Fathers, daughters, and teaching 'the city game' | Mike Jensen
Mornings at Chew playground offered a throwback basketball experience and invaluable lessons on toughness in the urban game.
A little before 9 o'clock, Jaye Haynes got out of a car that had just pulled up to Chew Playground, at 19th and Washington in South Philadelphia. Haynes wasn't sure if the drizzle would keep them all off the basketball court.
She got a quick answer: too much rain. The rubber court already felt slippery, and the nearby indoor court used as an alternative was getting refinished.
"Tomorrow," Kevin Slaughter told Haynes, and she got back into her grandfather's car to head back to North Wales in Montgomery County.
It was worth waking up at 7 and fighting rush hour traffic Tuesday morning, the sophomore at Germantown Academy said the next day. Haynes doesn't doubt the value of the trip from suburbia to this girls' hoops camp run on weekday mornings by Slaughter, the girls' coach at Universal Audenreid Charter.
"It's like a new environment," Haynes said. "Quick-paced, a different style of play."
Haynes' father, Jon, was a star point guard at Villanova, a European pro for a decade. Growing up in Germantown, a local legend during his high school days at Germantown Friends, Haynes knew every court within shooting distance and its relative competition. In a sense, Jaye and her father are trying to simulate his experiences by joining the girls at Chew.
In fact, a number of fathers who grew up on Philadelphia playground courts find themselves at Chew with their daughters, not to refine skills as much as seek out that elusive killer instinct that city courts were always supposed to provide.
If you think that all sounds like some great urban basketball myth, Jon Haynes will try to set you straight.
"She has all the skills in the world," Haynes said, watching his daughter on the court, as trucks rolled by on Washington Avenue. "I want her to start getting the instincts. She can finish, shoot, pull up, go left, go right. Now, she needs that instinct. Girls don't play pickup games. Everything is drills, and everyone is under the whistle. This is good because you're playing against bigger girls, smaller girls, tougher girls."
Monday morning, Jaye Haynes, who also plays for the Rebels travel team, had been defending a sixth-grade point guard who had all sorts of ball skills and a lightning first step but was almost a foot shorter. Jaye, a starter at Germantown Academy as a 5-foot-8 freshman wing player, said later that she knew she couldn't take this matchup lightly.
"Well, she is not like your typical sixth grader," she said of Shariah Baynes. "She has a really good handle. She plays more like an eighth grader, or going into ninth grade. It's still like playing someone in 11th grade."
Girls were showing up from all over the city. One guard was in from Juniata Park, another from Hunting Park. Jaye got out of the car Wednesday and joined a drill already in progress. Slaughter caught that move.
"Jaye, Sophia, you do a lap?" Slaughter asked loudly.
She and Sophia took off outside the fence, a third arrival joining them. They ran down 19th to Ellsworth, over to 18th, back around Washington to the same gate, a one-block warm-up.
"If I didn't get nothing from Claude, I got that from Claude," Slaughter said, referring to Claude Gross, the Sonny Hill League coach who died earlier this year. "I watched Claude; when Pooh Richardson was a senior at UCLA, he came in the gym thinking he was just going to get some shots up. Claude said, 'Yo, dog, run!'"
First arrivals in Tuesday's drizzle were Anthony Williams and his 10-year-old daughter, Amoura Williams, known to all as Lovie. They'd walked from just around the corner, sat on the bleachers waiting to see if there would be hoops.
During the school year, Lovie lives with her mother in Columbia, S.C. She's in South Philadelphia with her father most of the summer. She likes this camp for the hard work put in, the new friends, the chance to feel closer to people up here. What's different up here?
"People up here, they're rougher. Down there, they're more organized," she said.
"They don't play as hard as people up here," Lovie said of the play in South Carolina. "They'll play kind of soft."
People up here like to think that. It's true, Lovie said. But it wasn't like anyone was throwing elbows at her head at the playground.
"They play harder, like they're in the NBA kind of," Lovie said. "Down South, they don't try as hard."
Tall for her age, she's got guard skills and played on a boys' rec team all winter in Columbia. Her father, who grew up in this neighborhood, looks for ways his daughter can be challenged. Often that means going up against her cousin Camden, the top 12-year-old in the neighborhood, according to his uncle.
"I try to take her to all the courts I used to play at when I was younger," Anthony Williams said. "Anywhere she can shoot at. This court is like home to her. I tell her in order to be a good player, she has to travel, not just play on one court where everyone knows you. You have to play where people don't know and don't like you."
So they go to 20th and Tasker and 30th and Wharton — "A little 12-year-old she met is up there." And they stop by the Marian Anderson rec center in the afternoon. There's a boy usually there shooting by himself. They don't know his name, but Anthony calls him Skip because of his strong handle (after '90s player Rafer "Skip to My Lou" Alston).
Her favorite player?
"Kevin Durant," Lovie said.
What about the WNBA, her father asked.
"Elena Delle Donne," Lovie said.
Although she's a Clemson fan, she said, that changes for women's basketball. She has been to see the South Carolina Gamecocks, this year's NCAA champions coached by Philadelphia native Dawn Staley.
This belief in the power of urban hoops certainly extends to Staley. A couple of years ago, talking about her star Gamecocks forward A'ja Wilson back when Wilson was a freshman, Staley had said, "A'ja's been in private school pretty much all her life. So she's into the no-touch, be really nice, happy-go-lucky. I told her I was going to drop her off at one of the public schools in Philly so she can learn some of the things she'll need once opponents start taking certain things away from her. A toughness, a different mind-set."
So unknowingly, Lovie already is following that advice. As it happens, Haynes has had his daughter look at Staley videos, telling her, "That is a point guard."
Out on the court at Chew, Shareef Baynes, leading instruction, was working on drop steps, landing on two feet before making a pass.
"Don't be no robot," Baynes told a girl approvingly after she had switched up the pass. "You did what you're supposed to do, read and react."
Wednesday morning, Unique Jefferson stopped by. She has her master's degree now but was a camper for years. Slaughter had seen her bouncing two basketballs down the sidewalk and yelled over to her, asking if she wanted to join. He's had mothers stop the car, Slaughter said, and ask what the camp was, if their daughters could join.
Shariah Baynes didn't have to ask since her father brings her every day.
"She works six, seven days on basketball," Baynes said of his daughter. "If she's not working on her game, she's somewhere working on her game."
Shariah is going into sixth grade. She's into playing basketball, she said, more than watching it.
"What's your jump shot look like, Shorty?" Slaughter yelled as Baynes drove to the hoop. He changed course, offering praise after Baynes dropped a pass to a post player for an easy basket.
Later, Haynes made a crossover move and got to the hoop and finished herself.
"Before it would have been, let's back it up, set it up," her father said as he watched. "Now it's that crossover, go to the left, spin moves. She never would have come off the dribble."
Slaughter said that if Haynes doesn't have a street game, her sound fundamentals are a strong addition to the mix here.
A few minutes later, Jaye walked over.
"How you doing?" her father said.
"It's hot," she told him, Tuesday's drizzle replaced by Wednesday's unrelenting sun.
There was no Get me out of here look attached to her words. Jaye talked about how you can't take breaks and expect to be good, words she'd picked up in her own home. She turned back to rejoin the game.