When I received a text from my son on Wednesday May 24, 2019, It was almost too good to believe. Those good endorphins and that dopamine started rushing inside my brain -- in other words, it was a great feeling.
It all started when my older son Jake responded to a Twitter video that a reporter had posted with Kanter being interviewed. Enes Kanter plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and they had just been eliminated from the Western Conference Finals. Kanter mentioned at the interview that during the off season his plans were to schedule free basketball clinics for kids throughout 30 states in the USA.
Jake replied to the tweet explaining that we would love to have him come to Salem Hoops Project, a non-profit organization that provides free basketball skill-set training. When Kanter's manager, Hank Fetic, saw Jake's reply, he sent Jake a message inquiring about Salem Hoops Project. Hank checked out our website and liked what our program was all about. He wanted to start Enes Kanter's Basketball Clinic in Salem with Salem Hoops Project.
Coach Noza received an email from Hank Fetic. They connected and started sharing ideas for the upcoming Salem Hoops Project. Enes Kanter was thrilled about the clinic and his first stop would be Salem, Oregon!
"We talked about what their plans were and what they expected of us at this free clinic. It had to be held on Friday May 26. I liked the idea and knew it was the start of Memorial Day weekend. I contacted Adrian Lewis, who is the head girls' coach at South Salem High School. I needed to know if we could use their gym on Friday. We worked it out and I began planning the clinic ASAP," Coach Noza said.
Matt Espinoza who is well known as Coach Noza sent me a text as soon as everything was confirmed about Kanter coming to Salem.
"Dad, Jake helped organize this -- Enes Kanter is coming to Salem this Friday and we are doing a Salem Hoops Project clinic on short notice. Can you make it?"
I responded, "Yes! He's coming to Salem Hoops Project? Wow! I'm there. I don't think we'll have enough basketballs, I'll bring more bags and hopefully South Salem can let us use their basketballs."
Coach Noza is the founder of Salem Hoops Project and we team up to provide free basketball clinics for kids in the Salem community -- mostly for K - 8 ... sometimes high school kids. Coach Noza coordinates all of the clinics and I normally bring the bags of basketballs and Gatorade for the kids. I also monitor the gym for safety and security during the clinics to keep kids safe. We have volunteers that help us with each skill-set station during the clinics -- we couldn't do it without their help. We've been doing this for the last five years and we normally get anywhere from 40 to 90 kids depending on the day.
Coach Noza sent out an email to inform all the parents on the email list. We also posted the event on social media. The next day I received another text from Noza.
"I'm providing some skill-set training for some girls before the clinic, and we have 140 kids registered so far."
I thought to myself, oh no, this is going to be crazy -- a good crazy though. Noza texted me again, 189 kids registered. Within 39 minutes we reached capacity and could not accept anymore registrations. The unofficial count for the total kids registered was about 230 - wow! Noza closed down the registrations immediately. We could have easily had 600 kids for this clinic, but the gym was not big enough. We felt super bad that we had to turn down many people that kept sending us messages. If you are reading this blog and did not make the clinic, please accept our apologies once again.
This Enes Kanter opportunity happened so fast and we only had two days for planning one of the biggest basketball clinics in Salem, Oregon. Keep in mind that my two boys are extremely busy with their jobs and community responsibilities (too many to go into). We all put our evening plans off to the side. Both Matt and Jake rounded up volunteers for different parts of the clinic -- they did an outstanding job!
As a dad, I had always wanted the three of us to do something big for the city of Salem. I know that throughout the years, Matt, Jake, and myself have always been involved in doing something to help the people of Salem, mostly in our own separate ways, but this was a huge opportunity and something we had a passion for.
This event was a dream come true for me. I sort this as one of the best unexpected Father's Day presents I have ever received. To see us three coordinating a Salem Hoops Project basketball clinic for our Salem Community with an NBA basketball player as our guest, was priceless, miraculous, and for the kids of Salem.
To me, just seeing all of the smiles and excitement on kids' faces, was worth the gigantic effort we put into this huge event.
