Thursday, June 30, 2016

Anthony Ireland dreaming big with skills academy, but he won't forget where he came from

Growing up in Waterbury, Anthony Ireland didn't have a lot.
Ireland made himself into a high school star under legendary Crosby head coach Nick Augelli, then prospered some more at Division I Loyola Marymount University in California. Yes, the same LMU known for Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. (If you don't know who they are, look them up. You won't be disappointed in what they brought to the basketball court.)
Ireland was one of the top players to come out of LMU, and it translated to a professional basketball career overseas in France, Greece and now Poland.
Ireland hasn't forgotten where he came from, and he also hasn't forgotten what he didn't have growing up.
There's where the AI3 Skills Academy comes into play.
Ireland just hosted his second annual academy last week at the Waterbury PAL.
"This all got started from a vision and a passion I grew up with," Ireland wrote in an email.. "As a kid growing up loving the game of basketball, there weren't many outlets or opportunities such as leagues, camps, or trainers in the city of Waterbury."
Turning pro gave Ireland a chance to give back.
"I wanted to provide the younger generations something I didn't have, so I teamed up with Joe Summa, Michael Sanders and Julio Vasquez to put this project together," Ireland wrote.
The camp had 74 boys and girls last year. This year, the number grew to 107, and Ireland is dreaming big.
"First, I want to continue to build a foundation and a following in Connecticut and the New England area to inspire generations of basketball student-athletes," Ireland said.
The dream doesn't stop there. Not by any stretch. 
In 2-3 years, Ireland wants to host an academy at LMU, and then he'd like to have them all over the nation, and the world.
"The long-term goal for our Academy is to eventually turn it into a K-12 preparatory boarding school," Ireland said.
That is dreaming big, but that's exactly what Ireland wants.
"The biggest message I try to relay to the kids is simply dream BIG," Ireland wrote. "Find your passion and run with it! Don't let anyone take your dream away with you."
A few of the people who helped Ireland out last week can attest to that philosophy. For one, there's Ryan Gomes, who turned an amazing career at Providence Career into a long one in the NBA. There's Walter Wright, who is playing for Division I University of Montana. There's Trevon Seymore, who plays for Division I Coppin State University. There's Mike Mallory, who has shone for Division II Southern Connecticut State University.
There's Damian Saunders, who played Division I for Duquesne University and spent some time in the NBA Developmental League.
The list goes on, and it includes Vasquez, Jordan Booker, Ta'Quan Zimmerman, Mike Sanders, Jonothan Rosado, Devonne Parker, Terrance Thompson, Juan Parilla and Blake Ireland. Anthony Ireland also had help from his father Bernie Ireland.
"There is so much love from all the players that have helped me out during this process," Ireland wrote. "I am so thankful for their commitment and their time. I have a very special and unique bond with each of the counselors and volunteers. Whether younger or older, we have connected on and off the court. It's beautiful how the game of basketball does that."
Ireland is just getting started.
"I'm super honored and thankful to be in the position to provide an outlet for our youth," Ireland. "I felt like it was my duty to give back to the community that made me who I am."
Ireland is doing just that, and so far, so good.

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