The Jim Couch Foundation Announces Latest Initiatives
The Jim Couch Foundation introduces the 2nd Annual Super 16 Game and more.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
Around the New York City basketball circuit, the words Jim Couch are synonymous with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In 1960, Mr. Couch met the NBA Hall-of-Famer when he was only 13. At the time, Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t much of a basketball talent, but nonetheless, never lacked the desire to become one. At Dyckman Park in uptown Manhattan, Mr. Couch began training him every weekend, and even sometimes during the week, helping commence one of the greatest legacies the game has ever seen.
Although known for being Abdul-Jabbar’s first basketball coach, Mr. Couch and his foundation, The Jim Couch Foundation, have helped salvage the lives of hundreds of kids throughout the boroughs, using basketball to help the youth find their way to a higher education and even the pros for some. Mr. Couch started the basketball and conditioning workouts at the park in the 1950s. Anthony Mason, Rolando Blackmon and Tony Campbell are among the names that the organization counts as alumni.
While the times have changed, and other grassroots organization have been built on the sole foundation of catering to potential star players, the Jim Couch Foundation has remained true to servicing anyone that plays the game.
In 2007, the Jim Couch Foundation wanted to launch an annual event that more effectively allowed former members to reconnect with each other and the organization. An all-star game was put together featuring the top local high school players, while former members returned to see the progress of the foundation since their early days at the park. The game was such a success and the younger players performed so impressively that Sean Couch, son of Jim and director of the program, figured it would only make sense to annually host the top freshman in the country at the Mecca of Basketball.
Last year, the inaugural Super 16 National Freshman Game launched in October 23 and saw players from coast to coast partake in the festivities. Stephen Zimmerman, Isaiah Brisco, Jamar Ergas, Thomas Bryant, Jerron Love, and Andrew Fleming were among the big names that participated.
The second annual Super 16 Game will take place on Sunday, October 21, but this time it will involve a weekend-long festivity, and will kickoff with preliminary events throughout the spring and summer.
Aside from the all-star game, there will be other activities leading up to it during the spring, summer and fall, as the Jim Couch foundation also wants to dedicate this year’s festivities to helping the NYC’s public school players in their search for an opportunity at the collegiate level. Most kids that attend public schools in New York City end up at one of the CUNY (City University of New York) schools but unfortunately aren’t getting the proper education at the high school level to prepare them for college work. As a result, only 28% of students who attend CUNY community colleges graduate within six years, with four out of every five freshman having to take remedial reading, writing or mathematics when arriving to college, according to a recent report. In four-years CUNY schools, reports are that many barely have over 20% of their students graduating while others hover close to the 50% mark. With those numbers in mind, Sean has arranged to have students from approximately 25-30 PSAL (Public School Athletic Association) basketball programs partake in a city-wide CUNY campus tour, throughout the spring and fall, where the student-athletes would get a chance to visit all 17 community and senior schools, allowing them to learn about the academic requirements and other crucial information. The younger Couch noted that most students in the city’s public high schools don’t even take their SATs until their senior year–hindering student-athletes from becoming eligible at the next level. Complimenting the tours will be basketball training sessions and youth mentoring throughout the spring and summer for the participating schools, taking place at Fordham University and selected CUNY schools. There will also be a pep rally for the participating schools, which will take place prior the Super 16 National Freshman Game. In addition, the Foundation is available for any students in need of tutors to help raise their grades.
As for the Super 16 Game, players will be selected after being evaluated from a variety of national showcases. The Jim Couch Foundation has set up a committee to evaluate participants at the Middle School Elite Camp (April 7-8), John Lucas Camp (May 12-13), and Hoop Group Elite Camp (Aug 5-8). At the end of the Hoop Group event, there will be a press conference held, where the players selected for the Super 16 National Freshman Game will be announced.
SLAM sat down with Sean Couch, who himself attend a city public high school (John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx), before doing a prep year at the Hun School of Princeton. Couch went on to graduate from Columbia University and was the 60th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft. He’s been working and training kids for over 20 years and is now committed to take over and continue his dad’s lifelong work in the community.
SLAM: How did the idea of the Super 16 really come about?
Sean Couch: It started four years ago when we started the Jim Couch reunion games up at the Baychester Community Games in 2007. The idea was–my father has worked out, trained and mentored a lot of kids over the years, I just wanted to have a day where all Dyckman alumni can just get together and come back and see how the program has progressed. So back in 2007, what we did is formed a game–an actual high school all-star game. Our first two guys that played are NBA guys now, Tobias Harris and Kemba Walker. Also, Darryl “Truck” Bryant, Erving Walker, Kerwin Okoro, who was only a freshman then, and the kid [Daniel] Dingle, who’s going to Temple, played. After that, I was so impressed with Okoro, who played well as a 9th grader. I said to myself, it would be really nice if we could see kids like that just entering into high school, who haven’t played a high school game yet, and see the talent level like on a wider scale. So that’s how the idea started. I got help from John Lucas, Chad Babel from HoopGroup, John Wallace, and David Kleinhandler, a NYC businessman who loves the city game, in getting the players. We got like six out of the top 10 freshmen in the country to come play. It was amazing. I got Stephen Zimmerman, Isaiah Brisco, Jamar Ergas, Thomas Bryant, Jerron Love, and Andrew Fleming (below). All these kids came because they wanted to play in New York and they want to show what they had. At the end of the day, everyone still wants to play in New York City.
