Sunday, May 3, 2009

Article About Jake's Kingdom Hoops in DM Register

Ex-Cyclone Sullivan launches his own hoops dream
By Sean Keeler, May 2, 2009

Jake Sullivan answers the phone in Lawrence, Kan., a stone's throw from the Free State Brewing Company on Massachusetts Avenue. Last weekend, it was Milwaukee. The weekend before that was Nashville. Or was it Arkansas?"It has been the most challenging thing I've done since playing," the former Iowa State basketball star says, barely pausing to take a breath. No time. "But it's been kind of fun."You multi-task. Sullivan spins plates on his nose while riding a unicycle through a giant ring of flame. His calendar would give a BlackBerry an ulcer. As if life on the road coaching and supervising his All-Iowa Attack AAU program, an army of nearly 300 players, wasn't enough wheel for the hamster, now comes word that he's launching his own basketball academy. In Ghana.

"It's given me a real direction," says Sullivan, whose foundation, Kingdom Hoops, also opened an indoor sports complex in Ankeny earlier this year. "It's really not that much different than playing and working out and training every day. It's been a lot of work. Fortunately, I have a lot of really good people around me, so it's making it a lot easier."Starting with his wife, Janel, who needs a GPS device to keep up with her husband some days. The academy was her brainchild, really. Last fall, Janel was gathering up the Sullivans' two young children, J.J. and Jayla, in front of a television that happened to be tuned to ESPN. Before long, a story popped up about the Right to Dream Foundation, which runs an academy in Ghana that educates young soccer players from the poorest communities in the country, eventually funneling them into private schools in the United States and the United Kingdom.

At first, it was just background noise in the room. But the more Janel saw, the more fascinated she was by the concept. At the time, the Sullivans had been talking about adopting a child from Africa. Knowing Jake's love of kids and basketball, she figured: Why stop at one? Why not try to better the lives of dozens?"And I thought, 'Ooh, Jake would love to get involved with this,' " Janel says. "It was right up his alley."So when Jake came home, she explained the piece, the images of the children playing to escape the poverty in which they were raised. Jake beamed. He'd been looking for a new focus, a new rainbow to chase. He contacted Right to Dream shortly thereafter to arrange a meeting.

"I was sitting around (thinking), 'We've got this good AAU program going. What's next?' And all of a sudden, two (weeks) after sitting in Minnesota thinking that, all this stuff started happening," Jake says. "I was reading a book and it said, 'You know you're doing God's work when you're doing something bigger than you.' "This qualifies. The goal is to raise $250,000 by early September. Jake estimates that room, board, tuition, staff — never mind building new basketball courts from scratch — will cost at least $10,000 per student, whose age will range between 8 and 14 years old.

"I'd love to have someone write me a check," Sullivan says, chuckling. "It would just make it so much easier."In a perfect world — and this economic climate is anything but — they want to be stringing up nets by New Year's Day. Jake already has a site in mind, having visited Right to Dream's facility in Ghana this past February. What he found were tiny clay houses with straw roofs, wild chickens, and potholes the size of coffee tables."The thing that caught me off-guard the most was the kids have nothing compared to the westernized American standard," he says grimly. "There's no toys. They're on the side of the road, working in the family market, trying to make a dollar to eat."

In Ghana, education costs money, and 80 percent of the country's population lives on less than a dollar per day. But it wasn't the statistics that stayed in Sullivan's head. It was the people. At one point during his visit, Jake found himself playing a pickup game against a lanky teenager named Nana Yaw Aka. The two became fast friends. Sullivan left Nana Yaw his business card and told him if he ever wanted to see Iowa, give him a call."And the kid called right when Jake arrived at the airport," says Todd Miller, a longtime friend and Kingdom Hoops' director of events.

In short order, Nana Yaw completed the necessary paperwork and flew to live with the Sullivans in March. "He's just one of those guys," Miller says of Jake, "(for whom) nothing is ever impossible.""I know he has the heart to pull it off, and that's the most important prerequisite," offers Tom Vernon, the Manchester United scout who founded the Right to Dream academy. "The big issue is finance, as Jake and Kingdom Hoops can't finance it alone."

Sullivan personally spends 12-15 hours a week writing letters and making calls on behalf of the project. They've taken their pitch to churches, companies, and professional athletes. They're still waiting to hear back from most."I think we're moving in the right direction," Jake says. "It's just a matter of getting some people behind it and understanding it. And you have to try to paint the vision to the people who haven't been there. Once you've been there - yeah, it's a no-brainer deal."

Another friend and Kingdom Hoops staffer, Julian Seay, is slated to head to Africa in August. Sullivan wants to try and cram in one more visit before Christmas. Schedule permitting."One thing I've learned, being married to Jake, is to be really flexible and up for anything," Janel says. Then she laughs. "I drink a lot of coffee."
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Special to the register Former Iowa State player Jake Sullivan watches a youth basketball game during a trip to Ghana in February. Sullivan is hoping to raise $250,000 by September to start a basketball academy in the poor African country.

3 comments:

The Schwarcks said...

this was an awesome article, janel (and jake!)...

so great to see the fruits of your labor.

so happy for all of you and the exciting journey ahead...

take care~amber

Michelle said...

What a fantastic article!!! Congrats Jake and Janel!!! I love that they kept the Lord as a part of the quotes and stuff...sometimes they can be sneaky and take that stuff out. Great way to get the word out too - who knows who God will have reading that paper?? He'll supply all that you need!!

Thanks for sharing! And Janel I love your quote at the end!! LOL :)

SO EXCITING!!!!

Michelle :)

Stephanie said...

Great article! Thanks for sharing it w/ us.