University City

Charlotte Storm basketball program going back to its roots

Leaders of the Charlotte Storm basketball club are proud of their alumni who now are playing in college. Scan the University City-based program’s website and you’ll find information on former Stormers at schools including Florida International, Radford, Army and more.

For the past several years, producing high-level talent was the program’s focus; but that wasn’t the club’s mission when it formed 10 years ago.

This year, the Storm is going back to its roots: providing a club basketball program for younger hoopsters who want to develop. Rather than field only high school teams, as it has the past five years, the Storm again is offering teams for elementary and middle school players.

“We became victims of our own success,” said Willie Jefferson, Storm founder, club director and high-school-level coach. “We used to go after kids that wanted to be better basketball players.

“Then we got the reputation that we were an elite program and had kids signing with colleges. We lost the (younger) kids that we started coaching 10 years ago.”

The Storm was founded in 2004 by Jefferson, Tony Brown and Clarence McLean, all veteran coaches of the Mallard Creek Optimist Club’s recreation program. They sought to create tournament teams of youths who had been either turned away or turned off by other programs’ ultra-competitive approaches.

The Storm, which includes Mallard Creek High and Countryside Montessori School among its practice facilities, peaked in participation in 2007, when it had 16 teams in boys and girls play between 9-and-under and 17-and-under divisions.

Jefferson believes the rise in the Storm’s “elite” reputation started when Brown coached a 14-year-old team to the United States Basketball Association national championship in 2008. The team had started as undistinguished 10-year-olds only a few years earlier.

“We turned them into elite (players),” said Jefferson, also an assistant coach for the Mallard Creek High boys’ varsity team. “Then other really good kids wanted to join the program. That’s when it started turning. Some of them played (high school) varsity as freshmen. Some considered themselves elite. The coaches started changing a little bit.”

As that group of 14-year-olds reached high school, they were playing in tournaments that featured some of the top talent in the country. Storm players also were being recruited, including Rashun Davis (Davidson Day, Radford), Richard Brown (Davidson Day, Army), and Dominique Williams (Florida International).

The Storm brass began concentrating resources such as money and coaches’ time and energy on those elite teams and attending NCAA-sanctioned events. The elementary- and middle-school-age teams disappeared after the 2009 season.

In January, Jefferson and Brown met to discuss the Storm’s future. According to Jefferson, they discussed their desire to reinstitute the elementary and middle-school programs. Jefferson is now leading the movement alone; Brown, also the head coach at the Community School of Davidson, died Jan. 27 at age 53.

This year, the Storm has at least one team each in the fifth-, sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade age groups.

Clarence McLean, a Countryside Montessori varsity assistant, encouraged Countryside middle school coach Jim Broom to coach the Storm’s seventh-grade team, made up mostly of Countryside Montessori players in fifth through seventh grades. Broom is interested in developing his Countryside players without making the commitment to play in club tournaments every weekend.

“I’m not trying to build a ‘super team,’ ” said Broom. “I’m trying to keep this core group of Countryside players to improve and play year-round. When we put next year’s team out there, they should be a better team.”