[h2]Baltimore Guards Kamau Stokes, Rodney Elliot, and their Fathers Talk about the Game and its Influence on their Relationship[/h2]
It’s no secret that the city of Baltimore injects the highest levels of basketball with incredible talent on an annual basis. Whether it is NBA vets like Carmelo Anthony or Rudy Gay, or college sophomore’s like Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin or Memphis’ Will Barton, the city notoriously produces intelligent, hungry and multi-skilled players that have been honing their craft years before the glare of the national spotlight finally focuses on them.
And oftentimes, the convenient assumption of such accomplished, young players from the city is that their fathers are incarcerated, minimally involved or totally missing altogether. The bulk of hard-working, nourishing and supportive fathers who have always been involved in their children’s lives, it seems, never get their full due.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com sat down for a recent conversation with talented Baltimore high school guards Rodney Elliot Jr., a 6’2” junior, and Kamau Stokes, a 6’0” sophomore, teammates at the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association “A” Division Champions John Carroll School, along with their fathers Roderick Stokes and Rodney Elliot Sr. , to talk hoops and the father-son relationship they hold dear.
Kamau Stokes, 6’0” Point Guard, Class of 2014
“I started going out of town when I was eight years old. My first trip was to Memphis with the Baltimore Stars and that was a great experience, playing against bigger guys from other cities. That challenged me. I started practicing more, getting serious and thinking that I could do something with this game. I always watched guards on TV, guys like Tony Parker, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash and Mike Bibby, guys that played with an edge.
My dad always taught me that if I really wanted something, I just had to work for it. He helped me practice and work to get where I am, but he never forced anything on me because I always wanted to play. The biggest things I’m working on now and trying to improve are my agility, and getting bigger and stronger.
No matter what’s happening on the court, I always have to be a leader and help my teammates out. You always want to score the ball, but as a point guard, your first option should always be to pass, look for others and help your teammates get open. But you always want to stay aggressive.
My shot is a solid strength of my game. It helps me because it makes dudes honor me as a shooter. So when they honor my shot, I can blow past them with my dribbling and passing skills and either score or find my teammates.
In Baltimore, we play a real nasty, belligerent style of basketball. One of the main ingredients that make players from our city so successful is that we’re not scared of anything, or anyone, on the court.
So far, I’ve received recruiting interest from schools like Maryland, West Virginia, Penn State, St. John’s, Wichita State, St. Joseph’s, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Delaware and others. My goals are to attend a college that has a great academic reputation and basketball program. Right now, I’m working on my grades and my game to make that happen.”
Roderick Stokes, Kamau’s Father
“I was a baseball guy, played it in college and I thought that might be his favorite sport when he was young. But when he was little and an AAU game conflicted with baseball in the summer, he was always choosing basketball, so it was clear that hoops was his chosen sport.
Through my experience, all too often, a lot of guys have natural abilities but don’t typically focus on skill development, so we worked on that from day one. Another important thing was me helping him develop that IQ, so he could play the game on a higher level.
I’d take him to courts all over Baltimore City and if there were guys out there that looked like they could play, I’d put him out of the car, starting when he was four years old. I’d tell him, ‘Go over there and tell them you’re playing next.’
A lot of times, guys would look at him and laugh and say, ‘Nah shorty, you ain’t playing.’ So I’d have to let them know, ‘He’s gonna go ahead and play. Ya’ll do what you need to. If you need to knock him down, go ahead and do that. But he’s playing.’
That’s how we cultivated the competitiveness and toughness, taking him outside to get some of that bump. So early on, it was some get-in-where-you-fit-in with anybody, and then people got to know him.
On a skill level, I got him with good coaches and spent countless hours with him myself, before school, after school and on the weekends. We watched a lot of ball on YouTube, studying the subtleties of the guard position. He liked Allen Iverson, but I told him that A.I. wasn’t a good dude to study because he was just so special, an athletic freak and he wasn’t a guy that you could copy. So we watched guys like Rod Strickland, Tony Parker and Mike Bibby because of their IQ.
