The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 02, 2020 1:00 am

From hard knocks to hardwood

Inmate-turned-entrepreneur coaches life's lessons

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Because, as he said, he grew up during some rough times and made some bad choices, Kareem Hunter Sr. never got to graduate with his high school class or further his basketball career as a shooting guard. Hunter went to prison at age 18 for nine months as an accessory to a crime.

“It was just being around the wrong people, man, just being a follower when I was young,” Hunter said. “I don't regret it though. I know it sounds crazy and a lot of people would say something different, but it made me who I am now. I had to change my life. I tell my sons that was sort of like college for me because I had to grow up and decided what I wanted to be in life.”

Now Hunter, 39, is doing his best to help make sure other young people don't make the same mistakes as coach of the new Fort Wayne Unlimited semipro basketball team and owner of H1 Roofing. The team began this year, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been limited to exhibition games. The goal is to be ready to play full-time in the 2-year-old Official Basketball Association, which has 32 teams, including nine in the Midwest.

Hunter has been coaching local youth teams for several years, mostly built around his sons, who played high school ball at Northrop and South Side.

Playing home games at Harlan Christian Center, 12616 Spencerville Road, the squad practices at Parkwood Church of God at Hobson and Trier roads. The first game was played July 11, and Fort Wayne Unlimited won two of its first three games, recently defeating the defending division champions in Cincinnati.

The team's players include Blake Williams from Woodlan, Antwon Washington and Whitney-Jalin Harris of New Haven, Cory Greene of Snider, Jaguar Jackson of Bishop Luers and Tayvon Green from Northrop. The rest of the roster includes J.T. Langston from San Gabriel Academy in California, Uuri Swinford and Cortrell Jones of Horizon Academy, Joe Gary from Mississippi State, William Eskridge of Indiana Tech and the coach's sons, Kareem Hunter Jr. and Kamron Mitchell of South Side.

Mitchell averages 19.3 points per game, Williams 15.5 and Washington 13.5. Jackson leads the team in assists at 5.5 with Hunter Jr. second at 5.5.

The upcoming schedule includes a game against the Fort Wayne Vision on Wednesday at Harlan.

The 14 players mostly range in age from 18 to 22 with a couple of veterans mixed in for experience.

Six players are leaving soon to begin their college careers, and Hunter is recruiting for next year's team and trying to acquire sponsors.

He's also mentoring as much as coaching.

“I'm 100% not ashamed to share my story with them so they don't ever have to experience that,” Hunter said.

“It's more relatable from someone who has been there, someone who has learned from his mistakes. Twenty-one years ago I would have told you roofing is not what I want to do, but I've grown to love it.”

As soon as he was released from prison, Hunter moved to Indianapolis where he met a man who taught him roofing and gave him a career. Now he encourages his players to learn a trade such as roofing, contracting or plumbing.

“What I tell them is if you are hanging around 10 guys who are making bad choices, you are going to be No. 11,” he said. “If you are hanging around 10 basketball players who are taking this really serious, you are probably going to be the 11th player who takes this seriously. Basically, it's about who you surround yourself with.

“I'm more interested in not just teaching them basketball but to say, 'Look, if you are not going to college or to play overseas, how about I help you start a business as well?'”

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