Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Monday, 09 October 2017 13:58

PHOTO: Sneakers and jerseys

Another group of boys, all with a passion for the sport of basketball, received sneakers and jerseys courtesy of an initiative organized by some Jamaicans based in the United States of America.

RELATED ARTICLE: Over 150 pairs of basketball sneakers donated to Jamaican kids

The distribution took place last Saturday morning at the Kevon Godfrey Basketball Academy (formerly Old Harbour Basketball Academy).

It’s the latest round of distribution exercise carried out by Ricardo Edwards, co-founder of the academy.

The sneakers drive came about after close pals Barrington Bonitto and Gary Thomas heard of the plight of Jamaican kids who have a keen interest in the sport.

Over 150 pairs of sneakers – both new and slightly worn – were allocated and shipped to Jamaica where youngsters attached to Old Harbour High School, Jamaica College and the Kevon Godfrey Academy benefited.

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A group of Jamaicans living in the United States of America donated more than 150 pairs of sneakers to aid the development of young basketball players in Jamaica.

The kind gesture was largely driven in part by Barrington Bonitto, Gary Thomas and Michael Williams with the bulk of the footwear going to the Old Harbour Basketball Academy (recently renamed the Kevon Godfrey Basketball Academy) and Jamaica College.

It was borne out of a discussion among great friends Bonitto and Thomas, who took the initiative to reach out.

“I coordinated it with my good friend Gary Thomas,” Bonitto recalled in an interview with Old Harbour News via Facebook. “His daughters came to my summer basketball camp in Long Island.

“There was a young man from Old Harbour High school that was attending. Gary's wife is Jamaican, we started talking about Ricardo (Edwards) and Mike (Michael) Williams and the great job they do with the kids out in Jamaica.

“Then I mentioned that some of the kids didn’t have sneakers to play in. Gary was touched and took it upon himself to reach out to some of his friends that coach and run basketball programmes.

“The response was overwhelming. In just two weeks we collected approximately 150 pairs of new and slightly worn sneakers.

“Presently we're in round two of the sneakers drive, and expect to deliver another 200 pairs to help other kids get sneakers on their feet.”

Ricardo Edwards, co-founder of the Old Harbour Basketball Academy is grateful.

“The students of the Kevon Godfrey Basketball Academy were elated upon receiving the sneakers from some wonderful persons living in the USA who I refer to as friends of the academy. I am happy to see the joy and hope it brings,” said Edwards, who is also coach of the Old Harbour High basketball team. “Some may say how one pair of sneakers can do that, but it opens the door for them to see the possibilities that are before them that that pair of sneakers might be the game changer in their lives.”

He added: “I am grateful to those who made it possible that may help one life saved, which may save a family, a community and even a country.”

The men are now hoping their benevolence will gain additional support to enable them to help more children, who through the sport can achieve their dreams.

“My imagination has no limits brother,” said Bonitto in response to the positive impact their charitable deed is likely to create back home.

“We intend to take it to wherever it leads us. There are so many kids that love the sport, and if they have resources, something as simple as sneakers, basketballs, facilities, etc, the possibilities are endless.”

Plans are also in the pipeline to stage in December an inaugural invitational basketball tournament to honour the memory of Kevon Godfrey, who died from cancer in August.

Godfrey, past student of Old Harbour High, earned a US basketball scholarship last year, before his untimely death.

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Former Old Harbour High school student Kevon Godfrey died peacefully in the United States of America after a tough battle with cancer.

Last year the 16-year-old earned a basketball scholarship to Redemption Christian Academy in Boston, Massachusetts after his talent was spotted by US scouts.

At six feet, three inches, Godfrey, who grew up in the Marlie Acres community of Old Harbour had a bright future ahead of him. He had dreams of playing in the NBA, a promise he made to his mother who was by his beside in his final moments on August 5 at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in New York.

In his first few months at Redemption, Godfrey received the worst news anyone could possibly hear. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his right knee – a rare kind of cancer that grows in connective tissue cells.

Such tumors are most common in the bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nerves, fat and blood vessels of the arms and legs in humans, according to several medical journals online.