SLAM: How will the selection process work in regards of choosing the participants for this year’s game?
SC: We’ll be scouting at the Middle school Elite Camp, John Lucas Camp, Hoop Group Elite Camp. All three sites are where we are going to scout players and select them from there. There will be a press conference at Hoop Group where the selected players for the game will be announced.
SLAM: What is it from your father that you have taken as far as helping kids with the Foundation?
SC: My dad is an interesting guy. When I was growing up he was a big believer on where a kid organically developed. So it was important for us to be in the park. Once I was there in the park, before I even dribbled the ball, I had to run. We had to do something in terms of conditioning in order to play. He was just a big believer in being in shape, and being stronger and faster than your opponent. When I watched players, a guy like [Anthony] Mason would come and work out. It was funny, because when Mason was younger he never liked to workout. But one of the things the Dyckman foundation workouts did for him was beginning to appreciate the importance of being in shape. A guy like Tony Campbell, too. Tony loved to play and had a lot of skills but I think it was the conditioning part that he grew to love and understood the importance once he made the NBA. Tony was another that when he came, he wasn’t too thrilled about the conditioning part, but it was that part that when he got cut out of the NBA after being a first-rounder, I think it was his rededication to conditioning and getting in shape that got him back into the NBA. So growing up, we separated ourselves from other programs because we were dedicated to fitness and conditioning. Our players were known as being hard-nosed and tough kids. We were dedicated to being stronger and faster. That’s what I liked about the program. He was a genius because he could put people around him that wanted to see us do things quickly. It was scoring, defense, dunking, being faster and quicker. The genius of my dad was accelerating the talent level of our players with conditioning. I think that’s what this game represents. That’s what Kareem represents.
SLAM: You touched on training back in your day. Many criticize that today’s generation of basketball players don’t prepare as well as they should. What do you think?
SC: You know what? I think it’s coming back. I think the rededication of players over the past three years seems to be picking up all across the country. I think it comes from the middle school. The six through eight levels, there’s better coaching on that level now. There’s an emphasis on conditioning and training. Youtube has really helped too because it has given kids an opportunity to see how the kids train now. That’s why these kids are in the game; they play at an accelerated level and they train at an accelerated level. I think it’s coming back. With guys like Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant, I think it really started with that generation. Those are getting back to the strong basketball focus that we saw in the Golden Era, you know, Jordan, Bird and Magic. I think we’re approaching it again.
SLAM: What are some of the off-court activities that the Jim Couch Foundation looks to implement with the Super 16 National Freshman Game this year?
SC: It’s going to be a great weekend where we are going to celebrate in New York City and get ready for the season. Previously, the New York Knicks have also been involved. Now we have a PSAL and CUNY training academic tour, where we are going to get all the PSAL kids training during the spring, summer, and into the fall, and we’re going to have a PSAL clinic on Saturday–conditioning and training. And then there’s going to be mentoring activities that they’re going to go through with selected basketball personnel. We’re going to give them an academic seminar and they’re also going to talk to high school coaches about the season; what it takes to prepare for the season. Then we’ll have an award banquet where the kids with the highest grades will be honored. They’re coming into a weekend where we’re celebrating training.
Then on Sunday, there’s going to be a huge pep rally with the PSAL kids, as well as some selected CUNY schools and we’re going to talk about getting ready for the season because the following week practice sessions begin.
SLAM: How would you describe the Jim Couch Foundation?
SC: Our foundation has always been our open gym, where college coaches have come on many levels to find kids. I think if you want to label our program, in term of having your New Heights, Gauchos and Riverside Church, the Jim Couch Foundation is the program where kids come to get to that next level conditioning wise or they want to make a change in their academic situations. For instance, a senior who comes in, he might say to us, ‘My school is closing or my coach just retired, do you know of another high school I could go to?’ They might say they’re not academically challenged, and is there a school with better academics they could attend. So we might give them a prep school solution. A college kid might come in a lot of times and say, ‘Do you think that maybe I should move down to division two or division three? Do you know any coaches?’ Most of the other programs, once a kid gets to their senior year, they’re kind of left out. We rescue those kids. And also, what we’ve noticed is that several kids, not just public schools, but in New York City in general, don’t take their SATs until their senior year. So this program is designed to get kids thinking about college earlier. That’s why with our clinic program, which is going to be at Fordham University and selected high school locations in the city, as well as some SCAN locations in New York, we’re going to invite kids to training so then we could do our college tour training on CUNY campuses.
Got a call from the coach of Taft High School, who has seniors graduating this year but doesn’t have a college for them. He asked for exposure camps that I could recommend. That’s what we do. After high school, a lot of these kids just don’t know of how to go about acquiring information for college and preparing kids for school. We’re hoping that this tour would do that.
SLAM: Speak on your dad’s years with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
SC: My dad was Kareem’s first basketball coach and trainer. From 13 to 18 years of age. Every weekend and even sometimes during the week. I think his stats shows us that dedication that is needed, not only for special players, but also for kids who are not selected to prime AAU organizations. So, the Jim Couch Foundation, not only represents the elite players, but also the kid that just wants to be treated like the elite player. We value our heritage, in terms of building players that others might not regard as being elite into players that have opportunity across the landscape.
(Photo Credit: Steven Counts)