The Jr. NBA World Championship kicks off in Orlando on Tuesday and teams from around the globe have earned their way onto the main stage. One of those teams, Slam City, has been building to this moment for over twenty years. Walt Webb, the on and off-the-court architect of Slam City, has worked tirelessly to create a premier basketball program that spans from camps and instruction to tournaments and club teams. They’ve accomplished national notoriety while building their players up the right way. We sat down with Coach Webb to discuss how Slam City reached the JNWCs and his overall basketball philosophy.
When you have kids like we have here at Slam City, it’s one of those things where you try to humble them. You share situations like Virginia, the #1 seed overall knocked off by UMBC, you let them know that the game of basketball is always about the margin of error. You’re competing against that, not the teams. Everyone is one bad play away from altering the roster and you just try to stay in the moment. To be successful, to take it one game at a time, one possession at a time, that’s the kind of structure we try to give to the kids.
From a strategy standpoint, we want to go to the JNWCs and we want to attack who we’re playing, to get to the free throw line. Even with a talented team, that was focused and had a gameplan, we still had games where we didn’t play well during the regionals.We were down in the championship game 21-5, which goes to show you’re going to have some up and down moments because at the end of the day, they’re kids.
The best you can ask for is effort. Our guys stayed hungry the whole time, and that was consistent throughout our run. We had a plan, we had a mission, and we still have a goal that we’re trying to reach.
The rules of the Jr. NBA tournament state that we can only have two coaches on the bench, but it goes much deeper than that. We have other coaches involved, and by having them around the team, the kids know that we have their best interests at heart. As for our staff as a whole, the key is consistency. We want our players to know that the way we coach on Monday is the same way we’re going to coach on Tuesday.
That consistency translates to the way we coach in tournaments. We’ll tweak some things here or there, but the nuts and bolts are going to be the same. Our coaches are so prepared, and because of that I can focus on the game. I have great coaches in Jason Murphy, James and Alvin, I know that from the statistical side, regardless of what the scoreboard says, I’m getting quick intel immediately. So even though we only have two coaches on our bench, so much other work has led up to that point. We had a coach on different courts scouting teams and putting together a plan. We weren’t just depending on our talent, we are able to give our kids as much intel as possible. We are able to chart the tendencies of other kids, which give our team as many cheat sheets as possible.
We used to go out there and just figure it out. Today there are all kinds of athletic talent and diverse strategies, so there’s much more to it. We have plus-minus stats now, so a kid scoring 20 points per game may be just as valuable as a defensive stopper that has X-amount of steals or the point guard whose assist-to-turnover ratio is exceptional.You have to have a team of coaches, playing different roles to lift your kids up. On our team of coaches everybody has a role, from cheerleading all the way down to maintaining stats. This creates the right kind of environment, giving kids the encouragement and support they need, so that they don’t have to look to the bleachers to get it which could be a distraction.
Ten years ago, I started talking about stats because I saw the value of them and recognized that’s where things were headed at the professional level. Antonio Daniels, a long time NBA great, and I are best friends and he started talking about the importance of stats when he was playing with the Wizards. Giving the kids facts they can use, like how many times an opponent comes down the left side of the floor or where certain players score the majority of their points from, players respond to that kind of information. How often a team plays zone as opposed to man-to-man and how often a team gets to the free throw line — using stats like that became the norm maybe ten years ago. When I first brought it to our players, it was as if I was speaking a foreign language. No one initially was paying attention to that, it was barely being talked about in college, to be honest with you. Now everything is analytics-driven, but ten years ago I was pulling it together for the kids by hand. We actually came up with a little program that we have here APS (Athletic Performance Score). We use it in our camps, we give report cards out every Friday, and it lets the kids know exactly where they’re at performance-wise. How fast you run, how fast you change direction, how high you jump — it’s almost like a combine score. We try and get the kids to understand that down the road that score is probably going to be your identity as a player. Your athleticism and the analytics around that speak to your potential and how people evaluate how far you’re going to go.
