In the highlight reels, the Gators teams of the early 1990s revolved around Dan Cross, the starting point guard on Florida’s first Final Four squad.
Today, Cross leads another team of young men: Game Speed.
This team is fighting for respect.
“Every kid within our program is at risk,” Cross said. “So, I use basketball as a tool, sports as a tool to teach kids discipline to teach kids how to listen, how to understand. Teach kids the importance of education.”
After college, Cross went undrafted and played basketball in U.S. minor leagues and in Europe. He later founded the Athlete Connections Foundation, a business which helps athletes find jobs. But, his passion for kids is reflected in his foundation.
Athlete Connections Foundation is a nonprofit organization that is designed to utilize sports to teach youth about life skills.
“We just want to provide as many life skills and opportunities as possible, resources as possible, so when that day comes — because it will come — adversity will set in,” Cross said. “The end of your career will set in. The popcorn will stop popping, the lights will dim, fans will stop cheering.”
Four days a week, young men are on the court. It’s a chance for them to get away and get some exercise. But it’s also a reward for all their hard work in school.
At the Orlando recreational center, the game plan is to prepare for life after the last whistle blows.
The foundation even offers scholarships to help put some kids into private school because their public school or environment is lacking.
“This now becomes a safe haven for kids who are dealing with different problems at home,” Cross said. “So, if we have them for two or three hours and provide structure outside of the classroom and help them to understand that in order to play here, you have to do well in the classroom. That’s how you go to college.”
Cross believes the same qualities and skills that build leaders on the court can make people successful businessmen off the court, too. They just need the chance.
“We all have two hours to put all of our problems away,” he said. “This is our Disney World. For the kids that can’t afford Disney World, this becomes the next joy ride.”
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