But even he wasn’t prepared for the impact that the program, Between The Lines, would have on him during his first visit.
“I’m in the middle of game and I’m like, ‘Bro, this is crazy.’ I just had a moment.”
“That was when I realized, Darren caught the bug,” Stapleton says.
Between The Lines was born out of a love of basketball and a desire to give back. Duncan transitioned from a successful high school career to Merrimack College, where he became a three-time NCAA All-American; he then went on to play professionally overseas for eight years.
Stapleton, too, excelled in high school, and went on to play at Southern New Hampshire University (in the same conference as Duncan). After college, he moved to LA and started his own company that puts on events for athletes and musicians.
But it was about four years ago when the seeds for Between The Lines were planted. Stapleton, at the suggestion of a friend, began going to prisons to hold basketball camps. Though successful, they were sporadic and one-offs, and Stapleton wanted more. So he reached out to Duncan.
“I brought it to Darren like, ‘Look, this is what I want to do,’ and he jumped all over it.”
“Tory told me about what he was doing in the prison system and me being a basketball guy, it made a lot of sense for me to give back,” Duncan says.
The program has already made impressive strides. The co-founders note that their first prison has a history of tension between the Black and Mexican inmates. This tension was noticeable when they first took the floor, as the two groups went to opposite sides.
But then, the magic that is the game of basketball kicked in.
“By the first 15 minutes [of the program], everybody’s playing together. Basketball just works that way,” Duncan says.
“[When] we get to the three-man weave, they’re literally weaving together—the races and the cultures are really weaving together,” Stapleton adds.
The inmates have made their appreciation known to everyone working or volunteering with Between The Lines.
“If there were 40 guys out there, there were 40 guys coming up to you, individually, saying thank you. And nobody’s telling them do that,” Stapleton says.
“They’re appreciative of you taking that time because not too many people come in there and visit,” Duncan says. “It gives them a sense of hope. Like you know what? People do care about me. I’m not a lost cause.”
Besides bringing attention to the program through their website and Instagram, Duncan and Stapleton enlisted the help of Scott Postl (now BTL’s creative director) to produce a video highlighting its impact already. Stapleton called Postl a “godsend.”
Between The Lines has plans to expand, both in the content of the program and in its reach. They’re working on organizing basketball leagues within the prisons, setting up letter exchanges between staff and inmates, and even securing job placement for inmates upon release. They have their sights set on installing the program at prisons in California, Chicago and the Tri-State area, hitting a wide range across the U.S.
However, to do so, the non-profit company needs money to support its efforts.
“It’s completely fueled by the kindness and the generosity of the public,” Stapleton says. “So the more we can show people that this is something that’s necessary and has a major benefit, the easier it will be for us to touch on these different prisons.”
The program has provided a way for both co-founders to take their passion and turn it into a force for good, showing how basketball is not just a game, but a vehicle to teach life lessons like accountability, hard work and cooperation.
“I can’t describe in words what this thing is like. It’s just something that you have to be a part of. Especially as a basketball player, for me, it’s the greatest basketball experience I’ve ever had to use the game that we all know and love to be able to give back,” Stapleton says.
“Everybody has hoop dreams,” Duncan adds. “We just give them a platform to share it.”
Isaiah De Los Santos is an Editorial Assistant for SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @IsaiahDeLos.
For more information on Between The Lines, visit their website.