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Leave it to Arize Ifejika to make sure sports is well-rounded

The sports influencer celebrates 10 years of creating youth basketball tournaments for communities of color

More than 36 million children participate in organized youth sports each year. For sports influencer Arize Ifejika, this number means he has to work harder to make sure that youths in lower-income communities are part of that conversation.

“You’re competing with the best of the best,” he said. “You’re dealing with the actual landscape, where you don’t see the representation.”

So 10 years ago, he launched More Than Basketball (MTB), an events management agency that has hosted dozens of annual basketball showcases with the goal of creating a supportive environment for high school students, especially those involved in organized sports. His showcase events include tournament series, which provide exposure for players and places them in front of college coaches.

Ifejika’s passion, according to MTB’s website, is to provide a platform to “motivate and fully develop future generations to not just pursue professional athletics but make an impact within the sports industry.” He is also dedicated to creating community outreach programs for youths that also include college tours and career fairs.

Investing in youth sports tops the list of Ifejika’s success stories. It’s a familiar story of a youngster surrounded by sports who knew one day he’d use it to make a difference in his community and far beyond.

His interest in organized youth sports began when his older sister started playing pickup basketball, later traveling the country with a local AAU team. Ifejika realized then the impact the league played on children.

“I started even at a very young age trying to figure out how to run events that my sister could play in, locally,” he said. “From there I would ask a bunch of questions. When I was in high school and early college, I started running local three on threes and five on fives. I’m renting out gyms, doing it on playgrounds with no permit and getting referees.”

From there he worked at basketball camps, later earning internships in organizations that would set him up to launch MTB.

“I ended up getting a postgraduate position at a company in New Jersey and that was super big-time, which was like basketball boot camp for me,” he said. “I learned the good, the bad and the ugly about the [youth sports] business and the things that go on behind the scenes.”

Ifejika’s first showcase was funded by a silent partner, a friend he met while attending Florida A&M University while pursuing his degree in sports management. He’d also invested money he’d earned after college. They spent more than $10,000.

Ifejika, 33 is the third of seven children to Nigerian immigrant parents who worked their way through college before starting their family. His mother, a pharmacist, and father, a computer programmer, taught Ifejika that hard work and helping others is purely gratifying.

Especially when part of that gratification is setting out to keep youths active and off the street while also providing them with a positive and safe outlet.

His goals include traveling the country, public speaking and forging relationships with other influencers to support his mission of creating first-rate basketball leagues and getting kids off the streets.

Besides basketball tournaments, MTB spread its wings into film, producing the documentary Assault on Assault, shedding light on the rise and fall of AAU basketball team DC Assault. A native of Washington, D.C., Ifejika chronicles the wild success and hardships of the team. DC Assault is one of the most recognized programs in AAU, with alumni such as Quinn Cook, Melo Trimble, Jeff Green, Michael Beasley, Keith Bogans and Nolan Smith.

“I think the most surprising thing that I found in making the film was how capitalism really overshadows morals and principles,” Ifejika said. “Everything in life is advanced and enhanced by culture. So I was able to represent what I come from because of the people behind me and the people who put themselves on the line to create the evolution chart that became me.”

He also has produced a web series called Attention Kills.

“It is basically a depiction of the urban American experience from a D.C. perspective, which touches on all types of things from drugs to violence to everyone’s need for the spotlight — likes and retweets and followers and how the foundation of those things aren’t substantial.”

As an entrepreneur, he developed DraftPick, a gaming app that allows users to compete in fantasy leagues with friends, family and teammates. He also has a clothing line and a go-go music band.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.