Don’t be fooled. When it comes to carving out a career in basketball, size doesn’t matter.
In February, all eyes were affixed to 6-foot-7 senior Hakim Hart when the Roman Catholic senior and University of Maryland commit took flight at the Palestra during the Catholic League championship game.
Hours after takeoff, peepers were still glued to pixels by the thousands, replaying Hart’s thunderous dunk on mobile devices across the city (now nearly 24,000 views).
Much of it was because of Jalen Roberts, a former 5-foot-7 guard, who, once during his own high school basketball practice, secretly recorded the workout exploits of a teammate later destined for the Final Four. Roberts ultimately gave up his own hoop dreams, picked up a camera and became JayDoeFilms, one of the most popular videographers in Philadelphia.
“It’s cool for people to see [highlights] live in-person,” Roberts said in a November interview. “Then people ask me, ‘Dang, Jay Doe. Can I see that again?!’ It’s like I’m ESPN in Philly because they can watch that moment again in slow motion.”
Roberts, 21, is at the epicenter of an eruption of videographers in Philadelphia, who, throughout the last few years, have changed the college recruiting process, shattered stereotypes, changed narratives and made money, all while teaching themselves the craft that has already changed their lives.
Jaime Boyer played basketball in college before he became 8Eye Media. Before Michael Starling launched RawSportsFilms, he used a video camera to raise rappers’ voices from the underground with Too Raw for the Streets. Gen Taylor was a shy girl from Ohio who didn’t fit in at Overbrook until she bloomed behind the camera.
Though some high school coaches privately lament when players try too hard to impress the cameras, videographers across the city today help high school athletes sell themselves to prospective college coaches via highlight videos posted online.
On sidelines today, it is common to see several videographers at various sports, often at the same, high-profile games. Some are commissioned by the parents of high school athletes or the athletes themselves to provide highlight videos that can be used for self-promotion and recruiting. Some videographers even do highlights for free, hoping to build a brand by making it more visible.
“That’s the new wave, man,” said Starling, 41, who is known as Big Star. “I can’t tell you how much my college-coach network has increased. Us in conjunction with Instagram, these kids have been able to brand themselves and market and promote themselves in a way that you couldn’t do years ago when it was just word of mouth…”
Boyer, who played at Maryland-Eastern Shore and later at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., even started his own basketball showcase event.
Such events, also held by others around the country, have been designed for decades to attract high school talent evaluators and college coaches to view prospective recruits.
In 2013, Boyer’s 8Eye Classic at Ben Franklin High School featured some of the area’s best high school talent such as Ja’Quan Newton, Tony Carr, Quade Green, Trevon Duvall and Donte Divincenzo.
Below: Boyer takes cell phone video of Roman Catholic fans at the Palestra ahead of the 2019 Catholic League championship game.
Boyer, a 2011 Shaw graduate, went on to produce videos for Slam Magazine and has traveled the country filming NBA players while amassing 89,000 followers on Instagram along the way. He still lives in the Philadelphia area and attends the biggest high school games.
Roberts also grew up with basketball in his heart.
His father, Anthony Roberts, 58, played at Germantown and later at Shaw, which, on its website touts itself as “the first historically black university in the Southern United States.”
At 5-7, though, Roberts knew early on that his hoop dreams on the court would be limited.
Before @JayDoeFilms built 14,000 followers on Instagram, Roberts was a short kid fighting for varsity minutes at Math, Civics and Sciences. One day at practice as a junior, he pulled out his cell phone and recorded video of standout senior guard Samir Doughty, who in April helped Auburn reach the Final Four.
“He was frying,” Roberts said, laughing. “Dunking on our teammates, and I was filming when I was really supposed to be a part of the team.”
“Film was always calling my name,” Roberts said. “I just didn’t know what the camera could do for me.
“In Philadelphia you have to find your niche,” said Roberts, who majors in multimedia productions at Northampton Community College. “Everybody has some skill. Like, I maybe had the skill all along but never knew it? You have to try new things. Like, everybody’s not going to make it out the ghetto rappin’, playing basketball."
The camera also forced Gen Taylor, 20, from the safety of shyness.
Taylor is a student at Community College of Philadelphia who jumped into videography in November 2018. She felt like an outsider at Overbrook in 2011, when her family moved from the suburbs of Ohio.
“I was pretty much the oddball my whole time,” she said in a phone interview.
YouTube became her best friend until she learned about videography.
After she transferred to Kipp DuBois as a sophomore, Taylor found calm and safety in the solitude of editing NBA videos that others had filmed.
That and her fandom of NBA star Steph Curry helped her build 50,000 followers on Instagram, based mainly on her unauthorized highlight edits of Curry. That is, she said, until Instagram shut her down because of licensing complaints.
“And I thought," she said, “I wonder if I can do that" myself.
With help from Cethfon Banks, 21, who also transferred from Overbrook to Kipp and is also now a student at CCP, Taylor regularly attended high school basketball games last season.
Early on, Banks handled interactions with people while Taylor’s focus was filming on the court. Eventually, though, she pushed herself from the floor to the fore.
“I want every female to be able to do whatever she wants to do regardless of what everybody else says she can’t do,” Taylor said. “Most women are told they can’t play basketball. But whether you can or you can’t, anything that has to do with basketball, I want to do it because I love the sport.”
