By JASON GUARENTE, Sports Writer
Growing up in Lancaster, Jerry Johnson saw how tempting it was to take the wrong path. He
lived with that possibility every day. "The easiest thing to do was everything but the right thing," Johnson said. "It was easy to get caught up in it, especially living in the city. A lot of kids don't understand what is really out there for them."
Johnson avoided the pitfalls and became one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The McCaskey grad earned a scholarship to Rider University and is now playing professionally in Europe.
Although he is thousands of miles from his hometown for most of the year, Johnson hasn't stopped thinking about what it was like to grow up here. His dream is to make it easier for the next generation of youngsters.
Johnson has started a non-profit foundation called Back2Basics. It is designed to mentor kids and promote accountability through the structure of athletics.
Back2Basics will host a basketball camp from June 22-25 at McCaskey. The camp is open to boys and girls ages 9-14 and will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Cost is $25.
The camp will include guest speakers focusing on both sports and life skills. Sacramento Kings forward Jason Thompson and former McCaskey star Dustin Salisbery are expected to be among the speakers.
There will also be games and trophies awarded. More information and an enrollment form can be found at www.Back2Basicsfoundation.org.
Johnson feels his foundation can fill a void in Lancaster. He used the Boys and Girls Clubs and AAU basketball to occupy his time growing up. He wants Back2Basics to one day become that kind of outlet for local kids.
"When I came up, there were different opportunities for me that made me who I am," Johnson said. "I was able to play basketball from the time school was out until it was time to come home. That kept me out of trouble. It kept me focused. Right now in Lancaster, the city, it's lacking. Kids don't understand how to be successful or they don't have the opportunity to do things."
Johnson is McCaskey's all-time leading scorer. He played for four seasons at Rider, scoring over 2,000 career points, before becoming a pro. The 6-0 guard has played professionally in five countries: Poland, Greece, Turkey, France and Belgium.
Johnson's team in Belgium, Spirou Charleroi, is currently playing in the league's championship series.
None of this would have been possible if Johnson hadn't fully dedicated himself to basketball and academics when he was a student in School District of Lancaster.
"I was able to get a full scholarship, graduate with a degree and am playing professional basketball for a real good living," Johnson said. "I wouldn't trade my life for anything right now. The kids need to see that and be around people who have been successful."
Although his foundation is just getting started, Johnson has big goals for it. One day he hopes to build a complex where kids can visit any time they want and occupy their time with athletics.
This is his vision:
"It would have a six-court, full-court gym, a weight room, a pool, a batting cage," Johnson said. "It's not just basketball, all sports. At the same time, the kids would have a place where they can learn life skills. I want to have all that together in one place. That's my long-term goal. "Right now we're so far from it. But you have to have some goal to work for."
The dream starts later this month with the Back2Basics basketball camp.