George Named Semifinalist for Jr. NBA Coach of the Year

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By Kevin Callahan

CAMDEN — The true testament to Matt George’s impact as a coach and a teacher of young men is certainly apparent today, but a more complete measuring stick will be years from now when his players are out of school and in the world.

And this is why as influential of a coach George is with his current players, he will be a more impactful one in the future.

“I plan to stay in touch with him,” said Zy’Aire Tart, a 7th grade “defensive specialist” on George’s basketball team. “ I don’t usually let a lot of people in my life, but now I know Coach George, once I let him in my life, I will always let him in.”

George is the head basketball coach at Camden’s KIPP Lanning Square Middle School. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is a national tuition-free public charter school program.

“He taught me how to be more honest and how to do more schoolwork and do more homework,” said George Rand-Shambry, a 7th grade shooting guard.

Just like the plays George designs, his relationship with his players isn’t by accident.

“The thing I love most about coaching is just the young men you have in front of you and being able to develop them and their game and their overall character inside the classroom,” George said. “And to just make sure they are successful on the court and off the court.”

George, 30, won the Sixers Jr. NBA Coach of the Year award and is now one of eight semifinalists for the league honor.

“He should be the winner of the award, not just because of basketball, but what he teaches us outside basketball,” said Rand-Shambry, who lives in South Camden. “He goes the extra mile of teaching us how to be a man and had to take ownership.”

The Jr. NBA Coach of the Year award is given to a youth basketball coach in an NBA team market who is “making a positive impact on children by demonstrating outstanding integrity, character and leadership.”

Each participating NBA team nominated a local coach.

“He always has our backs and encourages us to do better and never give up just because someone says something negative about you,” said Tart, who lives in the Fairview section of Camden.

George, who grew up in Swedesboro, was nominated by his former players. He beat out 40 other local nominees for the Sixers Jr. NBA Coach of the Year award and was presented a trophy during halftime of a 76ers’ game.

Being honored with hardware isn’t what makes the physical education teacher tick.  He doesn’t set up homework clubs and a “paycheck” system because he wants to win honors.

“I try to make sure they are pushing themselves in our school so they are leaders in the school and to make sure the other students are doing the right thing,” George said.

“I always tell the teachers if they have a problem with one of the boys, I should be the first person they text and I’ll take care of that problem.”

George, a graduate of Kingsway High School in 2004, is as present in his player’s lives during the day as he is in the gym afterschool at practice three times a week.

“I check up on them in the classroom on a daily basis to make sure they are doing the right thing,” George said. “I want them to be leaders inside the classroom.

“As far as the community, I want to make sure they are giving back by doing community clean ups and to show ownership to the city of Camden.”

His unique and innovative “paycheck” is like a report card, but in the form of a pay slip at the end of the work week. George informs his players just how they are performing off the court where they metaphorically can relate – in their wallet.

“Their paycheck is on the door and they might not like the paycheck and I say if you don’t like it then change it,” George explained.

George’s metaphors and words of taking ownership in their lives and in their community doesn’t just fall on the cold – and too often broken – concrete on the streets of Camden.

“On Saturdays, after practice we go and pick up trash and sometimes will clean the gym floor,” Tart said. “We are always working so we never get too cocky. He doesn’t believe in us getting cocky.”

Tart believes the extended labor off the floor pulls the team together.

“I think it builds bonds of friendship and brotherhood,” Tart said.

The players also look good as these bonds are being built and the young men are being molded.

“On game day they always wear a shirt and tie,” George said. “We pretty much say how they dress is how they play.

“They are representing our team all the time.”

With all the goodness surrounding George’s team and program, the wins can be overshadowed.

Yes, George and his teams win on the court, too. They win so big that they don’t lose. In the last two seasons, KIPP has swept the Camden City Middle School League championships with 20-0 records.

And this past season, George had to replace everyone on the team but Tart and Rand-Shambry.

“He taught me how to shoot in the beginning of last year,” said Rand-Shambry. “I was shooting straight and he taught me to shoot above the rim so I would have a big arc.”

George teaches his team now to think on the court as well by watching video of college teams. Their offense is based off of Gonzaga’s pick-and-roll passing game.

“When we watched their offense, they were like, ‘they stole out play,’ but we stole their plays,” George said about using Mark Few’s offense.

Every practice is two hours long and structured like a lesson plan in the classroom.

“I try to teach fundamentals and by the end of the season watch them grow and become pretty good basketball players,” George said.

The growth isn’t measured by charting shooting percentages either.

“I love the city of Camden and sometimes I think it gets a bad rap,” George said. “The boys are success stories.”

His players realize and appreciate George’s holistic approach to coaching. They understand he hears the same smirks about Camden that they do.

“He doesn’t listen to stereotypes,” Tart said. “He just shows me love and doesn’t listen to outside people.”

The top three finalists will be awarded with a financial grant to support their local youth basketball organizations, as well as a free Positive Coaching Alliance training, basketball equipment and apparel.

And, the finalists will receive an all-expense paid trip to New York where the Coach of the Year winner will be announced at inaugural NBA Awards Show on June 26.

You can vote for George from May 8 to 22 on Twitter using #JrNBACOYPHI. Each tweet counts as one vote and there is no limit on the amount of times users can vote per day.

Coach George can bank on his former player tweeting votes for him because he stays in their lives.

“With the boys I’ve had over the years, I just keep in touch with them and text them on a daily basis to see that they are on OK,” George said. “There is a to-and-through high school philosophy. I check in in high school to see how they are doing.”

You know his players – former and current – will come through for their beloved coach and will be tweeting #JrNBACOYPHI early and often each day.

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