South Charlotte

SCLTHoops network started with only 1 tweet

It all started with a tweet.

Bo Hussey was on Twitter, a social network, earlier this year when he saw this message from Mike Mahoney, a sponsorship sales executive with the Carolina Panthers: "Is anyone looking to play tennis?" Hussey suggested they try basketball.

In March, six south Charlotte residents met at the basketball court at Community House Middle School one Sunday at 1 p.m. and played three-on-three basketball. The SCLTHoops (which stands for South Charlotte Hoops) group was born.

Over the spring and summer and into the fall, the group has changed venues, grown dramatically and become about much more than just basketball, spawning business partnerships, friendships and fostering networks.

Hussey, 44, joined Twitter in February 2009 to use as a customer service tool for his job as the vice president of marketing and communications at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont.

"I've met more people through Twitter and formed working relationships with them in the past two years than in the 10 years before that," said Hussey.

Rich Tucker, the social media manager for CruiseDeals.com and one of the early members of SCLTHoops, joined Twitter in June 2008.

Tucker, 35, opened a Quiznos restaurant in Charlotte in 2004. When he left that job in 2006, he realized that his social and work network had fallen apart. Twitter rebuilt it.

"I knew my weakness was my network," he said. "And two years later my strength is my network."

Hussey and Tucker both say that SCLTHoops has been integral in the growth of their networks and their business relationships. But Hussey couldn't have imagined that when the group started.

"I had no idea what it would be," he said. "I just drive up to the Community House parking lot and I don't know who's getting out of any of these cars."

Tucker said he knew some of the members, but "the relationships we have now are completely different from when I used to see them out and about."

When the group was small and everyone was playing each game, there wasn't a lot of time to talk. As the group grew, they started playing at 8 a.m. Saturday mornings and moved to a "mini-full court" in Hussey's Southampton neighborhood.

"When it got bigger and you were waiting in between games, the conversation in between games was just as fun as the games," said Tucker. "If all we did was play the whole time then my relationship with the guys wouldn't be as strong because I wouldn't get to know what they do and who they are."

Hussey said conversations and ideas that start Saturday morning continue later in the week.

"Now that these relationships are built, people are talking to each other during the week and people are quick to jump in and support one another when there's an opportunity," he said.

Scott Hepburn, who runs Media Emerging, a public relations and marketing firm, got support from the SCLTHoops group for Panthers Purrsuit, a social media challenge and scavenger hunt in October that was organized by the Carolina Panthers and Allen Tate Company. Hepburn and Mahoney talked about the challenge often on Saturday mornings, which got other members interested, including Hussey with Goodwill.

"To have them in our corner as ambassadors for our event and to get others excited about it was a huge help," said Hepburn.

SCLTHoops isn't all business though, and the basketball is the main reason people come out.

"At the end of the day, we all go to SCLTHoops to play basketball and hang out with friends," said Tucker. "All the other stuff is just the side benefits."

Hussey and Tucker said they hadn't played regularly since college and that the skill level varies greatly. Games are open to anyone interested in playing. Some have come as far as University City and Belmont. "We invite anybody who wants to come," said Tucker. "We actually have some people that come who aren't on Twitter but have just seen us playing."

Since it has gotten colder, SCLTHoops has moved indoors to Carolina Courts in Indian Trail, where each player pays $3 to play from 8:30-10:30 a.m. With five courts at their disposal, the group is able to grow even more. On Nov. 16, there were 23 players on two courts.

For the players that play each week, it's become something they look forward.

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