By Andrew Sodergren, Staff of Naples Daily News
When Greg Anderson became the varsity boys basketball coach at Golden Gate High School three years ago, he had a clear vision on what it would take to build a long-term winner.
One of the key components in that vision was to establish some kind of instructional league for elementary school players in the community.
“Most of the kids that end up at Gulf Coast, Barron Collier or Naples get basketball instruction through different types of leagues at the elementary school level,” Anderson said. “Golden Gate kids didn’t have that avenue, and we knew we needed it.”
Anderson saw firsthand how much the Golden Gate kids were behind other local schools development-wise, spending the two years before he got the Titans varsity job as the team’s freshman coach.
“Kids would try out for us, and a handful were just fantastic, you could put them on JV right away,” Anderson said. “But the other players for the most part had never even played middle school ball or had gotten cut from their teams. These were great kids and also some great athletes that just never had the instruction. For two years, I got the brains beat out of me at the freshman level. We’d go over to Gulf Coast and they’d ‘running-clock’ us. They weren’t running up the score, they’d just press and our kids wouldn’t know what to do.”
Anderson brainstormed with his good friend Bill Carufe, former Community School boys basketball coach, and vice president of Sports CLUB, a nonprofit youth sports organization based on North Pine Ridge Road in Naples. Sports CLUB had run a youth basketball league for several years, and Carufe said his organization couldn’t figure out why athletes from Golden Gate weren’t signing up. He soon found they didn’t have a means of transportation to the practice and game locations in the 31-team, 320-player league that held most of its competition in North Naples and Bonita Springs.
With the help of a donation from the Degaetano Foundation, a New Jersey-based organization that supports student athletes through scholarship opportunities, Sports CLUB has been able to offer a basketball program to youth athletes at the Golden Gate Community Center. Carufe knew charity chairperson Art Degaetano from a few years back, when Degaetano’s sons attended Sports CLUB’s elite camps.
“The donation basically covers the cost of running the league,” Carufe said. “It allowed us to lease the Golden Gate Community Center and Golden Gate High School for our games. Instead of the Golden Gate kids having to travel to North Naples or Bonita, we brought the competitions down to them.”
Carufe said the program, which ran from December to February, wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the members of Golden Gate’s district champion varsity basketball team. Standout players like seniors Peghuentz Pericles and Derick Charles served as volunteer coaches. Other players involved were Oscar Shadley, Patrick Volcy, Alejandro Henao, Cesar Marseille and Claudin Cherulus.
“As good as the program was, as great as the instruction was, having those players there every week had the single biggest impact on these kids,” Carufe said. “There’s no substitute for role models that the kids can relate to. The kids at Golden Gate aren’t just good basketball players, they are good people and that says a lot.”
Anderson agreed with Carufe, saying the connection his players shared with the youths they were instruction is simple.
“They see themselves in these kids,” Anderson said. “These are Golden Gate kids, they grew up going to the community center. They know this program is something they didn’t have when they were growing up, so they found it really important to be there and lead these kids.”
Pericles, the Titans’ star point guard for a team that went 24-5 and reached the regional semifinals, said he enjoyed his first foray into the coaching world.
“I got a taste of what it’s like to be a coach,” Pericles said. “At first you get these kids and they’re not really listening to you, but then you start to see them listening and do what you’ve instructed them to do. Week by week, we got to see how far they came as players. From that first game to the last game, they got so much better. If these kids keep their heads right, the future is really bright for Golden Gate.”
Charles, who was third in scoring and second in rebounding for the Titans, said the young kids he mentored seemed to soak in the entire experience. The youths even got to sit in on Golden Gate varsity practices and hang out with the team a bit.
“They saw how we practiced, how we prepared for games, and that was a great experience for them, they seemed to take a lot from it,” Charles said. “If I had this kind of a chance that these kids had when I was their age, I’d be a much better player. These kids are going to bring a state championship to Golden Gate, I know it.”