Our free clinics are taking place at South Salem High School this year, for the last four years we held them at McKay High School. South is a more central point and we get more kids to attend. It's a much better location, and we appreciate Adrian Lewis and his girls varsity team supporting us and our community.
At about 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoon I loaded up five bags of basketballs into my SUV. Coach Noza came to my house and we decided not to bring Gatorade this time, we didn't have enough room to transport the drinks anyway.
The clinic was scheduled to start at 6:00 p.m. and it was already 5:15 p.m. The line started forming at the check-in table and one of Jake's friends, Ryan, and myself were watching the front lobby directing people and monitoring. We were waiting for my daughter-in-law to arrive with the stickers to be placed on the kids' shirts. The next thing you know, the line was forming all the way outside the door -- wow!
Bethany finally arrived with the stickers, however, we couldn't check in kids until the volunteer coaches arrived at 5:30 p.m. When most of the coaches arrived we had to start checking in kids, because the clinic was starting at 6:00 p.m. and we received word from Jake that Enes Kanter was on his way with his manager.
My daughter-in-laws Bethany and Jennifer, along with Jen's mom, Donna, helped at the check-in table to only allow kids that registered to enter the gym. It was really cool to have them help at Salem Hoops Project. They did an amazing job considering all the pressure to get it done fast.
Coach Noza reached out to more-than-usual coach volunteers for this huge free clinic. We had nine skill-set stations and 2 to 3 coaches at each station. We are super thankful for our volunteers that showed up on short notice, DJ Shaw; Xavier Connefax; Cam McCormick; Nate Covill; Tristen Wilson; Marshall Cho; Coach Noza; Leva Mike; Kyle Atkinson; Trevyn Roberts; Jacob Brustad; Garold Howe; Kip Ioane; Emily Trussell, and Israel Garza along with other high school basketball players. We appreciate these coaches -- thank you so much for coming out when we needed you.
The South Salem coaching staff and some of the South Salem girls from the varsity team helped tremendously as well. Gretchen Olsen and Hillary James helped Coach Cho with a station and other girls helped transport kids to the upstairs gym every five minutes during the clinic.
This was definitely a team effort and we appreciated the extra support from many of the Salem volunteers. We couldn't have done this without you.
We apologize to the parents for our plan of having them sit up on the balcony bleachers. We could not have anymore people on the gym floor. We allowed professional photographers that were volunteering for us on the floor and other volunteers.
Five minutes after 6:00 p.m. I walked down the long hallway when I received the signal that Kanter and his manager had arrived. It was an honor escorting them to the gym and introducing them to Coach Noza. They discussed the plan that was in place for the evening and Enes started out working with Coach Noza at a dribbling skills station.
Enes was a super person and was beginning to embrace the Salem kids, playing defense on some of them and making his way to several stations that were in progress. Every five minutes the kids would rotate to a different station. The parents had a full evening of fun watching their kids in the mix with Kanter, who stands at seven feet tall, you couldn't miss him on the floor.
At the end of the clinic, Kanter spoke to the kids for a few minutes and then played a game of elimination, similar to "Simon Says". Then, with everyone watching he asked for five tries to connect on a half-court shot. On his fifth try he nailed the shot and everyone went wild.
It was a great ending to a fun basketball clinic. My two boys and I presented Enes Kanter with a few gifts, some LivBar items, a blanket, and two of the books that I've written. His manager carried the gifts for him and they walked out with a crowd of people following them out to the car.
Thank you, Enes Kanter, for taking the time to drive down to Salem and making Friday evening a special and exciting day for the kids of Salem, Oregon. We will always remember that day as one of the biggest clinics of our city. You are welcome to come back anytime. If you do, we will definitely schedule it in a bigger venue.
If you would like to donate to Salem Hoops Project to help us keep it going, we would appreciate it very much. Either way we get it done for the kids of Salem. Camps are expensive and not every kid can afford to attend. Donate at: www.salemhoopsproject.org