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Hoop Dreams: Basketball Celebrity Mentors CYDC Youth with High Aspirations

Hoop Dreams

ESPN and CBS basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli recently paid a special visit to CYDC’s campus to meet one of our budding basketball prodigies, Jada.*

Debbie working with Jada on shooting technique.

A victim of neglect by her aunt, Jada came to us on April 21. Her parents struggle with substance abuse issues and have never taken an active role in her life.

She has moved around to many different group homes; so often that Jada has declined to participate in team sports because she felt she would never remain in any one place long enough to finish a season.

But Jada eats, sleeps and breathes BASKETBALL. You’d be hard pressed to find her without a ball in her hand in her free time.

Jada took home MVP trophy honors from the Khris Middleton Basketball camp in June, and she brims with confidence and talent. However, she wrestles with anger issues stemming from a traumatic upbringing and transient living situation.

Debbie, who played her college ball at NC State, just might be the perfect role model for Jada.

Taking a Shot

Silver Butterfly Productions Director Ann Caldwell, a professional singer-songwriter and storyteller who volunteers with CYDC youth, was impressed by this teen’s passion for basketball.

Jada shooting hoops with Debbie.

Ann didn’t know who Debbie was until she came across one of her speaking engagements at a local restraurant. She found Debbie’s email and reached out on a whim to tell her about Jada’s situation.

“What did we have to lose?” recalls Ann.

Debbie responded to Ann the next day and sparked a conversation that led to the meeting with Jada.

On the first day they met, Debbie shot hoops with Jada. She imparted some advice about how Jada could work towards her ultimate ambition of playing basketball for Duke, encouraging her to study and practice hard and stay committed. She also shared some tips on proper footwork and shooting techniques.

The two formed an immediate rapport, and despite her busy schedule, which includes covering the WNBA and college basketball, Debbie has enthusiastically continued to mentor Jada.

“Jada and I became fast friends over our mutual love of basketball. I can’t wait to watch her grow and develop inside the game and I’m excited to go on this journey with her,” proclaims Debbie.

 “I hope to inspire her to take on new challenges in sports while continuing to work hard in the classroom.  She has already given me the gift of friendship and I look forward to spending more time with her.”

Jada’s favorite part about meeting with Debbie is playing basketball with her; and she’s happy to be learning a few pointers along way. “She taught me the proper way to shoot a basketball,” says Jada.

Debbie’s also dispensing helpful advice off the court, including teaching Jada emotional self-regulation and how to channel her emotions into positive outlets.

And what is Jada’s overall impression of Debbie? In typical teen fashion, her reply is succinct and casual. “She’s cool.”

*Not her real name