When Paul Dunn set up the Union County Ballers in 2007, he had a vision.
Basketball would be the core, but the organization was going to be about far more than just sports. The Ballers recently put two teams, the seventh- and eighth-grade boys, in the Brand Jordan Invitational hosted by the Carolina Surge, Michel Jordan and his brother, Larry Jordan.
Both teams finished the tournament 3-0 and won their age groups.
"It was a great tournament for us," said Max Robinson, an eighth-grader from Parkwood Middle School.
"We overcame the obstacle of losing two of our players and everyone started believing in each other a lot more. It was a confidence builder, and proved that we should believe in ourselves."
Byron Gaymon is a 12-year-old who attends Cuthbertson Middle School. He says his seventh-grade team also gained a confidence in their tournament wins.
"We played against really good competition and we came together as one," said Gaymon, a 5-foot-1 point guard. "They had one really good player who kept shooting over us, but we were the better team."
Dunn, the eighth-grade team head coach, and Raymond Nixon, the seventh-grade coach, are building good basketball players, but there is much more.
Players must maintain a 2.7 grade point average.
Robinson, a 5-foot-7 point guard, has bought in to the system.
"I always did OK in school but did just enough to get by before," Robinson said. "Now I know that I have to do good to play, and it pushes me. I go the extra mile now and do really well in school."
The policy on getting good grades applies for the whole organization, which features eighth grade, 13-under and 11-under age groups.
"I am doing great in school and making all A's and B's," Gaymon said. "The team helps me a lot. I know if I don't get my homework done, I can't play so it makes me want to try really hard in school."
The Ballers believe their student-athletes should have fun, love the game, excel in school and believe in each other.
"I have improved my basketball skill on the court and gotten a lot better at basketball," Robinson said.