My primary goal is for him to understand that he has to be able to capitalize on life beyond the game of basketball and that the game is a microcosm of life. You have the competition, the teamwork, you have to take advantage of your strengths and develop your weaknesses because in a minute, he’ll be out on his own. I want him to have those critical thinking skills.
The game has been a great tool for us to spend a lot of 1-on-1 time together. I recognize that what he’s going after and my desire to help him pursue his dream allows us to be in a space where we’re in constant communication, affording us the opportunity to not only talk about basketball, but life. “
Rodney Elliot Jr., 6’2” Combo Guard, Class of 2013
“I was exposed to the game early on, watching my father play all the time and him just taking me to the gym with him. When I was 10 years old, I had a game at the Carmelo Anthony Center, playing for a team called Baltimore’s Best. My team was losing and all of a sudden, I hit six three’s in a row. My coach called a time out and all of a sudden, I just started crying in the huddle. I was emotional for the game, and that’s when I realized that I really loved this game. As I got older, I realized that my love and talent would get me to college.
I’m a pass first guy who has the ability to score, a shooter who can also pass well. When I’m in the gym by myself right now, I’m concentrating on improving my mid-range game, speed, agility and sitting down in my defensive stance longer.
George Mason, Arkansas and Rider are some of the schools I’ve been talking to. From being a little kid watching my dad play when he was at the University of Maryland, the game has enhanced our relationship from day one. He was the one who taught me what I know today: the pull-up game, the mid-range game, all of the stuff I do on the court comes back to him and the strong relationship we have.
In terms of my goals, I want to get a scholarship to college and take that wherever that takes me, whether it’s the NBA, pro ball overseas or my other goal of being an engineer.
My favorite part of the game is when our team wins. After a big win, that’s what really makes me smile.”
Rodney Elliot Sr., Rodney Jr.’s Father
“My son’s first time out of the house when he was an infant was to a University of Maryland game to watch me play for the Terps. He first started playing organized ball at the age of four with a local church league. Every year and summer after that, he just stuck with it.
When I was in school and even a couple of years after that, he’d be playing around the house and out of the blue I’d hear him saying, ‘Laron Profit! Obinna Ekezie! Keith Booth!’
He was imitating the public address announcer at Maryland, calling out some of my teammates’ names. That would make me laugh.
Every weekend I could when I was in college, I’d come home and spend time with him. When I would go overseas to play and come back, we’d be together all summer. As he got older, he said he wanted to be a basketball player like his daddy.
So the game definitely helped our relationship a lot. We work out together, discussing different parts of the game, and I’m talking to him about eating right, getting his proper rest, things of that nature. Now, I’m trying to get across how to be a leader on and off the court because you never know who is watching. I tell him that his teammates and coaches are not just watching how he dribbles or shoots or jumps, but how he handles pressure situations.
To be honest, he’s a lot better than I was when I was in high school. He’s got opportunities ahead of him to get a free college education so long as he continues to work hard. We’re working on the mental aspect of the game, his body language, being a vocal leader on his team and in the classroom. And I’m stressing that he play every game like it’s his last. But most importantly I want him to continue to have fun and don’t take it to the point where you’re not having fun out there.
All of my friends are from a great basketball era in this town. The Baltimore culture has very much enriched my game and it’s where I got my work ethic from. That’s something I learned coming up behind guys like Keith Booth.
So little Rodney was born into it, raised on it and always exposed to it. I tell him all the time, ‘We used to catch the bus to go play on the playground all day and night!’ And even though he’s used to getting a ride to play in air conditioned gyms, he has that same hunger that’s been passed down from the great players that have influenced generations of this city’s players.”
Alejandro Danois, Bounce Magazine’s Senior Editor and a Contributing Writer with Dime Magazine, is also a freelance sports and entertainment writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Sporting News, among others.
Photos: Diamond Eye Sports