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Durham basketball league trades service, class for playing time

Posted June 3
Updated June 4

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— Over the weekend, hundreds of kids will participate in a one-of-a-kind basketball league in Durham aimed at keeping students off the streets and on the court.

The basketball league has 300 students and 18 teams that will be playing in Raleigh and Durham during Don's Basketball Tournament. But beyond team building, the league is about saving lives.

“They want to play basketball," said Vegas Don, commissioner of the tournament. "But our personal goal is to keep kids from being locked up and being killed. So, if we start off with 300 kids, we want to keep 300 kids.”

Before being known as Vegas Don, Otis Lyons was a gang leader. He created the nonprofit outreach program Campaign 4 Change to keep kids away from the same fate.

Don's Basketball League, which is sponsored by WRAL's parent company Capitol Broadcasting Company, is one of the tools he uses—and it's all free.

“The reason why we are doing it is basically to keep the kids off the street the whole summer," Don said. "They have to do community service, take education classes, (and) if they don’t do that every week, they don’t play in the game.”

The idea is to enhance skills on the hardwood and in life.

“It means a lot," said player Dazz Lyons. "It means that we are more than just gang banging people. We can be together. We can work as a team. We can be strong men.”

Jaylen Steele has played in the league for two years. He says it’s changed his life.

“This is really keeping me out of trouble because when I was younger I was a bad kid," Steele said. "But I like basketball so I just continue with the league.”

That sense of belonging and purpose gives these kids a shot at their dreams.

“When I look in this gym and I see all these kids and they’re happy and they’re a part of something that’s positive, it just brings joy to my heart," Don said. "I’m here for them.”

On Saturday and Sunday, teams will play in their first tournament of the summer.

Saturday's games will be in Durham at Voyager Academy Middle School, and Sunday's will be played in Raleigh at First Presbyterian Baptist Church.


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