The energy in Wadleigh High School’s Earl “The Goat” Manigault gym was amplified by the anticipation of the participants at the inaugural Milani Malik Elite Skills Basketball Clinic where young basketball players were given an exclusive experience that proved to be reflective of the court’s namesake—utterly unforgettable.

A Brooklyn native who came up playing throughout New York City and around the country to playing professionally in multiple countries overseas, Malik always had a heart to give back. Her entrepreneurial spirit could not let her idea stay on her mind for long, so this year; she decided to take action. Malik wanted to show appreciation for a select group of young ball players she knew who were elite amongst their peers or who may have been overlooked, but were highly skilled and had the passion, drive, and focus to become elite.

Malik sought and obtained sponsorships from some of the sports top brands including Nike, SLAM, and BodyArmor plus coaches including legends Pee Wee Kirkland, Pearl Washington and former NBA guard Shammgod to give her 50 hand-selected athletes from around New York City and Connecticut an opportunity of a lifetime, a one-one-one experience with some of the best in NYC. Other coaches and trainers, donned in Nike Milani Malik Elite Skills Basketball Clinic polo shirts, shorts and LBJ’s included June Clark, Maria Clifton, Dayon Floyd, Sean Datzler, Tati Ellis, Kurt Joseph and Speedy Williams.

The camp was split into two sessions, one for the younger students and one for the older, more advanced players. As students entered the gym, they anxiously signed their waivers, suited up in their fuchsia and black Milani Malik Elite Skills Basketball Clinic shorts, t-shirts and personal Milani Malik Elite black wrist bands, and hit the court. The men and women coaches wasted no time putting players to work, while guardians spectated from the stands.

Boys and girls, almost equal in number, hustled through drills at game speed with accuracy, as their trainers-for-the-day would not tolerate anything less. Pee Wee Kirkland, who served as an overseer for the workouts that day, noticed this set Malik’s camp apart from the rest, “In this camp she [Malik] had professional and semi-professional people working with the kids and they weren’t telling them just to ‘do things,’ but ‘do things right.’ Too many camps have you doing too many drills. If drills aren’t going to make you a better basketball player, I don’t know why you’re doing it. This camp was different. I really was impressed.”

The passion that Malik displays on the court at tournaments like the Riverside Classic Women’s League, in the film Doin’ it in the Park, or off the court in her entrepreneurial roles, or her healthy vegan diet, is no different from the passion she puts into coaching young people. She was hands-on throughout the day which her players greatly appreciated. Especially Bianca Whitney, a 16-year-old guard from Hillcrest High School in Queens, NY, who says that Malik is her role model.

After standing out as one of the camps hardest working players for the day, Whitney shares, “When I found out about this, I had to come and I’m glad I did. The camp makes me feel more prepared. I learned how to dribble with more control, play better defense, and keep pushing when I’m tired.”

Whitney’s father, who brought her to Harlem, says that he was very thankful for his daughter to attend the camp as well. “Now the only problem is she’s going to think she’s better than me,” he said. All the parents in attendance shared similar positive sentiments; stating that the camp was more organized than those they have attended in the past and inquiring as to when future camps will be offered. Malik assured them (and students), “This is the first annual and there will be more to come.”

Students walked away with new strategies on how to improve their game and endless swag. All campers received a uniform, bag, SLAM Magazines, BodyArmor drinks, access to professional photos of themselves from the day and more. Select students who showed the most drive during the sessions, earned premium sponsored prizes including Iceberg Milani Malik Mouth Guards, a Nike basketball autographed by the coaches, Doin’ it in the Park DVDs and more. The players also had access to photos taken by Oluwaseye Olusa from the event on Malik’s website, milanimalik.com, and Malik started a hashtag on Instagram (#MilaniMalikElite) for people to see/post pics of the event.

The event was a team effort as Malik’s family and friends including Remi Amole, Laryssa Hicks and Sabrielle Lezeau helped with administration and set up, as well as mentees Malik had watched grow up in New York City tournaments. She made sure young women had an equal opportunity as she did not want it to be a “girls or boys” camp. She explained, “It’s not about ‘I’m a girl and I play ball.’ No, I’m a ballplayer, period.”

Malik’s vision to give back to the community in a profound proportion was fully realized as the day came to a close. Though neither she nor any of the coaches were compensated, the seeds they have sown in inspiring the generation of young men and women to dominate the game will not be in vain.

Photos by Steven Counts