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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

AAU teams trying to help get Sikeston hoops back on the map

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sikeston basketball coach Gregg Holifield instructs players during a recent gym session.
SIKESTON -- The Sikeston High School basketball program hasn't produced a playoff contender recently and many feel a lack of player development at the lower grades is a contributing factor.

Since dropping from Class 4 to Class 3 in 2000-01, Sikeston High School has gone 50-75 -- 6-18 in 2003-04, 9-15 last year -- and hasn't won a district title since its final season in Class 4 in 1999-00

Deon Turner, a 1988 Sikeston graduate and former basketball and track athlete, is attempting to do his bit to help.

Turner, assisted by nephew Lee Turner, also a former Bulldog athlete, has formed a summer AAU basketball program for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

An avowed basketball junkie who follows the sport throughout Southeast Missouri, Turner said, "I noticed that our kids were behind other programs in the area. They didn't have the fundamental skills that I saw on the other teams. It wasn't that they were not talented, just behind in their fundamental skills.

"I thought, 'Man, somebody's got to do something about this.' It's not the school coaches' fault that the kids are not ready before they get to them. The high school coaches have to spend so much time on the little basic stuff that they don't have time to teach the finer points of the game."

There have been other attempts throughout the years to organize youth basketball, but those efforts have been sporadic, at best.

Brian James, current Sikeston High School basketball assistant, recalls starting an AAU team in 1995. James, a former Bulldog basketball standout, ran the team for three years before his hiring into the Sikeston school district.

"At the time, there wasn't anyone in Sikeston doing it," said James, "so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give the kids a chance to play and improve their games outside the season. But, it's been nothing like some of the other towns around which may have five, six or seven individual teams of all age groups, whereas we might have one or two age groups every couple of years."

Another team, formed and coached by Jeff Young, of Sikeston, played winter ball this past season.

Although in its infancy, Turner's first-year program has attracted about 40 youngsters and the program has been met with enthusiasm from both players and parents.

"The kids that are into it follow me," said Turner. "They want to practice and play."

The team, named Sikeston AAU, holds practice sessions at the Gloryland Community Center (formerly Lincoln School gymnasium) or at the Sikeston YMCA.

Sikeston head basketball coach Gregg Holifield applauds the effort.

"Deon's done a great job of getting a lot of kids involved and playing and it's going to be very helpful to our program in years to come," said Holifield. "The more they play, especially at the younger level, the more helpful it's going to be to our high school program."

Holifield cited the success of Charleston's long-running AAU program. He said, "Their kids play a lot coming up and that has a lot to do with their AAU program and is one of the reasons the (high school) program is so strong over there."

Charleston AAU coaches Emmitt Gillespie, who coaches a team of eighth graders, the Roy Lee All-Stars, which recently qualified for the AAU Nationals, and Patrick Farmer, who coaches the Twin City Jays, have offered their expertise and experience to help Turner get his program going.

A second youth basketball program has surfaced in Sikeston this summer.

Reggie Robinson, founder of a non-profit youth organization called Save Our Sons, started a team of seventh and eighth graders, the Bootheel Ballers, in April.

Robinson coached little league basketball for three years and decided to keep that group together.

"This was something that we always talked about doing," he said, "but just never got it going until recently. We just wanted to do something positive for the kids.

"Our goal is to keep them together and, hopefully, establish some kind of scholarship fund for them to continue their education."

While basketball is important and the obvious draw, the coaches also tutor the youngsters in other areas.

"Not only do we teach them basketball, but some life skills, the importance of an education, staying off the streets and out of trouble," said Deon Turner. "It's important that these kids learn the basics, the fundamentals of the game early and, just as important, it helps the community by keeping the kids off the street and involved in something positive.

"I just want the public to be aware that these kids are trying to do something productive. There's a lot of negativity out there that they could be involved in. This is something positive."

Turner, an African-American, also emphasized that his program is open to all kids who are interested in playing basketball.

"There's a financial side of it, too," added James. "If you travel, you have to come up with some funds."

Both Turner and Robinson spoke of the support they have received from several local businesses, providing both donations and fund-raising opportunities such as allowing the teams to hold carwashes on their premises.

But, the bottom line is basketball.

Said Deon Turner, "I want to put Sikeston back up there in basketball. I want the kids to develop the fundamental skills that might help us have a championship high school team here."