By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
‘Excellence with discipline equals success…’
IT DIDN’T take long for James Kerr to spot the buckets of talent in these Hallam-trained slam-dunking proteges.
Two years ago, a group of 16-year-olds needed a coach to play in a Morwell basketball competition and the Keysborough-based businessman stepped in.
In their latest of a string of titles since, Mr Kerr’s Red Roo Sports under-18s took out a hotly contested South Sudanese Australian National Classic basketball tournament in Werribee against 50 rivals on 8 July.
The team included captain Jo Jo Deng, co-captains Michael and Kueth Jok, the tournament’s MVP Golong Golong and the finals MVP Pooch Pooch.
The same squad’s under-20s placed third.
“These men have overcome so much adversity to understand what it means to become a champion,” Mr Kerr said.
Mr Kerr and his Red Roo Sports company have fed and coached up to 18 players without outside funding each Sunday afternoon at Hallam’s 24-7 Hoops.
The keen young men – from across Melbourne’s east and south-east – travel hours by sparse and multiple public transport modes to get a run.
See the team in action.
They are trained under Mr Kerr’s slogan “Excellence over time with discipline equals success”. He tells them what they have to do to be better people.
“If you’re in my program, you’re going to have to behave. I don’t have time for your attitude.
“If you choose the dark side, then go. I’m about going to the light.”
Mr Kerr gained the group’s hard-won trust because of his sincerity and doing “the hard yards” with them for the past two years.
From the start, he drove and picked up players on the way to play in Gippsland each week, and met their families.
Hailing from Jackson, Mississippi, Mr Kerr grew up in a population that was 80 per cent African-American.
He understands what the maturing boys are going through. He sees their “extremely raw talent”.
The boys, many of them 16, first took on adults and won the men’s B grade competition in Morwell.
They took out A and B grade championships at Federation University in Churchill, they won the ADRA 2015 and 2016 tournaments in Dandenong, and the 2016 Casey basketball tournament.
Mr Kerr espouses the value of teamwork – “nothing moves forward without teamwork” – and leadership skills.
Mr Kerr said all of the players easily have the talent to play high-school basketball in the US.
It just comes down to creating “proper pathways”. Many people talk it but are not providing it, Mr Kerr said.
“They’re amazing, and they don’t get the recognition they deserve.
“There’s no structure in basketball at schools – it’s just footy.”
To travel to the US, they need trusted people to embed them and make them feel at home, Mr Kerr said.
“I have them for just two hours a week. I feed them as much chocolate milk and nutrition as I can get,” Mr Kerr says.
“Imagine what they can achieve if I had them every day after school, with a full nutritional program, a strength and conditioning program.
“I’ve got a lot of kids who want to run with us but I’ve only got one court.”