As the Thunder warmed up prior to last week’s home game vs. the Lakers, a group of 55 young basketball players from Omaha, NE had their eyes glued to the court. For all of them, it was their first NBA experience. For many of them, it was their first time ever outside of Omaha. It was an experience they will never forget.
The group was from a Salvation Army community center in north Omaha, a neighborhood the center’s director Jim Sells calls “rough” and “crime-ridden.” Basketball is a way the community can support these young men and give them a chance to grow in a family and team environment.
Sells and Nick Collison grew up together as friends in the same Iowa town. Sells wanted to provide the kids with a chance to “open their horizons and take them to places they’ve never been before.” They came to Oklahoma City to play in a spring break tournament and Nick offered to host the group at the Thunder game. “Nick has gone above and beyond of anything we could ever ask of him. He reached out to the kids. He said he would do anything he could do, he just wanted to help the kids. He’s tremendous! ” Sells said.
After enjoying the game, the kids practiced for the tournament the next day. That practice included a surprise visit from Collison. Sells says the lessons learned from this trip will stick with these kids.
“Experiences like this get their minds flowing about what the next step is for them, college or work, seeing NBA players like this and seeing where hard work and a good worth ethic will get you,” Sells said.
Sells’ approach to working with these young athletes is working. Over the past couple of years, those involved in this Salvation Army center have a 100 percent high school graduation rate and so far 12 have received full athletic scholarships to college.
Thunder broadcasting did a nice job with this video telling the story.