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NBA star from Hollis passes on life lessons at free clinic

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Growing up in Hollis, Royal Ivey always focused on getting good grades at PS 118 and playing the sport he was best at — baseball — according to his father, Rod.

He wanted to be a doctor, an engineer or maybe even a teacher like his mother, Jennifer. But when he was 13, he forgot his baseball sign-up forms at home and signed up for basketball instead.

He fell in love with the sport, and as he worked his way up through the basketball stratosphere — cut from the team his freshman year at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, MVP of the city championship-winning team as a high school senior, star player at the University of Texas and now playing in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder — “basketball has interrupted [his other goals] temporarily,” as he puts it.

That has become a mantra he seeks to pass down to youth from his neighborhood — that basketball is a great sport and that children should enjoy the game and strive to excel in it, but that they should realize it is not an end goal in and of itself.

This past weekend he returned to his old neighborhood for the third summer in a row to host the Royal Ivey Skills Clinic, a free basketball program that gives local children ages 8 to 13 the opportunity not only to hone their basketball skills, but also to meet a man who grew up in their neighborhood and through perseverance, innate ability and hard work was able to achieve his wildest goals.

“It’s about giving back, letting kids see a guy who made it out of the community,” Ivey said after the skills tournament wrapped up the clinic Saturday afternoon. “They have a good time, it’s fun and there’s also an educational aspect. For even if you make it to the highest level of basketball, what do you do after that?”

His father Rod, who helped organize the event, is a part-time member of the production team at the TimesLedger Newspapers .

The 120 youth who participated in the program this year were treated to three days of skills practice, drills and competitions in order to improve their games. They also each took a short course led by Jennifer Ivey aimed at teaching them life skills. It went over the realities of professional sports, how only 0.03 percent of male high school basketball players get to compete at the college level and the need for a plan B in case sports do not work out as a career.

This year the class focused on the business of basketball and how there are many careers such as equipment manager, coach and journalist that exist in sports — which can all be fulfilling options.

Many of the young players who attended the camp seemed to absorb that message, beaming with pride as they related their new knowledge of the world.

“They taught us that you always have to have an education, because without an education what will you do if you don’t have a back-up plan like being a lawyer or a teacher? And never give up or else you’ll let your dream go right past you,” Keyshawn Muraldo, a 10-year-old St. Albans resident who just graduated from PS 118, where he played point guard and shooting guard, said.

Tyrese Bennett seconded Muraldos’s remarks about having a plan beyond sports, but the 11-year-old Jamaica resident who played center for PS 118 also took the time to reflect on his appreciation for Royal Ivey’s sacrifice and dedication to his community.

“Royal, he doesn’t have to do this,” Bennett said. “He’s really taking the time to help little kids, and he taught me to always keep on trying and never give up.”

Royal Ivey said this year’s clinic was another great success and that he looks forward to hearing about the successes of the children he has taught as they go through their lives.

“The clinic is unique,” he said. “It’s one of a kind, because it’s not just about basketball, it’s about being a better person. It’s more than basketball.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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