On the court, Derrick Coleman one of Detroit’ favorite sons and former NBA great, was nationally recognized for his in sensational style of play. Aspiring athletes idolized the man and worked to mirror his physical prowess. In 1990 Coleman was the No. 1 NBA draft pick and after a successful career with New Jersey Nets, he returned to his hometown to help bring the dreams of hopeful basketball players to fruition.
Off the court and away from the national spotlight, Coleman along with longtime friend Tim Ferguson, a college football standout who became a Detroit Public School teacher, partnered to establish an first rate high school basketball league aptly called the DC Elite.
On July 29 and 30 DC Elite Summer League held it’s Division 1 and Division 2 championship games at Detroit Public Safety Academy, having narrowed the field of 40 teams to 8 teams of high caliber players who astonished onlookers with their level of play. The final result: Cornerstone beat Wayne Memorial to in the Division 1 title and Dearborn Robichaud emerged victorious over Cody win the Division 2 championship.
“In the summertime you have these AAU programs and a lot of times your top kids join all these different AAU programs throughout the state of Michigan and they travel and play basketball. But you still have the teams that are here in Detroit and we provide an opportunity for them to play in a summer league,” explains Coleman, adding, “The championship games were unbelievable, and I’m extremely proud of the players.”
DC Elite began as a competition between top teams from Chicago and Detroit, which grew into an invaluable opportunity for young players to get noticed by college recruiters.
“We did a tournament called Chicago vs. Detroit where we brought the top teams in from Chicago to play the top teams here in Detroit. Our first time doing it was at Mumford High School. It was a great event,” recalls Coleman. “We probably had 18 college coaches in that arena and that’s what it’s about. Giving our kids an opportunity to be seen in order to go to college.”
As a high school senior Coleman recognized that excelling in athletics would provide him and other young men the means to attend college and realize dreams. “I played with at least 30 other kids who went on to play at Division I colleges and universities,” says the player turned coach and counselor. “With everything that’s been going since 2008 here in Michigan with the recession, people moving, losing their jobs and packing families up and moving to different states. I saw a decline in basketball. And that’s what made me get back in the game. Trying to bring exposure to our kids in the city so they get the opportunity to go to college and beyond.”
But DC Elite is bigger than just the game of basketball. It’s safe haven for young men who might otherwise spend idle summer days drifting between boredom and at risk behaviors. Between the closing of a number of Detroit recreation centers and neglected playgrounds, Detroit youth are often at a loss to find productive and wholesome outlets for summer fun.
“When I was growing up on 12th street, we always had programs at William Walker recreation center,” Coleman says recalls fondly. “We always had different programs going on for the kids. But you don’t have that anymore. The closing of recreation centers is sending kids to the streets … where they can fall victim to crime and other dangers.”
DC Elite engages more than 600 young males between the ages of 13 and 17 in summer sports from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, times that Coleman identifies as prime time for kids to flounder and fall into peril.
The NBA star admits though that he was forced to take a hiatus from actively coaching when his entrepreneurial endeavors required he spend the bulk of his time minding his own store. The strip mall developer, founder of Kicks athletic show store and former owner of Sweet Georgia Brown restaurant in Greektown, says he reluctantly left his young charges for a period to secure business pursuits. “I just got away from it because of the businesses, and I just wasn’t as engaged as I am today.” But Coleman has returned to his philanthropic endeavors and expanded his scope.
Along with two other basketball greats, former Detroit Pistons Jalen Rose and ex-Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Coleman mentors young Detroiters at the Bing Youth Institute, which was founded by Bing to improve the academic, behavioral and social wellness of young men of color.
“For me its bigger than the game of basketball … my playing professional basketball was just a small part of my life. It doesn’t define who Derrick Coleman is as a person and a human being.”
DC Elite also conducts holiday food drives for families in need during the holidays as well as offer basketball camps for elementary and middle school players.
“I was maybe the first in my family to attend college and that was because of basketball. … I share with [kids] all of the time that I know more professional people than I know professional athletes, but basketball can take you around the and It an expose to opportunities relationships that will last you a life time,” concludes Coleman.