“They love it! It’s an experience:” Milwaukee Ballaz Elite gets boys off street, onto court

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee man has made it his mission to ensure kids have a place to go to stay safe, and a the same time, he and the kids are having a lot of fun!

“It’s a workout for the boys, keeping them in shape. A workout for me,” said Steven Luster, coach and founder of Milwaukee Ballaz Elite.

Then comes a little fun.

“A lot. A lot. Probably too much,” said Luster.

Steven Luster

Following the footsteps of one of his role models, Coach Steven Luster serves as a basketball coach and mentor to a number of children.

“My neighborhood coach passed away, so we didn't really have anybody in our neighborhood gathering us up to go play basketball anymore,” said Luster.

That’s when Luster decided to pick things up. He and a friend started the Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program.

“We recruited, got some other boys and from there it kind of just happened naturally, so everybody got serious about it and we decided 'we are going to do this year-round. We are going to keep the boys out of trouble,'” Coach Luster said.

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

At the beginning, only 10 boys were participating. Now, more than 30 are in the program, filling the rosters of three teams. The program teaches second through sixth graders like nine-year-old Jalen Brown basketball skills.

“When I was first on the team, I couldn’t dribble, but now I can,” said Brown.

“Good sportsmanship. I got a team to work with, to pass the ball with, to make layups with,” said 10-year-old Ky-Marion Hunt.

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

“You are supposed to pass the ball, but shoot it if you're open,” said nine-year-old Stevon Luster.

Basketball, however, is just the tool through which much more is taught.

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

“We mentor the boys. We make sure, like during the school year, that we are looking at report cards. If we get a report from their parent that something happened at school, we know. We pull them to the side. We talk to them, because it's bigger than basketball. We say 'books before basketball.' And even now with it being the summer, we talk with them about the importance of being respectful, doing what you got to do,” said Coach Luster.

Those lessons are hitting home for 11-year-old Kymoni Hunt.

“I’m learning how to be a leader, a more focused leader, because sometimes I don't listen to people and focus,” said Kymoni Hunt.

Other responsibilities come with playing on the teams as they are actively involved in fundraising, and took part in a recent grill out.

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

“We try to make more money so we can buy new jerseys,” said Kymoni Hunt.

“The majority of our program is on fundraisers. We have the lowest fees in the city as far as year-round basketball programs, so strongly dependent on donations and fundraisers,” said Coach Luster.

The payoff comes with unique experiences, like traveling to tournaments outside of the city and the state.

"St. Louis, Kenosha and a couple of other places,” said nine-year-old Luster.

“It's an experience I never had as a child, so I played basketball for my park and the little neighborhood local Milwaukee league, but I never got to cross the state line playing basketball, so for them, they love it. It's an experience,” Coach Luster said.

Milwaukee Ballaz Elite basketball program

The biggest step for the kids isn’t taken with their legs, but with their heart.

“They became friends,” Luster said.

“First we didn't know each other, and now we accept each other like brothers,” Kymoni Hunt said.

If you are interested in donating or you have a child who might be interested in joining the team, you’re asked to email Coach Luster at 20thstreetballaz@gmail.com.