Rocket City Classic:
Lessons learned on and off the court

single-meta-cal December 21, 2016

Pictured above:  Crimson Tide Men’s Basketball Coach Avery Johnson and his players show some of their favorite moves to members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama

The Boys & Girls Club is all about making a difference in lives.

As Patrick Wynn, president of Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama says, “You never know what will turn on the light in a young person’s life.”

It turns out, it’s not just about adults making a difference for the kids. Sometimes it’s the other way around.

The Crimson Tide’s three-day visit to Huntsville, culminating in Wednesday’s Rocket City Classic basketball game against Arkansas State at the Von Braun Center presented by the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been very much about making a difference.

“It’s critically important to expose our team to that 7- 8- 9-year-old somewhere in the Huntsville area that dreams of coming to Alabama so our players can be great role models.”

The Crimson Tide Men’s Basketball team scored more than points during Wednesday night’s winning matchup against Arkansas State in Huntsville.

For one member of the Alabama staff, assistant coach Antoine Pettway, the trip has been a homecoming of sorts, and a reminder of a place that made a difference in his life.

“A lot of people think I impacted kids,” said Pettway, who served an internship at the James A. Lane branch of the North Alabama Boys & Girls Club. “But the kids here and teachers had a tremendous effect on me. It was awesome. I really enjoyed my time here.”

In 2004-05, Pettway was a guard for the Huntsville Flight, the National Basketball Development League team. In his free time, he worked at the Lane branch.

“I’ve seen a lot of the old coaches and the workers I knew. And I still keep up with some of the kids. They were just wonderful,” Pettway said. “This brings back old memories.”

Alabama head coach Avery Johnson pointed to this unique trip as an educational opportunity for his players to learn something of Huntsville history and its current role in the global community.

It was also the chance to help some kids. Johnson recalled being a youngster in New Orleans and being exposed to a basketball clinic led by the late Pete Maravich and others.

“I said then, if I was ever in that position, I was going to give back to the community,” Johnson said.

The Alabama basketball team had two events with the Boys & Girls Club during its stay. On Monday, club members who excelled in STEM education and who participated in an essay contest were guests of Dynetics at a “Liftoff Day” tour of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center alongside Crimson Tide players.

Pettway was the salutatorian of his senior class at Camden (Ala.) High School and earned a 4.0 GPA. Though he had a few scholarship offers from mid-major programs, he had his heart set on going to Alabama.

“I went there as a walk-on,” he told the 75-plus kids at the Boys & Girls Club. “I got a scholarship because of my grades. If I can leave you with anything, it’s to focus on your books. There are so many stories of great talents but they didn’t make it because they didn’t take care of business in the classroom.”

“The biggest thing we always talk about is exposure for our kids, kids from lower economic areas,” Wynn said. “We give them that opportunity to be exposed to things in the world they might not ordinarily have to experience.”

“It’s critically important to expose our team to that 7- 8- 9-year-old somewhere in the Huntsville area that dreams of coming to Alabama so our players can be great role models,” Johnson said.

Dashawn, a 15-year-old student at Lee, with mesmerizing ballhandling skills, went through a drill with guard Brandon Austin and was thrilled.

“Without somebody being here to support me (like the Boys & Girls Club), I wouldn’t make it in life,” he said. “I love the sport of basketball. And I love them coming here, because they’re taking their time out of their busy schedule to come help us with basketball.”

That, too, could be the other way around, the Alabama basketball players impacted this week by the kids they reached out to help.

Watch here to see the interaction between the players and the children. 

As for the game itself, it was all Tide all the way with the Alabama Men’s Basketball Team beating Arkansas State 67 – 52.


Read more about the inaugural Rocket City Classic:

Tide’s Coach Johnson on playing in Hsv: “We took off like a rocket”

Alabama Men’s Basketball Team Arrives in Huntsville for the Rocket City Classic

Behind the Scenes: Putting on the Rocket City Classic

Huntsville to Host Inaugural Rocket City Classic