If you have a high basketball IQ, you’re explosive, you’re long, great wingspan, that’s all well and good, but were just trying to get kids to understand that there’s more to it than just putting the ball in the hole. At Slam City, teaching kids subtle techniques that help them stay on the floor a little bit longer or doing things that boost certain percentages and decrease other percentages in certain areas, that is what coaches are going to be looking at in terms of recruiting. It took ten years to refine APS so that our kids could start understanding that it’s not just your report card anymore it’s your ACT/SAT scores. The world has arrived in this data-driven place, and sports are going the same way. We embraced that and it’s paid off.
Most definitely. I was talking to quite a few people after we were fortunate enough to win the Mid-Atlantic regional and there was one thing I wanted everybody to know. My goal going into this was to make sure that the kids had an opportunity to tell a story. As a player I didn’t have a chance to tell my story, a lot of people know who I am today because of the teams I’ve coached and the successes I’ve had, but telling a story as a kid is so special. When you see the little snippits and clips of Kevin Durant as a kid running up that hill and telling his story, he didn’t start out as an NBA veteran with two MVPs.
I want these kids to tell their story in the same way and to also represent their area with pride. Basketball for a lot of people is a lifestyle, and the opportunity to compete for something, win lose or draw, it’s a life lesson and an unbelievable life experience. For me, I played basketball constantly growing up, but the moment I got outside of a 25-mile radius of the state where I was playing basketball things changed. I got to go to China and play. The experience, what I saw, what I felt, who I talked to, translating a different culture of people and the way that they think. That was powerful, my view on things changed. So this opportunity, the interaction of playing and representing the small number of teams from the US and getting ready to compete against the rest of the world in the first inaugural event, that’s history. The sense of accomplishment for the kids on this team can’t be the end goal.
Beyond the games themselves, the tournament is a life-altering event from an educational standpoint. The NBA and the Jr. NBA have worked to open the kids’ eyes to what it is that they really have to do to be successful. The life skills class the Jr. NBA offered spurred a lot of great feedback from the kids. From the dos and the don’ts, to the speakers correcting the kids who weren’t sitting properly, in terms of body language, there were valuable lessons left and right. Exposing them to something outside of a local state event or a national event, I mean we’re talking about a global world title, some of the best resources and speakers, they can forever say they participated in this and it’s an unbelievable accomplishment that can carry with them.
By: John Evans, Baltimore Sun
Playing as a member of the Slam City youth basketball team, Annapolis’ Jaden Johnson will be traveling to Orlando, Florida, to play in the first-ever Jr. NBA World Championship tournament.
Promoted and organized by the NBA as the culmination to this year’s Junior NBA program, the league bills the event as a “first-of-its kind” global youth basketball tournament for the top 14U girls’ and boys’ teams from around the world.
The event will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. Competition for both boys and girls consists of two divisions comprised of 16 regional champions, eight from the U.S. and eight international teams. Pool play is Aug. 7-8, followed by single elimination play, leading to the winners of the U.S. and international brackets meeting in the championship games scheduled for Aug. 12.
“I’m really excited and can’t wait to get there,” said the 14-year-old Johnson, who has completed the eighth grade at Annapolis Middle School and is trying to decide on which prep school he will attend to continue his fledgling career.
Slam City qualified to be one of the eight teams making up the U.S. bracket by winning the Jr. NBA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional. They played five games in the regional, winning the title game, 65-36 over East Coast Power, despite trailing by 14 points early.
“Of course, I hope that the team will play well enough to win the championship and that I will help with that. I also hope that I can show my skills, maybe catch the eye of some of the (coaches and scouts) there,” added Johnson.
Johnson said he joined the Slam City team after being invited to by veteran coach Walter Webb, who is the founder and CEO of Slam City Management Group, an organization which offers yearround training, leagues, and AAU teams, for talented youngsters needing an opportunity to improve their skills and the tools and knowledge to get to the next level on and off the court.
Webb is also the head boys’ coach at Trinity Christian School in Virginia. He previously coached elite programs at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Coastal Christian Academy in Virginia Beach and Cornerstone Christian School in San Antonio. His resume boasts a career record of 685-35 and seven “national championships” over a 23-year coaching career for prep programs. His high school coaching record is 512-218 over the same period.