In April, Taylor’s inspiration, Cassy Athena, a popular photographer, was included in a New York Times’ article about the evolution of photography in the NBA. Later that month, Athena also appeared on ESPN’s television show, The Jump, which is hosted by Rachel Nichols.
Roberts, who graduated from Northampton Community College on May 23, and all the videographers contacted in this report, taught themselves the craft before learning more elsewhere.
YouTube helped. Passion did, too. Being shown the possibility of building a life beyond bouncing the ball helped even more.
"I stopped playing basketball, but basketball came back into my life in another way and that was through the camera,” Roberts said. “I was born to record. I know that now.”
Roberts’s best friend, Antwuan “Booty” Butler, may have been born to play ball.
Butler, who appeared in Roberts’s first highlights, was a standout at now-closed Del-Val Charter, where he helped the Warriors win a Public League championship as a sophomore in 2016. Butler later graduated from Cardinal O’Hara and now plays Division I basketball at Austin Peay University in Tennessee.
Others, though, missed or didn’t have opportunities to play in college and yet still found ways to parlay sports into paychecks.
Kee Vandaway, 44, says he was a talented high school baseball player at Germantown High with a penchant for getting into trouble.
Immaturity eventually cost him those dreams, he said.
Now, Vandaway, a popular videographer who built more of his brand featuring the girls’ basketball scene, has amassed enough business to quit his job counseling kids in group homes to pursue videography full-time.
Below: Vandaway (wearing hat) films video at the District 12 girls’ Class 3A championship game between Neumann-Goretti and Imhotep at Lincoln high
He has even booked international basketball jobs in the Dominican Republic and says he was contacted by a young woman in Africa and hopes to travel there to film her next season.
Vandaway, a nickname he prefers and personalized due to his similarity in play on the court to former NBA player Kiki VanDeWeghe, also works across all youth sports.
Matt Davis, 23, is a former basketball player at West Catholic and a recent graduate of Neumann University who grew up near 66th and Lansdowne.
“Growing up where I grew up wasn’t the best,” Davis said in a phone interview. “There was a lot of crime going on, so to stay focused is really hard. I really just want to be a positive influence to black people.”
To that end, Davis also coached basketball at Conwell-Egan and then Cristo Ray for the last few seasons.
In November 2018, Davis made a highlight video of LaMelo Ball after the high school basketball sensation played in a showcase in New Jersey.
A few weeks later, Davis, who majored in communications and minored in social work, signed a contract with Ball is Life, a video-based basketball website with 2 million subscribers on YouTube.
Charles Jones, who played basketball at Division II Shippensburg and Millersville and then finished at Widener, now films the next generation alongside Tasheed Carr, who played ball at Iowa State and St. Joseph’s and professionally overseas. The pair goes by the Born Leader Family and were featured in Mike Jensen’s 2017 project that followed some of the most interesting people and stories in and around Philadelphia basketball.
“If you look at somebody like 8Eye,” said Davis, an aspiring filmmaker who graduated in May, “and look at his progression … and you look at him now, he’s on a different type of platform, reaching different types of people.”
Expect to see more cameras on sidelines next season, especially following an April Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools press release touting the sold out 2019 Catholic League’s girls’ and boys’ basketball championship doubleheader at the Palestra.
According to the release, the event, which is sponsored by Under Armour, had a higher attendance (8,722 fans) than “23 Division I men’s basketball conference championship games.”
Each videographer admitted there is competition within the culture, and some seem more willing to collaborate than others. But the culture has also inspired a growing number of cameras on sidelines across the city, including several high school students.
Below: Roberts at the 2019 Catholic League championship game at the Palestra.
Gen Taylor said she has been mentored at times by Davis and Roberts and inspired by others.
Starling, (“Big Star") who also sells “RawSportsFilms” clothing and apparel, can frequently be seen talking to younger videographers on the sidelines. Roberts has even been invited to speak to college students at Villanova and Rider University about how he built his brand.
About three years ago, Roberts was contacted by MADE Hoops, a company that hosts middle school basketball camps, showcases and events around the country for boys and girls, including some high school events. Roberts has since traveled the country with MADE Hoops and even led editing teams at events.
Below: Roberts filming at a MADE Hoops event in King of Prussia in March
“He was talented with unique editing ability,” said Kyle Babel, one of the founders of MADE Hoops. “Energetic, always, ‘What can I do?’ And just passionate and really loves his craft."
Roberts also traveled the country with the AAU basketball program We R One, an organization that, he said, kept him focused and motivated and even provided him with a video camera.
These days, he buys his own cameras with money he generates himself.
Roberts has clients (athletes and parents) in Philadelphia who pay him to attend games, film, edit, post and provide longer highlight videos used for recruiting. He also sometimes goes to events and creates free content to hone his skills and “build his brand." Some high school athletes even wear his own customized “Jay Doe Films” apparel during games.
Below: Jalen Roberts shows the arm sleeve his friend, Imhotep senior Dahmir Bishop [who looks at camera], wore against Roman Catholic at Community College of Philadelphia in December 2018, one of the high school season’s most anticipated games.
The current goal for Roberts is to film on NBA sidelines someday. With his growing skill set, strong work ethic and natural business savvy, however, Roberts said he wants to stay versatile, think big and continue to enjoy the game he loves.
“This was all blind to me,” he said. “I kept saying, ‘Man, this can’t be real.’ Because I didn’t know how far I’d get with this camera stuff.”