Michael Williams (left) with Kevon Godfrey in hospital recently

Mere months in his new environment in Boston, the young point guard felt what was first thought to be a simple pain that would disappear with a little rest and some over-the-counter cream. But the niggling pain just would not go away.

Further assessment by doctors, would, however, confirm Godfrey’s worst fears. So aggressive was the tumor amputation was the best option.

Rather than losing hope, Godfrey, who accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour and was baptized in the summer of 2016 at the Church of Christ in his community, found renewed strength and vigor from within.

“He was unperturbed by his illness,” Ricardo Edwards, high school coach and mentor, told Old Harbour News. “He was thinking of becoming a coach and how he could represent Jamaica at the Special Olympics Games.”

“While he was experiencing all this, he was very upbeat. We were the ones who were worried about his condition,” Edwards added.

Redemption Christian Academy was convinced by his doubtless talent and remained hopeful that he would become an important asset to its basketball programme.

But so too was Concordia University. The Lutheran-operated church offered the young believer an honorary scholarship even while hospitalized and without any surety of a possible turn around.

His immeasurable faith was a true testimony to those around him and those who came in passing conversation with him. Without doubt his family, friends and community have lost a beautiful soul who inspired them all.

“I saw Kevon for the last time three days ago; my heart is in pain to see a child's dream taken away. I have lost a basketball son. Word cannot express what I am feeling. He fought a courageous battle with mom Sharon Hemley at his side. I saw greatness in Kevon and felt the need to help him to fulfill his dream,” said Jamaican-born African American Michael Williams, another one of Kevon’s mentors.

Kevon Godfrey diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his right knee – a rare kind of cancer.

Writing on Facebook, Dr Mark Broomfield, president of the Jamaica Basketball Association, commented: “I am really saddened by his death but I am motivated by the strength of his mother and this young man who showed joy even through the pain. We have lost a great soul.”

Hundreds of condolences have been pouring in since the shocking news about the boy many called ‘Ears’ – due to his obviously large ears – had died.

Even his opponents are touched.

“We were rivals from two different schools in basketball, you were a true competitor and always showed good sportsmanship,” said Mickhail Treasure of York Castle High in paying tribute on behalf of their basketball team. “You played the game with passion and pride and you made your school and the Northern Conference proud.”

Godfrey’s passion for basketball was evident from a tender age, based on anecdotes from those close to him. He promised his mother that he would be future star one day and transform his and her life for the better. He was on that road for sure in the eyes of many, until his untimely passing.

“Kevon brought us a short moment of joy. I saw in him a future NCAA Division One basketball player,” said Williams who scouts Jamaican talent for teams in the United States. “If there are any more Kevon Godfreys out there I want to find them.”

“My prayers and condolences go out to the Godfrey family in this time of bereavement. I pray that God strengthens you in this time and give peace and comfort,” added Edwards, a church minister, who also took part in Godfrey’s baptism.

“I have been privileged to have known Kevon and worked with him. My heart hurts right now. But on behalf of the Old Harbour High basketball family I want to say thank you for lending him to us. He was a son, brother and friend. He made a great impact and most of all gave his life to the Lord.”

The funeral service of the late Kevon Godfrey will be held at the Church of Christ, Marlie Acres, Old Harbour on September 2, 2017, starting 1:00 pm. The viewing of the body starts 11:00 am, while interment is at the Church Pen Cemetery.

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For the 12th straight year Old Harbour High will play in both under-16 and under-19 Northern Conference finals of the ISSA Rural Area Basketball.

The teams, coached by Ricardo Edwards, extended their historic run after outclassing McGrath and Brimmer Vale in respective under-16 and under-19 semi-finals at GC Foster College last Friday.

Both junior and senior sides will play York Castle in the conference final at GC Foster College at a date to be announced in January 2016.

On Friday, Old Harbour were just too strong for the Linstead-based McGrath in under-16 action, as they romped to a 53-12 shutout.

