VERO BEACH – The Harlem Ambassadors put on a show at Vero Beach High School, where they beat the Indian River All-Stars 97-66 in a charity basketball game.
The crowd was treated to an array of high-flying dunks, deft dribbling, and red-hot shooting by the talented Ambassador squad and proceeds from the game went to funding the Florida Comets, a nine-team Indian River County-based AAU basketball program. The All-Stars were sponsored by community leaders who chipped in between $250 and $2,000 each to be a part of the squad.
Local attorney Sam Block and former Jacksonville University Coach Bill Curtis were the game’s honorary coaches.
The Indian River County All-Stars roster included Sheriff Deryl Loar, Kenny Holmes, Shawn Daley, Hamp Elliott, Drew Fallis, DeMarcus Harris, David Hooper, Alye Inman, TK, Randy King, Roger LaJoie, DeDe Marine, Dr. Marc McCain, Randy Miller, Thomas Moran, Jason Redmon, Paul St. Mary, Michael Tomas, Dr. Matt Parris, John Auger and Don Weston.
“Anytime community leaders and former athletes – both college and professional – can give back to the youngsters of Indian River County, it is wonderful,” said Loar. “The dollars we receive offset some of (the Comets) expenses, but a majority of the dollars goes to further their scholarships for college. We have some amazing talent on these AAU teams.”
The price of putting a player through a year of AAU basketball is roughly $1,000. That costs includes uniforms, travel, and tournament entry fees
The Ambassadors were led by player-coach Sandi “Lade Majic” Prophete, a Kodak All-American honorable-mention selection at University of Missouri in 1989.
She dazzled the crowd with both her play and her gamesmanship.
After play-wrestling the much bigger St. Mary to the ground, she pinned him WWE-style and sported a replica heavyweight belt. Later in the game, she pseudo-karate chopped Holmes to the ground and proceeded to dance to the famous Carl Douglas song “Kung-Fu Fighting.”
She had the crowd involved throughout the game.
Prophete has been with the Ambassadors since 1998, where she has helped promote racial understanding and encouraged youths to stay in school and off of drugs. Every player on the Ambassadors’ roster is drug-free and a college graduate.
“We loved that the Ambassadors encouraged us to go out and get local celebrities to play – there’s really nothing around here like that,” said Comets Committee Chair Wyndi Fournie. “A family-friendly event is always going to be very popular.”
Comets coach Dr. Bennie Shaw has been the driving force behind the AAU program. Shaw’s eighth grade girls team won a tournament in Ft. Lauderdale in December, and his ninth grade boys team is fresh off a AAU tournament championship at Altamonte Springs in January, where they went a perfect 3-0. A ninth-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976, Shaw is a member of the University of Central Florida Hall of Fame.
“Bennie is what makes this organization unique,” said Fournie. “He’s not taking a cent, and he goes above and beyond in giving his time. He’s helped so many kids throughout his life.”
Shaw looks for more than just good basketball players for their roster – Comet players must good students as well.
Comet players must maintain a 3.0 grade point average the first year, and a 3.2 each year afterward. Players who drop below the grade requirements have 30 days to get their grades up.
If they do not, or if a Comet has been disciplined at school for bad behavior, they get put on academic probation, which means they aren’t allowed to play.
“Even if the kids decide they don’t want to play college ball, look at the work ethic and academic foundation they have set up for themselves through playing in this program,” Shaw said. “We’ve had a couple of kids come to the program with a 2.2, and we told them they had 30 days to get their grades up. Now they are up and over a 3.0 because they wanted to play basketball.”
“If college coaches see a kid in a Comet uniform, they are looking at a kid with a good attitude who gets good grades,” said Shaw. “I may not be able to get kids into Duke or North Carolina, but I can get them into Lynn, Florida Southern, or Florida Atlantic – some players we can even get into Florida State (on scholarship).”