Hurricane season begins: Johnson starts up AAU team in Greene County

BYB Hurricanes player Devontae Dunn swings around the perimeter before driving into the paint to shoot a layup during a recent practice. 

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

When most people think of Amateur Athletic Union basketball teams, chances are they think of programs that have been around for years and thus have nice facilities.

The newest AAU team in Lake Country does not fit into that category.

The BYB Hurricanes, started by Greene County native Brandon Johnson, regularly meet in the old gym in Union Point. The gym is rundown by modern standards and does not even have great air conditioning. That doesn’t matter to Johnson and his middle school travel team.

“You've got to take what God gives you,” Johnson said. “He's given me an opportunity to come in here. These kids don't complain at all. These are 11- and 12-year-old kids. We take what we can get because, at the end of the day, we could be outside trying to figure out a way to play basketball.”

Johnson said he and his players call the gym the “grindhouse.”

This is Johnson’s first foray into operating an AAU team. He said he had a vision to start one up after he began his Build Your Brand Basketball Academy, from which the Hurricanes derived their name.

BYB came into existence a couple of years ago. Since then, Johnson said he’s spent time learning how to create a travel ball team.

He credited Andre Brown, who previously had a team in the area, and Ferdinand Farley for helping him learn the process.

Johnson joked he had to do “paper work and more paper work” to get the team rolling but he said he’s glad to finally see his goal come to fruition.

“I had to learn how to do it first,” he said. “I had to crawl before I walked. A year later, we got it started. I'm just trying to keep it going, doing the basketball academy and now being able to start my own travel ball team. I've been wanting to do it for a while.”

Tryouts for the team were held a few months ago before the season started in April.

Johnson got the word out a few weeks in advance. He said there was some concern he would not get a big turnout for the auditions but he wound up getting a great response.

“When I first did this, I had 15 kids show up,” Johnson said. “(Having) 15 kids is better than having none. I would've taken seven, I would've taken four – I would've gone and found me another kid. I didn't cut anybody.”

Since then, the Hurricanes have practiced weekly and played nearly every weekend. Their season runs through August.

The team is comprised of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders. They represent Carson Middle School, Greensboro Elementary, Washington-Wilkes, Taliaferro County and Lake Oconee Academy.

Johnson said he is pleased by the way his team has jelled and developed chemistry; therefore, there are no open spots on this year’s squad.

Fortunately for those interested in joining Johnson, he said he plans to field “at least two or three” extra teams next year.

“Hopefully, next season I'll get more people that want to get involved, more guys in the community that want to coach and build off helping the kids,” Johnson said. “That's all we're here for.”

Johnson added that another goal of his is keeping local kids off the streets and giving them something productive to do while on summer break.

In doing so, Johnson found he is giving them different experiences outside of the game. The team travels for all of its games, which often takes the kids to new places.

“A lot of kids have never been out of Greensboro or never been out of Georgia,” Johnson said. “It's just something different. We were supposed to go to Marietta and one of my kids asked me, 'Where's Marietta?' You want to take the kids outside of Greene County to show them different places. That might be something they remember because they've never been out.”

Danahj Wright, a rising junior at Greene County High School who participates in Johnson’s training service, praised Johnson for his efforts with the AAU program.

“I salute him,” Wright said. “There's not many out there that are doing what he's doing. He's taking kids and he's getting them better each and every day. ... He's changing kids' lives.”

The team is currently raising funds to take an out-of-state trip to have a teambuilding experience and play games. Johnson said he is looking into taking the players to Alabama, Tennessee or North Carolina in July.

While leading the travel team, Johnson is able to draw on his previous experiences at the Greene County Recreation Department.

He coached basketball and football at the GCRD for a few years prior to starting his basketball training service. Although he likes what the GCRD has to offer, Johnson said his goal is providing deeper coaching to his AAU players.

“To be honest, I just want them to learn and grow,” he said. “I'm not big on the winning part right now. I'd rather just build and learn. AAU means a lot to a lot of kids but, to me, it's just building them up for when they get to middle school, when they get to high school. We don't get to learn as much in the rec department, and it's not the rec's fault. It's just that those kids don't get to learn more. For the kids that can really, really play, this is an opportunity for them to get out here, learn how to play, learn how to be brothers and grow.”

A handful of older kids throughout the area worked with Johnson over the past two years through his training service. Their work with him, combined with the experiences at their respective high schools, helped lead six of them to college programs.

Wright said he thinks the middle schoolers currently under Johnson’s direction will one day have the same opportunities as those high schoolers Johnson helped send to college programs.

“I've been down there in the gym and I've practiced with the team,” Wright said. “[Johnson] asked me to come in and help them practice and talk to them and stuff. They have some bright kids on that team and they work very hard.”

Johnson said he hopes to funnel the success of his now-former high school BYB trainees down to his AAU players. Exposure is certainly a key for that to happen.

“I just wish more people in the community would see what I have going on,” Johnson said. “I think they'll like it. It's hard to get people in the community to come see it and I wish they would.”

Regardless, Johnson is proud of what he, his academy trainees and players have established.

It does not matter to Johnson where they train – it could be in a fancy gym with state-of-the-art equipment or the local “grindhouse” with trash cans serving as defenders.

All that is important to Johnson is the on-court development of his training service participants and BYB Hurricanes players and the bonds they share away from the game.

“I actually have my older guys coming in here and they teach some of these kids certain things,” he said. “And those kids look up to them because they go to the games and see them play. It's more than just basketball to me. It's family. It's a brotherhood and mentorship.”

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