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A Basketball Challenge Taken Off the Court: A Coach’s Story

When Thurgood Marshall Academy was in search of a head coach for the Varsity and Junior Varsity Men’s Basketball teams, Lafayette Dublin’s name surfaced on many occasions. A year prior, Dublin brought a Maryland high school basketball team to victory, finishing the season with an 18-5 win-loss record. The bigger victory, though, was Dublin’s ability to implement strategies that benefit players on and off the court, making him a great fit for the Warriors.

Thurgood Marshall AcadmeyWhen Dublin started in 2014, student athletes were quick to find that his approach to prioritizing academics was non-negotiable. “You can’t play without the grades,” he says. All students participating in the athletic program must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher. “I tell them, ‘eventually these will give out,’” said Dublin as he pointed to his knees. “So they must have a plan B.”

Dublin, who believes ‘discipline starts on the court,’ requires the team to uphold values and standards that set the tone for their futures. For example, if a student is late to practice, he is given a verbal warning and then written up if the behavior escalates. Consistent violations of other requirements can lead to a student being dropped from the team. “By following these rules, students are prepared for the real world,” he said. “It’s not just about basketball. It’s the game of life.”

The team initially had seven players (Junior Varsity and Varsity combined) in the fall of 2014, but ended with 22 students, who affectionately dub Dublin “Coach Laf.” But with a growing team, Dublin faced a new challenge.

DSC_6426In Maryland, Dublin coached student athletes who had access to a wealth of resources. But in neighborhoods like Ward 8, home to many of the players, the cost to maintain extra-curricular activities can be a financial strain on some families. In order to meet those family’s needs, Dublin, who played college basketball at Towson University, leveraged relationships with former teammates and respectfully “asked that they give back to the kids.” After just one phone call to his contact at Under Armour, the team was gifted with back-packs, practice uniforms, sneakers, t-shirts, and other sporting gear throughout the season.

“You never know where helping a kid from TMA will lead you. This school has a 100% college acceptance rate,” said Dublin, acknowledging that a higher education pays off. According to Dublin, Under Armour’s gesture to give back to TMA’s youth is a big investment in students’ quality of life. “For every kid you help play a sport, you are also helping a kid learn values, discipline, and accountability.”

coachlaf

Dublin (standing far right) beems with pride when Malik McMillian (center) signs to play basketball at Barton College on a full athletic scholarship.

Dublin is committed to the team’s success, and he acknowledges players who have achieved many goals in just one year. Former player Malik McMillian (TMA ‘15) made history as TMA’s first graduate to earn a full athletic scholarship. Initially ineligible to play on the team due to his grades, McMillian went on to increase his GPA and maintained a B-average for the entire season. Another player on the team received the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) scholarship for distinguished academic, leadership, and sportsmanship achievements. “This is why I coach. These kids are willing to put in hard work to win on and off the court,” he ends.

Last season, the team had a 20-8 record, including the big playoff victory. The 2015-16 basketball season starts November 2nd.