Kevon Godfrey led all scorers with a game high 15 points and six steals. Godfrey’s teammate Joel Allwood had eight points and 12 rebounds, while Jordan Campbell registered six points and four rebounds in a very one-sided affair.

In senior’s action, Old Harbour received very little competition as they ran to a 66-23 win over St Mary’s Brimmer Vale.

Nicoloy Bailey and Rojay Hamilton demonstrated great all-round ability – the former banking 22 points, effecting five steals, 15 rebounds and eight block shots; while the latter recorded 20 points, had nine steals, seven rebounds and four assists.

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At least one student has received an overseas basketball scholarship to the United States of America, while another is set to follow suit pending a two-week trial in the summer.

The two are Alton Lynch, 15, and 17-year-old giant Javell Redwood, both of Old Harbour High School.

Lynch, a six-foot six-inch forward, will leave in the summer for Redemption Christian Academy in Massachusetts after he was awarded a scholarship by the institution, where he’ll be reunited with former schoolmates Joel Bailey and Willesley Butler.

Redwood, a towering centre, who stands at an impressive six feet, 11 inches tall, will need to prove his mettle however, during a tryout at the academy’s Boston base that will run “for at least two weeks,” said Pastor Ricardo Edwards, coach of the Old Harbour High basketball team.

The pending departures of Lynch and possibly Redwood will make it five students from Old Harbour High to receive basketball scholarships from US institutions in the last seven months.

“The programme in Old Harbour is growing basketball-wise and I would like corporate Jamaica, moreso those in Old Harbour to come and invest in these youngsters because a part of them is going forward and it will be nice for them to be part of it. So I’m appealing to them to come and support, even if you can’t give financially, come on board and be a mentor,” said Edwards.

Last November Bailey, Butler and Junior Graham left Jamaica for the US on basketball scholarships with the latter going to Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in New York.

Since arriving in the States, the trio has been doing “extremely well” Edwards informed Old Harbour News.

In providing an update on the trio, Edwards said: “Junior Graham is actually on the honour role of Lutheran Christian School in Long Island. Joel Bailey and Willesley Butler: They are dominating in Boston, being featured in magazines.

“It speaks volumes to the programme here because they just left here in November. The programme doesn’t stress sport alone, it also stresses academics and the academic is a key factor of our basketball programme.”

Lynch and Redwood will immediately leave at the end of the Jamaica academic school year.

Coach Edwards has commended Jamaican-born Michael Williams who has been instrumental in securing all scholarships so far.

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Professional athlete Jason Francis conducted a basketball training session at his alma mater on May 26 during his first visit in seven years to his homeland Jamaica.

Francis, now 29 years old, left Old Harbour High more than a decade ago on a basketball scholarship but the talented athlete has also added American Football to his resume.

His return to Old Harbour was a pleasant surprise to many, to especially the 32 mostly boys and girls who participated in the almost two-hour long session interspersed with media interviews.

Accompanied by his wife 26-year-old DR Congo-born Chanel Modiri Mokango, Francis conducted an exercise that was lively, entertaining and informative.

“When I was going to school and playing basketball it was a way for me to just get away from everything else around me. I use to have a lot of friends who would get into wrongdoings, he told Old Harbour News afterwards. “Basketball was my hobby and a way out for me, so I know that this is an avenue for the younger kids who would rather do this than other stuffs. So if I can come back and contribute to that process then I’m going to do that.”

“There’s a lot of kids here who have potential. If they continue to work hard, stay in school, on the floor, build their conditioning, they’re gonna be good,” added the six-foot nine-inch centre, who has given a commitment to assist the school.

“I have been communicating with the coach… I already have an order in for like 15 balls, new jerseys and stuff. I’m gonna work on some shoes, try get these rims change, probably to glass backboard, but I’m prepared to do it, so I’m gonna do it.”

Mokango, a 6’ 5” forward who recently completed her first season in the Spanish Pro League after stints in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), agreed with her husband.

“Yes, there are some good talents,” said Mokango, who noted that the experience reminded her of when she was a kid in the DR Congo. “But like Jason told them they need to work hard. If you love the sport you need to put everything into it if they want to go to the next level.”

