Youth program uses Ja Morant controversy for life lessons

Children huddle mid-basketball game inside a church gym in Hickory Hill, where they are coached...
Children huddle mid-basketball game inside a church gym in Hickory Hill, where they are coached by Memphis NightTrain Elite, an organization that aims to coach, grow, and lead Memphis youth.(Action News 5)
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 10:12 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2023 at 11:57 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Ja Morant is the big draw for the Memphis Grizzlies, but right now, the superstar is drawing all the wrong kind of attention for his moves off the court.

In a city where basketball is king, Ja rules. Memphis is also a city where juvenile crime is through the roof and where our kids need good examples to follow.

As we look to Ja Morant to lead the way, it’s important to remember he’s still a young person, too, dealing with major life changes and decisions.

At a church gym in Hickory Hill, “Memphis NightTrain Elite” teaches more than just basketball. Young people like Tank learn important life lessons.

“When you make bad choices,” Tank told Action News 5, “you get bad consequences.” And to Memphis NightTrain Elite, Ja Morant is offering a powerful lesson right now on how to handle success, stress, and money.

"Tank," a young basketball fan and member of the Memphis NightTrain Elites' sports program,...
"Tank," a young basketball fan and member of the Memphis NightTrain Elites' sports program, spoke to Action News 5 about why it's important to stay out of trouble amid Memphis Grizzlies' Ja Morant scandal.(Action News 5)

“Just like Ja is struggling with the influence of friends and maybe outside influences, so are our kids,” said MAM President and CEO Jonathan Torres. “And so, we try to relate the experience that Ja is going through to our kids so that they can understand that they have choices to make.”

The Memphis Grizzlies announced over the weekend that Morant is taking time away from the game to deal with personal issues, suspended for at least two games.

The NBA all-star is also accused of punching a 17-year-old during a basketball game at his house last summer, threatening a security guard at Wolfchase Galleria, and now, flashing a gun on Instagram while partying at a strip club.

Coach Jarvis Stephen, the Athletic Director at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, said being a 23-year-old superstar in the NBA, earning hundreds of millions of dollars, and financially supporting countless family members and friends is a lot of pressure. Now’s the time, said Coach Stephen, for Morant to learn from his mistakes.

“I think the biggest change is changing the people who are around you,” Coach Stephen told Action News 5. “You’re going to hit hard times. But now it’s time to grow up because now you have the opportunity to change some things, but you have an even bigger opportunity to lose even more.”

Back in Hickory Hill, Tank keeps his eye on the prize, making buckets and good choices. He and the other young people coached by Memphis NightTrain Elite know what it takes to stay out of trouble and win at the game of life.

”Especially if you’re in the NBA,” said Tank. “You can get kicked out if you’re in the NBA. Shoe brand can be gone, anything. So that’s why you can’t act bad, especially when you’re in the NBA.”

Colorado police confirm they’re investigating the gun incident at the strip club. The NBA is also investigating to see if the gun was Morant’s.

The league doesn’t allow guns on team property including the bus, plane, or locker room.

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