While the NBA playoffs have the attention of most basketball fans around the country, professional basketball is not the only hoops being played this time of year.
AAU basketball is in full swing in May with invitational and state tournaments held every weekend. One of the local groups participating in a full slate of games is the Lowcountry Ballers, based in the Ladson area.
The Ballers have boys’ teams for sixth-graders and eighth-graders, in addition to several teams comprised of high school-level players. There also are girls’ teams for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, along with the high school teams.
Robert Jenkins is the executive director of the organization and started the program eight years ago. Despite moving to Virginia six years ago, he has continued to operate the organization from afar.
The program began with the help of his wife, Denise, and local coaches Nena Stone, Calvin Davis and Pam Greene.
“There was a need for a local program where local kids could play basketball and not have to travel to other areas to play on established travel teams,” said Jenkins. “My daughter played and I was driving to Columbia and Florence for her to play on teams, and after a year I figured we needed this in Charleston.”
The teams from the Ballers participate in national and regional tournaments beginning in March, and over the years have produced title teams and developed national prospects.
Current South Carolina forward and former state high school player of the year Aleighsa Welch of Goose Creek, is a former Baller. Another Goose Creek star, N’Dea Bryant, recently signed with North Carolina.
Former North Charleston standout Charon Singleton is playing at Syracuse.
In addition to basketball, the organization participates in community service events throughout the year and also stresses academic success as part of its program.
Athletes are recognized for academic achievements, and all players are required to maintain a certain level of academic progress in order to participate in tournaments.
“It’s a lot more than basketball,” says Jenkins. “We are trying to develop the total person, not just a basketball player. We want our players to know what community service is all about, to know how important academics are, and to understand that basketball is not the only thing in life.”