Inner City Players gives athletes some off-court coaching

When Oregon State offered Chris Stephens a basketball scholarship, it fulfilled a dream not only for Stephens but also for Canaan Chatman, his AAU coach and adviser.

Five years earlier, Chatman had recruited Stephens to play for his summer AAU team, the Inner City Players.

Stephens grew up alongside all-state players Chris Rodgers of Wilson and Brandon Lincoln of Jefferson, also members of ICP. In August, Rodgers was on his way to Arizona and Lincoln was headed to Oregon. Stephens was academically eligible to play for a major college, too. He just didn't have a school, other than Chemeketa Community College, ready to accept him. But Oregon State's new coach, Jay John, needed players, especially if they could start a pipeline from Portland, and he wound up signing Stephens.

'Chris Stephens shows you the value of hard work and commitment,' Chatman says. 'He's a true ICP success story.'

Stephens' path to OSU is a Madison High success story, too, and an example of the battle that prep coaches face these days.

Madison coach Chuck Matthews doesn't support the AAU influence on his athletes.

'There's no real oversight of AAU teams,' he says. 'And there's so much importance placed on getting the big-time players in your program and on them getting to big-time schools and having the 'hot' player attached to your team, that it's easy to just focus on winning and not what's in the best interest for each kid.

'AAU ball is a necessary evil Ñ there's no way to change it. But I'm not a big fan.'

The land of Canaan

Chatman played on Benson's 1990 state championship team, then one season each at Oregon State and Portland Community College and two at the University of Portland. He later played in the Continental Basketball Association and in Turkey, Israel, Switzerland and Australia before dreaming up ICP with friends Pat Strickland, Paul Kelly and Erin Cowan. Strickland and Kelly are still involved as coaches and mentors.

Getting players to show up for study tables is a major part of the ICP program, but the coaches also delve into topics such as how the media works and SAT preparation. Most of the classes are held at Self Enhancement Inc., where Chatman is the after-school activities coordinator.

'The ICP coaches care about you as an individual. They put a big emphasis on being a student first, and that's helped me in college,' says Stephens, who may switch his major from communications to psychology.

'It was wonderful to see a group of kids all have the same goal of getting to the next level and achieve that,' Stephens' father, also named Chris, says of ICP's three Pacific-10 Conference players. 'A lot of Chris' maturity came through ICP and the fellowship he shared with the other young men there.'

The organization's program is sponsored by Adidas. Nike sponsors a similar program, the Portland Legends, which is overseen by Lincoln High coach Troy Berry.

The first class of ICP recruits graduated last summer after five years with Chatman. In addition to Rodgers, Brandon Lincoln and Stephens, the group included Drew Dukeshire, who is playing football at Weber State, and Curtis Lincoln, who is leading North Idaho's basketball team in scoring.

Chatman is pleased when his former players tell him they are on course academically.

'We haven't had any guys crying about their workload,' Chatman says.

This year's ICP class includes Jefferson's Thomas Gardner, who is headed for Missouri, as well as Jerae Nelson and Carl Appleton, both Jefferson students who will play college football in the fall. JR Moore, who graduated from Benson last summer but went to a prep school in Massachusetts this year, also is part of the second graduating class and has signed to play basketball at Rhode Island.

The second class will be honored at Self Enhancement Inc. on June 12. Missouri coach Quin Snyder and former Jefferson High standout Ray Leary are scheduled speakers. Arizona coach Lute Olson spoke at last year's banquet.

Know the hoop arena

Prep basketball increasingly is becoming split into the high school season and the summer season, and ICP is part of that trend.

Once the regular season ends Saturday, high school coaches can't coach a team that has more than two of their own players until after Memorial Day in late May (A rule that means Berry can only coach two Lincoln players). This leaves coaches such as Chatman to take over for a key two-month stretch that exposes players to college coaches.

ICP will be in Houston in April for the 32-team Houston Superstar Classic and in Fort Wayne, Ind., in May for another large tourney. ICP will host a 10-team tournament featuring Northwest AAU teams at Grant High on June 15.

'The problem I see is in the importance of some of these summer tournaments,' says Matthews, the Madison coach. 'If you play well there and people talk you up and you can get a scholarship, then you start to think that you can dismiss your high school season.

'And if you do that, you start thinking your grades aren't important, your behavior isn't important, your attendance isn't important. That's not in your best interests for the future.'

Some ICP players seem to bear this out. Curtis Lincoln, for example, didn't reach the minimum SAT score to play as a college freshman, which is why he'll spend two years at North Idaho and not just one. Gardner missed a key game this season because of an attendance problem, and Appleton left Central Catholic after a violation of the school's conduct code.

Chatman says that's part of the growing process.

'North Portland is a tough area to succeed in because there's a lot of kids who don't want to work hard,' he says. 'And it's real easy for people to say 'it's not fair' regarding just about everything.

'But we're committed to getting the message across that every little thing you do, from showing up to class on time to showing up for practice and study tables, is a little step that will help you be successful in the long run.'

Chatman is moving the program into a more permanent phase, which he calls the Journeys Foundation. His goal is to raise $160,000 and expand the program to include girls basketball and football.

The girls basketball team will be coached by Kara Braxton, who helped lead Westview to the 4A state title in 2000 but was suspended Feb. 19 for the remainder of the season for various rules violations at the University of Georgia. The football program is headed by Rodney Clemente, whose teams play in the Police Athletic League.

'Ultimately, we want our guys Ñ and now girls Ñ to be able to look in the mirror and, whether they're at Portland Community College or the University of North Carolina, take advantage of the opportunities before them,' Chatman says. 'When they come back and contribute to the community, that's going to be the real payoff.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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