FORT WAYNE — One of the downfalls to playing AAU basketball is the expense.
But for the players in the Lady Legit program, a staple for girls basketball players in Fort Wayne for the last 20 years, it is not just about playing basketball but also an investment in their educational future.
“Most of the girls come from lower income families or single home,” said Phil Gibson, a longtime coach and parent in Lady Legit. “It is important to them and to their parent to get a scholarship of some kind to help them alleviate some of the cost of going to college. Especially with the struggles that go on with girls nowadays, teen pregnancy, peer pressure and all these things. Here are girls that we are pushing to be good in academics as well as athletics.”
Gibson said a lot of Lady Legit players go to private colleges and universities, where the tuition is higher than state-supported schools.
“Getting to college is a plus,” Gibson said. “It is a goal that most of the girls set for themselves. Nine times out of 10, they say they want to go (NCAA Division I). The reality of it is your chances of making D-I are very slim. We tell them D-I isn’t the important part, it is the icing on the cake. The important part is getting an education free. What we tell the parents is you are making an investment.”
Gibson figures 60 percent to 70 percent of the players in the Lady Legit program couldn’t afford college without athletic scholarships.
“Some of the parents didn’t attend college, so they don’t have an idea of the costs,” Gibson said.
The costs of the travel teams can range from $500 to $2,000 a year. Gibson said the cost reaches its height when a player is high school age and the price varies depending on travel and hotels. But Gibson points out eight years of paying $500 a year would be less than paying for a semester of college a lot of times.
“I am really thankful to have had Lady Legit because school only goes so far because coaches can’t make it to every school game,” said recent Snider graduate Kari Barnes, Gibson’s daughter. “Having AAU was just great. It was great to travel to other cities and show my talent. Sometimes it was in cities where certain colleges could see me where they couldn’t see me before.
“At first, (AAU) was that sounds fun when you are little. But then it was this could take me to college. I do have the grades, but being able to play basketball was the extra step. It was nice way to get a scholarship.”
Barnes and Homestead’s Carmen Lowe attained scholarships to Holy Cross College in South Bend.
“It helps a tremendous amount because people can get full rides off of it or even partial scholarships, and anything can help,” Lowe said. “Who wouldn’t want free money? AAU is definitely a lot better for you if you are trying to go to college.”
The focus for AAU basketball is on individual development and a player can attain a scholarship with her own work ethic and drive, knowing exactly what is at stake.
“Some people don’t have the option to go to college because they don’t have enough money to pay for it,” Lowe said. “When they think if I play my hardest I can get money to go to college, it motivates more than makes you nervous. And a true athlete is going to rise to the challenge.”
Lady Legit was led for years by Art Gregory, but the reins have been turned over to Juan Gorman. Milton Mingo is the head of the girls division as the organization is beginning to bring on boys teams. Some of Lady Legit’s recent alumni include Lacia Gorman (Wisconsin/Northern Illinois), Liza Clemons (Purdue) and Akilah Sims (IUPUI).
“When I first started, I just wanted to play with Legit because of how good they were and how impressed I was with them,” Lowe said. “My goal when I first started wasn’t I could get a scholarship, but it was I hope I can play with these guys. As you get older and mature and know what you want to do with your life, (college) becomes more of an option.”
On the Lady Legit website, there is a post that reads: “the organization provides young women, ages 9 to 18, … with the opportunity to pursue their goal of attaining a college education funded by means of an athletic scholarship in the sport of basketball. The organization communicates with colleges and universities in order to give players maximum exposure for both their scholastic and athletic futures.”
“It gives them a goal,” Gibson said. “I tell girls that if you can earn a scholarship, that is less the amount of money you have to pay for college.”
In addition to the tournaments across the Midwest and the nation, players also get the chance to attend NCAA exposure events in the fall, spring and summer for observation and evaluation.
“They can watch them and see how they develop, and it helps to motivate them,” Gibson said of the younger players. “They can see the work ethic that the older girls put in. And the older girls can say I have to work harder because I have these younger girls looking at me.”