A group of excited kids at Neighborhood Ministries, clad in black Phoenix Suns shirts and sitting on basketballs distributed by the team, awaited the chance to play on their new basketball court.

The full-size court, with new rims, purple and orange decorations and pictures of Suns legends such as Steve Nash and Charles Barkley surrounding the fence, is the first of 50 being renovated by the team throughout the state.

“It’s much more prettier,” a small girl in the crowd said Wednesday about a court that was once described as dangerous, slippery and ugly before the team resurfaced it and changed the entire look.

All 50 renovations are funded by a $1 million grant from Suns Charities to celebrate 50 seasons in the Valley.

“It’s great to see that we can make a positive influence on the face of a lot of youth around town, especially in areas that maybe don’t get the best news all the time,” Suns managing partner Robert Sarver said. “So for us to come in here, and offer some encouragement and build these courts and let these kids know we care about them and they’re part of the community and we’re right there with them, it’s a good feeling.”

Also up on the podium to speak to the kids was Suns forward Alan Williams, a 24-year-old who grew up in Phoenix.

He said opportunities to go visit kids on local courts has actually led him to venues where he played as a kid. He also remembered how important it was when he got chances to meet Suns players that he idolized, and now enjoys being on the other end, being somebody for local children to look up to.

“When they told us to come by and hang out with you guys today, it was never a hassle, it was never a strain or anything like that. It’s something that we look forward to doing,” he said.

Another player in attendance was forward Derrick Jones Jr., who, after making the court’s first basket off an alley-oop pass from Sarver, said he always wanted to meet an NBA player growing up in Pennsylvania.

However, following a less-than-stable rookie season after going undrafted out of UNLV, winning the dunk contest and spending time in the NBA D-League with the Northern Arizona Suns, he said he had a strong desire to give back to a community that has now done so much for him.

“Doing things that never happened for me, it’s very special,” he said. “I love every moment that I’m out here with the kids. Hopefully they embrace this court, and hopefully I get to come out here a few times with them and come shoot around with them.”

Now with the initiative rolling, the Suns are set to start training camp in Flagstaff on Tuesday.


Story by Eric Newman, Cronkite News