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Avery Stevenson, Jr.
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Why does The Cage® matter to OKC?
During a spring break trip home to OKC, Avery Stevenson, Jr. saw the Downtown OKC Community Court that had just been built 3 blocks west of the court. He immediately envisioned its potential as a forum for young basketball players to get noticed, exactly the forum that he needed and didn’t have. The problem was that the players needed the ability to put on a show. Although the court was nice, it wasn’t being utilized much, and it wasn’t drawing a crowd.
This vision struck a cord in Stevenson, who hated having to be so far from his family to make a living playing ball. He did some research and found out that Oklahoma has 10 junior colleges, 10 NAIA universities, 9 Division II colleges, and 4 Division I colleges with basketball programs. “That’s over 30 colleges in the state producing high-level basketball talent and offering opportunities for players around the nation to get an education while playing the sport they love. But what happens after that?” Stevenson asked himself.
Stevenson decided not to go back to the tour, and to instead focus his efforts on building up the thriving, but unnoticed streetball scene in Oklahoma. In summer of 2012, he launched the first season of The Cage® league, and it was a huge success. His team created the atmosphere by bringing in bleachers, sound system, live DJ, scoreboard and statisticians, professional referees, and live commentators. The staff gave away prizes to the crowd and allowed kids on the court at halftime to compete and be part of the event.
While on tour, the Superstars also did school visits during which they talked to the students about bullying, education, and respect. Because the kids looked up to the players, they really seemed to listen to what he had to say. Stevenson had to find a way to get through to the kids where he grew up. Although the men’s events filled a huge need, he was ready to start reaching his real target: kids.
In the summer of 2014, Stevenson added a Kids Fun Day to the schedule and brought kids out to play real games on the court. In 2015, Stevenson expanded to providing an event exclusively for kids: The Streetball Skills Clinic. 2016 will feature the second annual Streetball Skills Clinic and a next-level Streetball Skills Academy. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids,” Stevenson explains. “The men’s events, women’s events, community events–it all connects back to investing in the next generation.”
“You don’t have to be the best at basketball for it to change your life. It is packed full of skills that these young men aren’t getting anywhere else,” Stevenson says. “I didn’t used to understand what my coach meant when he said basketball is life, but now that I am an adult, I do. It is where I learned discipline, hard work, education, community, and teamwork.”
Now in its 6th year, The Cage® has become a household name and sense of pride for Oklahomans. Beyond being a place of lovers of the game of basketball, The Cage is a place for families. As a father of two toddler’s, family values are extremely important to Stevenson, and his wife, Hilary, who run The Cage together. Outside of his work at The Cage, Stevenson works with troubled youth with behavioral and mental health challenges as a Behavioral Health Case Manager. “We care about kids as a whole person. Basketball gives us a way to reach them in something they love and impart the importance of life skills, mental and physical health, passion, and so much more.”
About The Founder
Avery Stevenson, Jr. has been passionate about the basketball scene in Oklahoma City for as long as he can remember. Stevenson grew up in Oklahoma City. Most of his early life was spent with a basketball in his hand.
“If we couldn’t go outside, he’d make a basketball out of a sock, a basket out of a wire hanger, shoestrings as the net, and make us all play,” Stevenson’s oldest sister, Tisha Rose, recalls. “My brother will tell anyone who will listen that basketball is more than a sport. Basketball is life.”
Growing up in the rougher areas of OKC, Stevenson used basketball as his outlet and his way out. “If I didn’t have basketball, I know I would either be in jail or dead.” Through his senior year at Western Heights, Stevenson was #3 in the state of Oklahoma in points per game and #2 in assists. “Despite how hard I was working, I didn’t have many scouts looking at me,” Stevenson laments. “I don’t want talented young athletes in Oklahoma to go through that.”
With a drive to be the first in his family to get a college degree, Stevenson set his sights on Redlands Community College, the reigning junior college national champions, in El Reno, OK. The basketball coach, Steve Eck, a Hall of Fame coach, approached Stevenson after an impressive performance in OKC’s Big All City All Star Game. He signed with Eck immediately. From Redlands, Stevenson went on to become leading scorer, team captain, and face of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO).
Stevenson’s dream of playing professional ball was within his grasp. Stevenson signed a contract to play in Romania, but due to family reasons, he was unable to go. He then drove to Beaumont, TX for an ABA camp. He and 4 friends slept in the car in order to have a chance to showcase their skills the next day. At the end of the camp, the coach sat the players down and told them that Stevenson was the single best player he had ever seen come to a camp in 25 years of coaching. Stevenson signed a contract, but was cut during training camp. When he asked the coach why, he was told him that it was the hardest cut he ever had to make, but he wanted to go with the guys he already knew. Stevenson was beginning to learn that much of life is not about how good you are or how hard you work, but rather who you know.
One month later, Stevenson was playing in China. He had tried out and earned a spot on a touring team. After playing in China for a few months, the tour ended , and he returned to OKC again.
Stevenson drove to the east coast for an overseas camp and was noticed by The Harlem Superstars, a comedy streetball touring team based out of Connecticut. He signed a contract and toured with the team for 3 years.