Eighth-grader Akira Richards has loved basketball since she was five years old. She now plays on the Success Academy Myrtle Middle School’s basketball team and has ambitions of playing in college and the WNBA. This February, Akira’s dream of playing with professionals became a reality when she and her teammates got to meet and practice with New York Knicks legends John Wallace and John Starks — during the first-ever Jr. Knicks & Success Academy clinic series.
The two-day clinic, which was held at SA Washington Heights, featured 100 scholars during each session. Members of the SA network basketball teams made up the first group, while the second was comprised of scholars in the middle school basketball league. All of the scholars ran through drills and tested their skills in a dynamic practice.
“I liked the practice a lot because we played three-on-three, which means the defense has to move a lot,” Akira said. “We also did ladders — where you have to have quick feet in a ropes obstacle — one of my favorite drills.”
Akira Richards (above): “My basketball coaches help prepare me for where I’m going, as opposed to where I am right now.”
While being trained by legendary players like Wallace and Starks is something out of the ordinary for a young player like Akira, Success Academy basketball athletes benefit from the expertise of dedicated coaches — and a growing program that involves 52 middle school teams, eight network AAU teams, and seven high school teams across the network.
The program has rapidly expanded to include over 900 scholars, a 2000% increase from last year. In the school year 2023-24, that number is expected to surpass 1,200! SA’s basketball scholars get the opportunity to play in an internal league, allowing them to befriend fellow scholars who they otherwise might not meet.
John Wallace spoke about the importance of schools like Success Academy, which encourage students to give it their all both as athletes and as scholars.
“My mom always spoke about education being the great equalizer,” Wallace said. “If you put in the effort, you can achieve whatever you want in life.”
Having grown up as an athlete in a household that put education first, Wallace also expressed appreciation for SA’s curriculum.
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“I love that charter schools go outside the box; they allow kids to work through their challenges, both in the classroom and on the court, in order to be successful.”
Akira agrees that she feels prepared to go after her ambitions as an athlete — and as a budding entrepreneur. She wants to own her own business one day and appreciates that she’s learning all the right lessons.
“My favorite thing about Success Academy is that we’re taught advanced topics, like economics, and how to budget money,” Akira said. “It’s just like how my basketball coaches help prepare me for where I’m going, as opposed to where I am right now.”
She says that basketball has helped her become who she is today.
“The best advice I’ve ever received is that win or lose, you should always be proud of what you do. I feel the same way in class. If I get a question wrong or get a low score on a test, I keep my head up and I work with my teachers on what I can do to improve my score next time. Keep moving, keep working, and eventually, you’ll get to where you need to go.”