Summer circuit basketball isn't always about elite talent. It isn't always about showcasing skills and letting kids play a game they love.
Brian Bereman has used it to open the world and experiences for his middle school team.
The South Side graduate spent this weekend coaching the West Prep Academy 8th grade boys in the Gym Rats Memorial Day Run-N-Slam basketball event at Spiece Fieldhouse.
The unique aspect of his team is that Bereman brought them from New York City, and for some of his players, it was their first trip outside of the metropolitan area.
“A lot of what I wanted to do is not just about Indiana misconceptions, but about the world outside of New York City,” Bereman said. “We were in the van and we got into Indiana, and one of my kids looked at me and said, 'Coach, your clouds are really pretty here,' and it's little things like that they notice, and it has been awesome getting to introduce them to it.”
Bereman has been teaching at West Prep Academy for two years in West Harlem. The middle school has about 200 students and a year ago the idea to bring his students and players to his hometown began to form as he was routinely asked about where he was from. With support from his principal, Bereman set out to raise funds to bring his team back to where he was born and raised.
In total, Bereman and his team raised around $4000 to bring the Titans west in a large passenger van. For them, the excitement started to come while on the 12-hour trip.
“It's nice for us to get outside the city and get to experience different things, like while we were driving we saw different animals like cows and things like that,” Souleymane Koureissi said.
It wasn't just seeing new things on the side of the road and outside either. The players were also introduced to the difference in space and the importance of high school basketball in Indiana with the large gyms.
“It blows their mind because in New York City what you don't have is space,” Bereman said. “A lot of high schools are multiple high schools in one space and space is an issue. You have a dominant New York City high school that has a gym the size of Geyer (Middle School), so to see something like this, to see the size of like North Side High School or Spiece Fieldhouse, it's an eye-opening experience for them.”
The players also noticed the difference in playing styles. The Titans were an enthusiastic and supportive team, cheering “De-Fense” from their bench, but also showing off a flair and fast style of play. They were perceptive enough to notice the teams they were playing tended to have a different way to do things.
“The difference is like, they pass more, they play with a different tempo over here,” Anthony Guzman said. “Out here it is more slower but more motion, like screens and things like that.”
As the kids got to enjoy playing basketball against some of the talent in the Midwest, Bereman was also introducing them to thinking about their future. Part of the trip has focused on thinking ahead to not only what will come in high school for them but college.
The team took a drive around Indiana Tech and Bereman is planning to take them on an unofficial tour of his alma mater, IPFW.
“Our middle school and me personally, that's a big mission we do,” Bereman said. “These kids are 8th graders but you need to start thinking about college and life beyond this small circle you have.That was a big mission of this to get them thinking about college and things outside of New York City.”
If all of that wasn't enough, the students also got a surprise from one of Bereman's best friends and another South Side graduate in Bernard Pollard. The current Tennessee Titan was in town and spoke to the team Friday night and was in the stands cheering for them Saturday afternoon.
Still, even seeing a former Super Bowl Champ didn't compare to some of the new experiences for the players. It gave them a new perspective on plenty of things, even ones as simple as the clouds.
“Out here, it's like you get to experience the good things,” Guzman said. “Even like the air you breathe is different than the air you breathe in New York. I enjoy it more.”
That enjoyment even included seeing a cornfield for the first time.
“It was beautiful,” Guzman said.