Why a social network for basketball players bounced off the court to recruit STEM players, solar
IIn an industry where relationships can mean as much as talent, DeMarcus Weeks imagined a LinkedIn-type network to create exposure for athletes – especially historically black college and university basketball players, as well as other small schools.
In his words: giving the little guys a voice by providing them with a network to connect with coaches, trainers and opportunities internationally.
“We were just trying to use this platform to connect people so they could potentially live their dream of playing basketball,” said Weeks, a Memphis native, a Kansas City transplant and former professional basketball player.
UHoops has helped more than 100 players kick-start their basketball careers since its inception, he noted. But the platform and the idea behind it evolved as Weeks found an international audience for the sport – only to be blighted by a global pandemic that made travel off limits.
Its latest iteration adds youth STEM training and solar power to Weeks’ list of plans.
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The UHoops network grew rapidly, according to Weeks, eventually expanding to more than 200,000 users around the world, including China, Mexico and Australia. Its biggest base, however, came from Africa and the Philippines, he noted.
“It was a pretty unique thing that we had,” he said. “It was new. No one had really seen anything like it.”
But making money beyond online advertising was a challenge, prompting Weeks to create UHoops tours, where players could pay to attend international exhibitions. Eleven such tours have been coordinated in China, Mexico and the Philippines, he said.
“We’ve taken them overseas and given them pretty much the exposure they’re looking for,” he explained. “[The goal was] to try and get signed to an overseas team or an NBA team or whatever without the paperwork.
The company’s initial scope was limited to college players. But once Weeks had the opportunity to work with the Eric Berry Foundation, he was approached with the idea of doing youth camps.
“We just fell into it,” he said. “It was a success and then people liked it. Through the power of social media, people started seeing our stuff and we started getting invites from overseas.
Through the camps, young players not only learned basketball skills, but were also exposed to opportunities in STEM and other sports-related careers.
“A lot of kids still dream of being the next Steph Curry or LeBron James or even Kevin Durant, but, you know, it’s like 1%,” Weeks said. “But we can all be potential Stuart Scotts [the late ESPN broadcaster] or someone like that.
The camps have been particularly successful in the Philippines, where the UHoops team made seven trips between 2016 and 2019. The country is one of the biggest basketball markets in the world, Weeks said.
“I had no idea basketball was such a big part of their culture,” he said. “It’s like a way people socialize, a way people come together as families.”
Fresh off the bench idea
Weeks’ own family is rich in entrepreneurship, he said.
His grandfather owned farmland and a small casino in Iowa. The family members also own a trucking business and several real estate investments, he said.
But entrepreneurship wasn’t initially Weeks’ way.
He played a year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before turning pro. He was selected in the NBA Development League pre-draft camp.
“It was a life-changing experience because it was about getting into the industry and really learning,” Weeks said. “I was young, probably 23 at the time. I was naive about a lot of things. But I was excited to be in this space.
While still playing basketball, he took a trip to Los Angeles and was inspired to see a friend running a successful business.
“It kind of changed my life to see someone so young being able to be an entrepreneur and work for themselves doing these things at that time,” he explained. “I was just like, ‘Wow, you can really do that.'”
Weeks always assumed he would end up in the corporate world, but he soon realized he wanted to merge these two life-changing experiences – combining his passion for basketball and entrepreneurship.
A friend suggested he start a networking business. This idea finally hit the court as UHoops in 2013.
Watching the Filipino people embrace UHoops led Weeks to a broader approach, he said.
“How can we do more to help these people, but also give them a more stable opportunity outside of basketball?” Weeks asked, noting a desire to connect young people with needed support.
“That’s what I’m proud of when I go to these countries, is being able to create innovative ways for children to express themselves and things like that,” he continued. “Sometimes a lot of parents in these places just don’t have the resources or the education. And they can use companies like me to be able to bridge that gap for educational purposes. »
As with many businesses, the pandemic has forced UHoops to pivot. This put an end to travel, camps, touring and, according to Weeks, opportunities with Manny Pacquiao’s team in the Philippines and Microsoft for STEM programs.
But that didn’t stop him, he says.
During the pandemic, he worked to launch the nonprofit UHoops, which will target young people with a focus on STEM programs and solar opportunities. Solar energy happens to be another of his entrepreneurial ventures.
“We’re really excited about it,” he added.
One of its first projects – scheduled for fall 2023 – will be to build a solar-powered basketball court with potable water in the Bahamas.
“So one of the things that a lot of kids in these remote places lack is light,” Weeks said. “With the solar panels and things like that, it will produce light so that the children can have a place where they can go and play, a haven and still be able to socialize.”
He also hopes to pursue such a project in the Philippines at some point, he said, also emphasizing a desire to become more involved with the Kansas City community.
“Kansas City is my home,” he added. “I love Kansas City like mine.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped helping small school basketball players. A new UHoops league and website are also in the works.
The league is expected to feature eight teams with 64-100 total players in a week-long tournament to win prize money and an opportunity to practice with an NBA G-League (formerly the developmental league) affiliated with UHoops.
Click on here to follow UHoops League on Instagram.
“We are working on the details of this league,” Weeks said. “Players would have the opportunity to play against other great Bahamian talent and have a similar experience overseas.”
He hopes the league will kick off in 2023, on what will be UHoops’ 10th anniversary.
“In the eight years of construction, UHoops has kind of transformed from a local basketball company to an international company, all within a few years,” he said. “The mission has always been to give people a platform and a voice, but also to give them hope – using sport as a way to navigate life.”
This story is possible thanks to the support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundationa private, nonpartisan foundation that works with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create unusual solutions and empower people to shape their future and succeed.