Sunday News Dec 06, 2009

By MIKE GROSS, Assistant Sports Editor 

It's almost become a cliché: pro athlete starts his own foundation to "give something back." 

Except that sometimes the foundation is real, and serious, and impacting the community on the ground level. 

Jerry Johnson's Back 2 Basics Youth Development and Sports Foundation is getting there. 

For Johnson, the former McCaskey basketball star now playing professionally in Belgium, the foundation is anything but a vanity project. 

"There's a lot of need, around Lancaster," Johnson said Wednesday by telephone from Belgium. "And it's not just limited to Lancaster city kids. I want this to be for all communities in Lancaster County. There's a lack of opportunity, and we went to provide that." 

Johnson started the foundation last year. He's the president, and McCaskey basketball coach Steve Powell is a VP. The long-term goal is an ambitious one, outlined by Johnson on the foundation's Web site: 

"… a Sports Complex: Six full-court basketball courts, weightlifting facility, swimming pool, batting cage, and also function as a host for AAU basketball tournaments, seasonal basketball leagues and more." 

That's a long way off, of course. Among the short-term baby steps: 

• A Christmas toy giveaway at 4 p.m. Dec. 23 at St. Paul's Church of God and Christ, 215 S. Queen, St. 

The foundation will give toys to the first 100 kids who sign up by calling 1- 888-832-0034. 

• A foundation weekend this summer (date to be determined) that will include a Friday night basketball game between the Lancaster Liberty, a semipro team in the new Global Professional Basketball League that will begin play in January, and a team of local all-stars that will include Johnson. 

The next day, Saturday, Johnson plans to hold a "premier" night including press conferences, a wine-and-cheese party, a showing of a documentary film about the foundation that's already been produced (by McCaskey grad and friend-of-Jerry Joey Cross), and a memorabilia and sports-collectible auction. 

Johnson hopes to involve local sports celebrities. He said he has a commitment from Kim Glass, the Conestoga Valley grad and Olympic volleyball team member now playing professionally in the Czech Republic. 

• The development of an AAU basketball program. Johnson remembers his era of Lancaster-Lebanon League hoops, with some justification, as a kind of Golden Age, with eventual Division I college players like Johnson (Rider), Dustin Salisbery (Temple), Perry Patterson (Syracuse football), Ryan Butt (Boston University) and Daron Pressley (VMI) battling each other in the winter, but playing AAU together in the summer. 

"That atmosphere made me who I am," Johnson said. "The level's not as high as it was, and it's because of a lack of opportunity given to the kids." 

The already-established Lancaster Pride AAU girls' team, for high-school-age players, is now a B2B partner, Johnson said. 

He hopes to start B2B Sports boys' teams for junior-high and high-school-age kids this summer. The teams would travel extensively to tournaments with all expenses paid, Johnson hopes, by the foundation. 

Johnson already runs a summer basketball camp which includes not just basketball instruction but guest speakers on education and life skills. 

"We've had doctors, firefighters, health and diet experts," Johnson said. "The idea is to approach education from all different angles. Eventually, we'd like to branch out into other sports." 

Other down-the-road goals include provide educational and sports equipment for Lancaster city schools, funding scholarships, and sponsoring trips, such as to the basketball Hall of Fame. 

Johnson was a second-team all-state player as McCaskey. His teams there played in three straight state tournaments and won the 2000 District Three Class AAAA championship. 

He's the second-leading career scorer at Rider, which he led to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular- season title as a senior.