says.”

TEAM PENNY --- Fellow Memphian and former NBA star Penny Hardaway served as assistant for the past three seasons to Merriweather, who coaches basketball at Lester Middle School. Hardaway was recently named the head coach at East.

TEAM PENNY — Fellow Memphian and former NBA star Penny Hardaway served as assistant for the past three seasons to Merriweather, who coaches basketball at Lester Middle School. Hardaway was recently named the head coach at East.

Nowadays, it seems whenever he makes routine visits for treatment, Merriweather said doctors are astounded over how his health has progressed in recent years.

“They’re in a state of shock because they pretty much don’t know what to say,” he explained. “I tell them, ‘I know what y’all tell me, but God tells me differently.’ Pretty much, I don’t feel I have cancer in my body. I feel like I felt 10 years ago.”

Among the reasons Merriweather has steadfastly remained in high spirits during his battle with the dreaded disease is that his wife, Inya, has shown strong support since his diagnosis.

Merriweather recently completed his fifth full season as head basketball coach of Lester Middle School, the same institution he attended in the mid-1980s. With his close friend, former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway serving as his assistant, Merriweather guided the Lions to their third consecutive state championships this year.

Looking back, Merriweather, a former Lane College basketball player, deemed it essential to pay homage to Inga, whom he said has been his grandest cheerleader on and away from the sideline.

After learning her husband was stricken by cancer nearly five years ago, Inya Merriweather quit her job as a longtime employee of Church Health Center in midtown Memphis to stand by his side.

HUGE TIP-IN — After learning her husband was stricken by cancer nearly five years ago, Inga Merriweather quit her job as a longtime employee of Church Health Center in midtown Memphis to stand by his side.

“To be honest, she’s the most important part of this ordeal,” said Merriweather, who has three children with his wife of nearly five years. “What people don’t know is that she quit her job to be with me in the hospital. She never left my side. I was in the hospital for three years.”

As Merriweather prepares to celebrate Mother’s Day for the 40th time in his life, he said the single most underlying lesson his wife taught him is the significance of “real love.” After all, as Merriweather admits, he’s never been one who fully trust women, particularly during his college days at Lane.

Today, nontheless, he doesn’t shy away from the notion that Inga has given him a newfound outlook on life.

“The biggest lesson is that love is more than the eye can visualize,” Merriweather said. “Love is eternal. She loves me more than I can imagine. She has done so much, just being there pretty much and never complaining not once.”

Which, according to Merriweather, is why he believes he has every reason in the world to celebrate Inga this Mother’s Day, his grandest cheerleader who helped propelled him to a dramatic off-the-court comeback for the ages.

Asked if not for his wife’s tireless support, would he still be alive today, Merriweather said, “I wouldn’t be alive to honest. But she never gave up. That’s why I never gave up. She is the one who did all the ground work. She’s the captain of everything. People are glorifying my story with Penny, but she’s the backbone. She can get the other half of my rib now.”

Especially since he managed to persevere and defy all odds during a time his life hung in the balance.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected]. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Former Vols basketball star Tony Harris earns degree, gives back to community

 

GOD'S FACILITATOR --- For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

GOD’S FACILITATOR — For years, Tony Harris graced Memphis with his basketball prowess, a trend ultimately led to him earning a full fledge scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Today, the former East High star is giving back to the community as founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy. (Photo submitted by Tony Harris)

Tony Harris decided to call it a career after playing professional basketball overseas for approximately seven years.

It didn’t take long for the former University of Tennessee standout to return to Knoxville to complete the final 36 hours of his undergraduate studies.

Harris, a native Memphian, earned his degree in Psychology with a minor in Childcare within six months after his professional career ended.

He has former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl to thank.

Pearl, who recently replaced Tony Barbee as Auburn’s head coach, coached the Vols from 2005-2011 before he was fired in March 2011 for lying to school officials regarding NCAA allegations.

As Harris tells it, Pearl’s contributions to the university far outweighs the NCAA sanctions that ultimately led to his firing. Among the reasons is that during Pearl’s tenure at Tennessee, he established a program in which ex-Vol players could return to campus and finish their degree requirements.

Harris, who starred for the Vols from 1997-2001, deemed it a forgone conclusion to finish school. “Man, it was very relishing,” Harris, in a recent interview, said of finishing his undergraduate requirements.

“I look back at it as a pivotal point in my life. I knew that I couldn’t play basketball the rest of my life. I knew eventually the crowd would stop cheering. I knew getting my degree would open doors for me.”

Harris is grateful to Pearl for helping him exhibit to renewed sense of assertiveness in the classroom.

“Believe it or not, Bruce Pearl played a big part in that,” Harris said. “He created a program where he actually wanted to bring former players back. He reached out to me and I said, ‘I have to do that.’ I definitely sensed a reconnection with him. I really wished I had played for that guy right there because he cared. My hat goes off to him.”

A little more than five years removed having a earned his degree, Harris, a former McDonald’s All-American and Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball who starred at point guard for East High from 1994-97 is now dishing out assists to youngsters who aspire to journey through the basketball ranks much like he did more than a decade ago in this hoops-crazed town.

Harris, 35, is the founder of the Tony Harris Basketball Academy (or THBA), which is currently housed at STAR Academy Charter School in Northeast Memphis where he teaches physical education. According to Harris, THBA was organized to teach youths various fundamentals and mechanics as they prepare for competitive play.

ROCKY TOP TONY --- Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

ROCKY TOP TONY — Harris, a former Mr. Tennessee Class AAA Mr. Basketball starred at point guard for the Vols from 1997-2001 before playing professionally for seven years overseas. (File photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

Also, THBA has its own strength and conditioning coach to teach athletes about speed and agility as well as the importance of staying in shape on the court. In addition, the academy offers after-school tutoring and frequent sessions in which athletes are taught how to become media savvy.

“A lot of kids get in front of the news media and don’t know how to talk,” Harris said.

An organization that is comprised of about 120 individuals, Harris also conducts a midweek Bible study in which he shares with athletes stories that are parrarelled to his life. In return, athletes are encouraged to offer feedback from the messages given.

Earlier this year, Harris was installed as an ordained ministered by his pastor, Stephen Brown, and preached his first sermon just weeks later at Brown’s LOGIC Church in the heart of downtown Memphis.

“About a month before my sermon, I didn’t know what I was going to talk about,” Harris said. “And God told me to talk about where He brought me from. And so when I preached that sermon, I tied those experiences to my own life.”

Besides Pearl, Harris attributes his success on and off the court to fellow Memphian Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former Memphis Treadwell and MemphisState star.

Drafted with the third overall pick by GoldenState in 1993, Hardaway played 14 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star appearances before retiring in 2007 following a brief stint with the Miami Heat.

“Man, I just looked at his life and his career and how he came back and impacted the whole (city),” Harris said of Hardaway. “He really inspired me. He’s really had the biggest impact on me. And it helps to have a personal relationship with him. I’ve watch him. And what better guy to have as an example than Penny Hardaway?”

Looking ahead, Harris said his primary focus is to upgrade his staff at THBA, considering he has taken on additional athletes in recent months. Also, plans to build a new facility are in the works while he continues to train athletes at STAR Academy, a project he anticipates will be complete within the next year.

“It was four years ago,” said Harris, explaining his motivation for starting a basketball academy. “I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go and God gave me a vision. He said, ‘I want you to start a basketball academy.’ And then I talked to my pastor about it and then he told me to make the vision plain and clear. One thing I wanted to do was reach out to kids and not be restricted to a school.”

Much like Pearl reached out to him.

 Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at [email protected]. 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 [email protected]. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.