The nondescript building at 6360 118th Ave. N was vacant for six months when a couple of St. Pete basketball coaches came up with an idea.
“Daryl says, ‘I got this empty warehouse over here, why don’t you come take a look at it?’” Shorecrest assistant coach Allen Williams recalls of the conversation with his boss and longtime friend, Chargers head coach Daryl Blume.
The pair had been searching for a practice facility last spring, while the school gym was closed for construction of a new athletic center, and Blume’s company owned the empty Largo warehouse.
“So I come down and take a look at it and I go 'Daryl, do you know what we could do with this place?’ ”
Blume confesses he had no idea what his colleague was talking about at first.
“I was trying to lease the building. I could see the possibilities there, but only after Allen pointed them out.”
What Williams, a Clearwater native, former hoops standout and respected shot instructor, had in mind was a place where kids could come to not only play basketball, but improve their station in life.
“I’ve always said this is what I really want to do, give something back and work with kids who are in a similar situation to mine,” Williams admits.
The rest, they say, is history.
With the addition of full court baskets, training equipment, a rec room, plus a special floor made from recycled tires donated by Rays team doctor Koco Eaton, the 5,000-square-foot building quickly transformed into the Basketball Warehouse.
The new facility is a place where kids of all ages, backgrounds and talent levels can come and work on every aspect of their game.
“I think it’s great (here),” Max Eaton, Koco’s son and a potential college prospect from Admiral Farragut says of the facility. “It’s improved my game tremendously.”
But improving jump shots, vertical leaps and post moves aren’t the only motives of the founders of the gym. They also stress the need to give less fortunate kids an outlet for their talents, as well as a place where they can grow up with guidance.
The organizers show that commitment in several ways. The gym is affiliated with Academy Prep, a St. Pete school for children from low-income families. No kid is turned away from the gym, regardless of the ability to pay for a membership.
“The goal is to provide a safe, secure environment where they can come and hang out together, do their homework, and then go learn how to play basketball,” Williams says. “We want to bring the under-privileged kids in here as well as the kids who are up here," at the top of the social and developmental ladder.
“The purpose of this place is to develop kids both athletically and academically,” Blume adds.
To that end, the pair plans to have a learning center in place in an upstairs room by next fall. Then they can work on bringing tutors in who can help the kids with the academic side of things, while they handle the athletics.
So far, reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Coach Williams has absolutely improved his shot," Tom Showalter says of his son, Chase, a sophomore at Shorecrest. "I'm a big fan of his, and this facility."
Pinellas Park head coach Jon Cabino, who is coaching the summer camp, is determined to help make the Basketball Warehouse a success.
“I don’t care if kids from other schools are getting better, I want all the kids to get better,” Cabino says of the mixture of talent. “It’s not about me and Daryl developing our kids. It’s about me, Daryl, the Largo coach, the Seminole coach, whatever coach wants to come aboard and get this thing going.”
“There’s no other facility like this. Not in this county. We’re the first.”
As for where he sees the facility heading in the future, Williams is optimistic.
“I’m hoping that this will be such a huge outreach program…and we’ll have hundreds of kids coming through this facility, not just for the basketball side, but for the academic side.”
“We’re gonna change a few lives.”
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