Ball Up All Stars

G Smith, aka Gary Smith, and the Ball Up All Stars will challenge Chicago's top street basketball players this weekend. (Handout photo / June 21, 2014)

On Saturday, the Ball Up Summer Tour, featuring the Ball Up All Stars, visits Chicago to challenge the city's best street basketball players.

First, there's an open tryout at 11 a.m. in Foster Park. Then, those chosen for the Chicago team will take on the All Stars at 7 p.m. at the Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University.

Oh, and those who make the Chicago team will be coached by Bulls star Joakim Noah and have a chance to join the Ball Up roster on a $100,000 contract.

This year is also the 20th anniversary of "Hoop Dreams," the acclaimed documentary that shined a spotlight on pro basketball hopefuls and Chicago natives Arthur Agee and William Gates. Several of the Ball Up All Stars talked about why they identify with the film and how it has shaped their careers.

How old were you when you first saw "Hoop Dreams," and what were your impressions at the time?

Bone Collector (aka Larry Williams): I was about 11 years old when I watched "Hoop Dreams" and it really made me focus on the sport.

The Professor (aka Grayson Boucher): I was in middle school about 12 or 13. Loved it. Still one of my favorite movies of all time.

Air Up There (aka Taurian Fontenette): At 14. I wanted to stop playing football and play basketball.

G Smith (aka Gary Smith): I was 14 years old when I first saw" Hoop Dreams." My impression was how authentic the film was; it really showed that essence of basketball during that time frame.

Mr. Afrika (aka Anthony Pimble): I think I was in my late teens when I first saw the movie "Hoop Dreams." I think it was a good movie for kids who wanted to hoop and weren't in a good, financially stable home but did what took to live their dreams.

 

Why is this film important to you to this day? How do you relate to it?

Bone Collector: The film is important to me to this day because it was the first documentation I saw that showed hard work and dedication. Those are the two things I thrive on in my current position.

The Professor: I think it is important because it inspired me at a young age to succeed in ball despite adversity that may be thrown your way. The film was so raw and real. Both players, Arthur Agee and William Gates, went through struggles with injury, with family and on the court. So I could relate to them with my own struggles, always being an underdog myself and not always getting an opportunity to prove myself on the court.

Air Up There: Me being injured pretty bad and not giving up. Sticking to my dream despite all obstacles.

G Smith: The film is important to me today because I use some of the hardships different players experienced to avoid going through myself. I still relate to film as far as the players' desire to get better and become a great basketball player.

Mr. Afrika: I wouldn't say it's important to me, but I like the concept of two young men who had big dreams. The movie relates to me because I wanted to become a successful person in life and also become a great basketball player.

 

How has basketball contributed to your success?

Bone Collector: Basketball has made it possible for me to provide for my family doing something that I love.

The Professor: Many people have their opinions of what success is. I'd say success in life is following Jesus Christ and the plan that God has laid out for my life. I didn't have that viewpoint until 2010. And I think through basketball the relationships I encountered, countries I've seen worldwide, people I've got to meet, tough times I went through and more helped me come to that viewpoint. So it's been an incredible tool and huge part of my life in general.

Air Up There: It not only became my career, but it's also a stress relief.

G Smith: Basketball has contributed to my success significantly. It's been a vital ingredient in establishing where I am today. I'm very fortunate and humbled for the game of basketball.

Mr. Afrika: I think basketball contributed to my success due to the fact it keeps me out of trouble and I travel the world having the opportunity to see new places and meet new people, and I can also provide for my family.

 

What would you say to someone who wants to make basketball their career in some way, shape or form?

Bone Collector: I would say to someone who wants to make basketball their career to focus on the things you are good at on the court and try to master them, because your preparation will prepare you for each situation you will encounter on the court!

The Professor: I'd first ask them how much they like the game of basketball. If it's their passion, then I would tell them it's all about how much time they want to invest in the game. And I would stress they have to outwork all of their competitors. I've met very few players who didn't spend hours on top of hours on top of hours perfecting their game all the way from childhood to the pros.

Air Up There: Practice makes perfect. Never give up no matter how many times u fail. Have faith in yourself and your talent.

G Smith: My advice to someone that wants basketball as a career or some form of it is to get an education first and appreciate structure. Having an education is something that can also be utilized in your life beneficially. As for structure, it develops character and discipline. Those are a few things that must be emphasis in any form of success.

Mr. Afrika: I would give the advice to be strong, stay determined, always be focused and take on any challenges that come your way. Also be prepared to fail before you become successful.

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