Grindhouse Elite Club in St. Petersburg used to practice on a private court in a partnership with Elim Junior Academy School, but after COVID-19 shutdowns, those days are over.
Currently, the youth basketball travel ball team practices at the Wildwood Recreation Center.
It works, but the teams share space with other recreational teams, limiting them to a tiny spot of precious court space.
“We wish we could be by ourselves,” said Assistant Coach Rick Oliver. “But no church, no basketball.”
Still, the teams – sixth and eighth grade boys and girls, youth to 16 – practice weekly and travel throughout Florida to compete against other young recreation leagues.
“Grindhouse has never had a gym, and with us having several teams, a home team would be a big help,” Northeast High School Basketball Coach Jason Murray said.
In the meantime the players skirt around the outskirts of a community court.
“Sometimes we practice inside; sometimes there’s no space at all, we go outside,” Oliver said. “We’re just hoping we can get Elim back.”
On the Court
The kids affectionately call Murray “J” while they weave up and down the busy court.
“I never had a good coach,” Murray said. “I hope I’m giving them what I didn’t have.”
They may not have a permanent set of hoops, but that doesn’t stop players from ferociously practicing, dropping pushups in between routines.
Murray, 34, also coaches junior varsity at Northeast High School Basketball. He stopped playing on a team in 11th grade, and started coaching.
He’s been teaching basketball for 10 years, and seven of those have been as part of his nonprofit, run entirely on public donations, car washes and other fundraisers.
“I don’t want them to think anything is given,” Murray said. “We work for everything here.”
Nikiez Surls and his grandmother, Carol Reed, travel from Largo to secure a spot on the team.
“He eats, sleeps and dreams basketball,” Reed said, gesturing to the floppy haired sixth grader dribbling on the court. “Jay does so much for them.”
For Murray, it hasn’t been easy.
“I started off with a couple losing seasons. It took me a while to adjust and catch up to the coaches who have been coaching longer than me,” Murray said.
The young father took a break from the court following the birth of his second daughter; in that time, he lost two players to gun violence.
“Losing them made me feel like if i was still coaching at the moment they would still be here today,” Murray said. “Since then, I keep in touch with all players who have played for me and who still play for me.”