When he was 12 years old, Eddie Oates told his parents that one day, he wanted to teach other young people to play the game he loved. And he wanted to teach basketball without leaving his house.
Oh, and he wanted two Doberman pinschers in the backyard.
“My parents were like, ‘No, you’re not really going to do that,’ ” Oates said with a grin.
After becoming one of the best high school players ever at Sun Valley High, then leading the nation for a spell in college, Oates got a few NBA tryouts and played a little pro ball in Europe. But two years ago – after years of saving, not eating out much, driving the same car, and teaching a gaggle of kids a whole lot of basketball – Oates built a beautiful 7,000-square foot stucco house just beyond the Mecklenburg County line in Union County.
It’s complete with a basketball court, a workout room in the back and a fenced-in yard for his two Dobermans. The architect Oates used is the father of one of his clients.
“I am living my dream,” he said.
Today, Oates, 32, works from home, just like he imagined. He has more than 500 clients, including Duke guard Seth Curry. Each week, Oates works out nearly 100 regular students on his large indoor court.
And he’s pretty good at what he does.
“We started taking lessons on Nov. 19, 2010,” said Marcus Botts, father of a 10-year-old, fifth-grader named Logan. “Eddie has created a little monster with Logan in a two-year period. Logan’s (dribbling ability) is talked about everywhere he goes now. It is simply amazing what Eddie has done with my son. ...”
I remember Oates in high school: a left-handed blur who was a two-time conference player of the year at Sun Valley High. At 6-foot-2, he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists per game his senior year.
In his final high school home game, Oates scored a career-high 40 points against Northwest Cabarrus. After that, he helped Spartanburg Methodist to back-to-back regional titles, earning two first team all-defensive awards. He was also team captain and made the dean’s list. After earning an associate’s degree, Oates transferred to Limestone College; there he made the all-defensive team, was named team captain and graduated.
At Limestone, he once led the nation in minutes played during a six-game stretch, where the school played four straight overtime games. Oates, who still looks like he’s built from granite, played every single minute of every single game.
Oates got two NBA tryouts, with the Bobcats and Celtics, and played some overseas in Sheffield, England. But he never stopped thinking of his dream.
“I love teaching,” he said. “I just get so much enjoyment from it.”
Oates actually began teaching the game when he was in high school. He was asked by the parents of then 7-year-old Reynolds Maharajh to train their son. Oates always made time, no matter what he was doing, to work with his young charge, and when Maharajh graduated from Charlotte Christian in 2010 with a basketball scholarship to Guilford, Oates was plenty pleased.
On a recent Friday, Oates works through a long list of clients. There’s a middle school girl who needs work on her jump shot. After her comes a teenage boy who is working on defense and getting quicker. They’re followed by a high school kid looking to become a shooter.
Oates has a plan for each, all scripted in his head.
He’s got boundless energy, frequently dancing around to music as he works. He finishes his sentence with sound effects, making a whoosh sound when he’s showing a player how fast he wants him to go, or imitating the sound of a ball going through the hoop when he’s showing a player the proper form for a jump shot.
He hugs all the moms and fist-pounds all the dads.
No one seems to ever stop smiling.
From the looks of things, everyone loves Eddie.
“Eddie is a great all-around guy,” said Ardrey Kell High point guard Preston Trout, who has worked with Oates for six years. “He not only just works on skill development but also comes to my games to support me and my teammates. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the player I am today without his teaching and instruction.”
Oates said he would like to train hundreds of more kids like Trout. He said he loves the journey, and he especially loves the payoff.
Five years ago, he started working with Bailey Sims, now a senior at Monroe’s Parkwood High. Oates promised Sims’ father that if his daughter was willing to work hard, “I guarantee you that you’ll buy her a new car one day because you will save the money for college.”
Sure enough, a few weeks ago, Bailey pulled into Oates’ driveway in a shiny new car. She had just committed to Anderson University.
“Man,” Oates said. “That makes it all worth it.”