Pastor Ricardo Edwards, who is the head coach of the Old Harbour High basketball team, played an important role in Francis’ early development. And even when Francis went to the United States of America, the two remained in constant dialogue.

Like a father seeing his son return home, so it was for Edwards, who beamed with pride throughout.

“I am elated that I could have sat down and watched a person who has gone through the system coming to give back in terms of knowledge and also physically. I felt elated that people can come and sow their time into young lives and it speaks volumes. Now these youngsters will leave with a sense of inspiration,” said Edwards.

Indeed, every athlete who had the privilege to spend time on the court with Francis and his partner was awe-struck by the one they have heard so much about but were meeting for the first time in the flesh.

“It means a lot,” said Rojay Hamilton a basketball student at the school, “because he took the time out of his vacation to show us some things that will help us up our game so we can be much better and I’m really thankful. It was a great training session and he showed us our faults and told us how we can correct them to make us better.”

“I’m very excited and it’s a great privilege that I get to meet him. I learned a lot,” added female participant Hanna-Kay Lyttle, who has ambitions of playing the sport professionally. “His wife told me that if I want to force someone to the left then I need to gather myself to the right. They told me if I want improve then I need to practice hard and train even when I’m at home… Get more relax and comfortable until I conquer my game.”

For Francis though, he had to conquer more than just his game. In 2009 he had to do surgery on his left knee. The injury was a devastating blow for him both mentally and physically, as it came at a time when he just graduated from the University of Rhode Island and the prospect of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was at the forefront of his mind. However, the surgery caused him to miss the 2009 NBA Draft.

“My knee cap was shifting… and it slowed me down a lot,” he recounted the experience to Old Harbour News. “It took me about two years before I could literally play basketball again. My knee was so weak I have to do a lot rehabilitation.”

Francis’ tough upbringing in the district of Spring Village in Jamaica seemingly had prepared him well enough, however, for circumstances like this. A dream shot at playing in the NBA had gone by now, and so the Rhode Island resident shifted his focus to American Football.

“I play semi-pro for a team in Rhode Island. I did great. Obviously there was nobody out there as big as I am. After a game the guys from the other team would come up to me and say ‘yo, you are as big as hell’,” he said with a wry smile.

He’d never tried playing American Football before not even when he was living in Jamaica, where rugby is a recognised sport, albeit in a minute manner.

“It’s a sport (American Football) that I’ve always watched and would say to myself that ‘if they can do it then I can do it’,” he said.

“I’m gonna go back to play when I get back overseas. The team is in training right now. Right now football season is about to start and when football season ends in November, basketball season start after that.”

But his true love lies with basketball. Now a starting member for Providence Sky Chiefs in the American Basketball Association (ABA) – a second tier pro-league to the NBA – he tasted success in basketball for the first time in a very long while. Francis helped the Sky Chiefs, the first pro-basketball team in Rhode Island for 70 years, to win the Benrus Pro Basketball Championship as well as the ABA East Regional Championship.

“We did big things. Nobody expected us to do that well and we brought home two trophies in our first season,” he proudly stated.

“I don’t pay attention to that,” he said when asked about his personal performance, “because a lot of things people do in basketball doesn’t show up on the stats sheet. If I’m not scoring points nobody can come in my lane and make any simple lay-ups.”

On October 15 this year, Francis will celebrate his 30th birthday. It’s a significant number for many professional athletes as usually it’s the start of their descent to retirement. But he isn’t looking towards watching from the fence just yet.

Armed with a degree in criminal justice, he said: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve got some offers from overseas, but I like the ABA because it’s literally in my backyard. I can wake up and drive to practice, drive to games, so it’s the comfort zone to me. So if I’m going to get pay and is comfortable close to home then I’m going to do that.

“As long as me knees allow me to. I’m not gonna put a timeline on when I stop play. I know guys who play until they’re 42, 43, so as long as I can do it I’m gonna do it. It’s something that I love doing and I can’t imagine getting up one day and not playing. I’m just gonna keep on playing until I can’t do it anymore.”

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