In 2016, JP native Timmance McKinney began a mentoring program for Boston youth who are interested in basketball. Aside from teaching basketball and team building skills, the program aims to instill the significance of succeeding academically, as this was something McKinney himself learned was important.
As previously reported by the Gazette, McKinney’s goal was to attend a Division I school to play basketball, but his grades fell short of what they needed to be to attend. He wanted to ensure that other students did not end up in this situation, so he started Undivided Basketball.
The program paused in 2020 because of the pandemic, but McKinney brought it back this year, and is hoping to make some exciting changes to it this coming fall.
“There are so many kids that cone from different walks of life,” McKinney told the Gazette, and they “need positive guidance.”
He said not all of the students in the program aim to be professional athletes. Some aspire to be entrepreneurs or create videos or music.
In the fall, McKinney said that the mentorship program will begin to offer tutoring sessions and other school supports, as well as support for other interests like learning how to become a business owner.
Right now, the program serves kids in grades eight through 12, but in the fall, he expects to expand the program to kids as young as third grade. Most activities are held after school or during the weekend, but the group has also typically met four or five times a week in the summer.
Activities include visiting colleges, going to concerts, bowling, and playing basketball tournaments. Currently, the group meets a few times a week after school and every other weekend, and also sometimes meets on Zoom.
“The ultimate goal is to help as many kids stay off the streets as possible,” McKinney said, and “get kids to college, no matter where you come from.”
He said there are “so many kids in the city with so much talent,” but “they don’t have a clear view of where they’re trying to go. They don’t have the guidance at home. We want to provide them with that guidance.”
McKinney has also brought on his sister, Leanna Knight Armstrong, as the director, as well as his cousin, for the restart of the mentoring program. He also hopes to bring on more basketball coaches and other staff for tutoring as the program moves forward. “That’s going to grow drastically; have more people,” he said.
Students are recruited via social media and by word of mouth as students tell one another about the program at school. He said he receives between two and five calls a week asking about it and a lot of kids have shown interest in joining.
Right now the program is offered for free, but McKinney is still working out the details of potential costs in the future.
The Gazette also spoke with two JP students who are part of the Undivided Basketball program: Xavien Witherspoon, Class of 2025, and Mazen Elbeik, Class of 2024.
Witherspoon said he has been a part of the program for just eight months, but has already seen the positive impact it has on students. “Coach McKinney has been putting my name in coaches’ ears,” he said, and “he got me my Bryant offer. I love what he’s doing; I like the program, and I can’t wait to keep going.”
Witherspoon said his ultimate goal is to play for the NBA, but if that doesn’t come to fruition, he said he’d like to be an English teacher because that’s a subject he really enjoys.
As part of the Undivided Basketball program, Witherspoon said he’s “learned that not everything’s fast-paced. I’ve learned that I’ve got to slow down.” He also said that he’s learned to “stay together” and “have a positive mindset.” He wanted to give a shoutout to South Street Apartments in JP.
Mazen Elbeik has participated in the program since its inception, and he said his favorite part is “playing basketball with these guys, working on my game.” He said he has a “great” relationship with McKinney.
He, too, aspires to play professional basketball, “whether that’s overseas or the NBA,” he said.
Elbeik said he has learned important lessons about “teamwork, staying positive, and being a student before you be an athlete.” He said he recognizes the importance of “doing good in the classroom, because you’re not going to get to the next level if your academics are not good.”
Elbeik wanted to give a shoutout to Curtis Hall in JP. “That’s my home gym,” he said.
Overall, McKinney’s program is back in full swing following the pandemic shutdowns, and is gearing up to expand its offerings.
Program director Leanna Knight Armstrong told the Gazette that she believes the goal of the program is “to help as many young athletes as possible, get them scholarships, go off to college, and have them succeed in school and their basketball career and help them live out their dream as much as we can.”
She continued, “Undivided—we’re awesome. It’s a great team. This is a such a great group of boys. Such bright futures, all of them.”
For more information about Timmance McKinney and his mentoring program, visit his website at timmancemckinney.com.