The Slam City team is based in Prince George’s County, but team members come from other areas as well. Johnson is the only player from Anne Arundel County.
“I knew most of the players on the team from when I was younger and I either played on a team with them or played against them,” said Johnson, who said he started playing organized youth basketball when he was 7-years old.
“To play for coach Webb was a great opportunity for me and playing with Slam City has made me a much better basketball player,” added Johnson, whose uncle, Tony Johnson, was a teammate of Webb’s at Bishop McNamara High School.
Webb said he knew about Johnson long before he became his coach.
“I’ve seen Jaden play many, many times and he is an outstanding and talented player and a great kid as well,” Webb said. “More recently, I have seen him in the Premier Youth Basketball League. I have known about him and been watching him for a long time. Seeing him play and watching his demeanor, I thought he would be a great addition to our team. One of his greatest attributes is his humility.”
Johnson said he isn’t sure yet where he wants to attend high school, but Webb predicted a bright future for the 5-foot-11 guard.
“Jaden is a great representative for the talent that’s in Anne Arundel County,” Webb added. “Wherever he chooses to go, the coaching staff at that school is going to get a great player and a great kid.”
Johnson has had two strong role models in his father, Johnnie Johnson, and brother, Jerrel Johnson.
“My father and brother have been big influences on me. They have helped me by pushing me and passing on their knowledge. They encourage me a lot to hustle and do my best all the time,” said Johnson, who added that his mother, Dellisha, is a huge vocal supporter.
Webb credited Johnson’s defense as one of the key factors in Slam City’s championship game comeback. Playing 23 minutes, Johnson had five points, two steals and a rebound. Johnson played in all eight games in the regional, totaling 64 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists. In Slam City’s 78-42 semifinal game win, he had nine points and four rebounds.
Johnson both started and came off the bench for Slam City.
“He is in kind of a Catch-22 situation,” Webb said. “He can play both the one and the two (guard). I prefer starting him, but he provides a big spark coming off the bench. He makes us a better team off the bench. His defensive pressure in the championship was a key to our comeback. Jaden is a real talent, but each game is different. I use him depending on the situation.”
Johnson’s favorite player is Russell Westbrook and his favorite team is the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he said he looked forward to meeting the many current and former NBA players who will be on hand at activities scheduled around the games.
These activities begin Sunday with a celebratory parade at the Magic Kingdom. WNBA President Lisa Borders, two-time NBA all-star Andre Drummond and WNBA legend Jennifer Azzi will walk in the parade.
On Monday, an event titled Developing the Total Athlete will be held with such past and current NBA stars as Grant Hill, Jason Collins, Nick Anderson, Bo Outlaw, Quintin Richardson and Brook Lopez participating with the kids. There is also a coaches’ clinic, a skills clinic, 3-point contest and dunk exhibition for the participants. A Youth Day of Service is also scheduled.
Current NBA free agent Dwyane Wade and Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker are the global ambassadors for the Jr. NBA World Championship and should also be in attendance.
Most important of all, of course, is the basketball – and the chance it gives the youth to test their talent against the best players in the world their same age.
“I think it is going to be great! I’m so excited to get the chance to play against the top players in the country and the world,” said Johnson, who said he aspires to play college basketball – his favorite school is Villanova.
He’s also confident about his team’s ability to compete with teams from Seattle, Dallas and Detroit that Slam City will play in pool play. Those games are scheduled for 4:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Aug. 7 and 1 p.m. om Aug. 8
“We have a lot of talent and we’re very disciplined. Coach pushes us hard in practice to be the best we can be. It’s a great opportunity,” said Johnson. “I’m excited about the chance to show how good we are.”
Webb said he is glad the NBA decided to expand its three-year-old Jr. NBA program to include a World Championship tournament.
“It’s a great experience for the kids, and a great experience for me, but mostly the kids,” he said. “If these kids want to go further as players, they need this kind of experience.
“The NBA and Jr. NBA have done a great job, this event is in a class by itself,” Webb added. “And with this being the first time for many things, it makes it really special.”
Updated on August 6, 2018 with high school coaching record
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