IN THE MIDDLE of the Raymond Rosen housing project lay a field of grass that Dawn Staley frequented when she was a child.
Staley, who grew up on Glenwood Avenue, or the "Fourth block," played basketball, football and baseball while surrounded by the tall buildings of the now-demolished project.
Along with the field and the Moreland Center on 25th and Diamond streets, which was later renamed the Hank Gathers Recreation Center, Staley had an outlet from the distractions that surrounded her while growing up in North Philadelphia.
On Thursday at Jay Cooke Middle School, the head women's basketball coach at South Carolina was back home celebrating Philadelphia Youth Basketball's plan to build a $25 million basketball-based youth facility development center in Philadelphia's Logan section.
"(Youth basketball) was everything," said Staley, who attended Dobbins Tech High School before an All-American career at the University of Virginia. "I know the young kids say, 'Ball is life,' but it really was. Growing up in North Philly, there was not a lot of positive things to get into beside sports."
The 120,000-square foot facility will have eight indoor and six outdoor courts, including a 2,000-seat indoor competition court along with an education wing, a health and wellness wing, a healthy foods commissary and a Philadelphia basketball hall of fame.
The program's goal is for the facility to use basketball as a means to help the youth in the area to grow as citizens on and off the courts.
"Basketball has the power to change people . . . the power of the coach-player relationship is also the power of sports," said Bill Ellerbee, former coach at Simon Gratz High School and PYB board member. "If young people want it enough, they can do anything they want to do through the support of coaches and projects."
With a fundraising campaign launching in 2016 and a hope to break ground on the facility in two years, Kenneth Holdsman, president and CEO of PYB, said he hopes to open the building's doors in 2019 after a 12- to 15-month building process.
"It will empower young people, especially those from underresourced communities and families to become their best selves," Holdsman said.
Currently, PYB has an 80-student pilot program launched in four schools - Blaine, Cooke, Dunbar and Kelley - that meets three days per week. The program is partnered with the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement and coach Fran Dunphy and Temple University.
Holdsman said the program will be replicated with other "pods" of universities and one will be launched at Penn in the near future.
"We need to do more for the youth of Philadelphia," Dunphy said. "I think this is a great way for us to start and do whatever we can.
"As coaches, it's not just about rolling the balls out at 3 o'clock and collecting them at 5:30 and everybody goes home. Our job is to make our environment better."
Temple assistant coach and Philadelphia native Aaron McKie said he is an example of the power youth basketball can have on kids growing up in Philadelphia.
"I was a kid that society said wasn't going to be anything," said McKie, a star at Temple who played 13 NBA seasons. "I was a Proposition 48 kid that had to sit out my freshman year of college. I was a kid that came home one day and we had a padlock on our door because the rent wasn't being paid. I understand what these kids go through. I've been there, but because I had people in my life, like coach Ellerbee, that were consistent . . . I can stand in front of you guys and be apart of something that will be a pillar for Philadelphia."
For former Neumann-Goretti guard and Villanova graduate Tony Chennault, PYB's project is a means for kids to use basketball as a haven because when he was growing up in the Olney projects, basketball "saved my life."
"Growing up in the inner city, you can make one bad decision by hanging with the wrong people," Chennault said. "You can get involved with selling drugs or get involved with a life of crime. But basketball provided me that safe outlet to help me stay away from those negative things."