By Bob Kowalski
When Tony Hill helped launch the Future Stars Basketball League, he and his team of volunteers couldn’t have foreseen what the organization would grow into or the benefits it would offer to the children that it serves.
In 1993, Hill joined Rob Wright, then the Dallas Carter High School basketball coach, to start a program in which high school youths played basketball on Saturdays in Carter’s school gym, in organized games, with uniforms, scorekeepers, game officials and coaches – all volunteers.
That 12-team league reached an arc that eventually spread across the Metroplex, allowing it to serve more than 700 students in Mansfield, Arlington and Irving. Along the way, it has developed adult volunteers out of former players, a unique kinship among members and launched college and even NBA careers.
Hill, along with key assistants Benita Johnson and Sabina Phillips, helped the league flourish through word of mouth and with support from area school coaches after Wright left to coach at Texas A&M University. In the early 2000s the organization added girls teams and elementary school-age players. By 2012, the league had grown to more than 700 players and featured cheer teams and pep squads – all free for participants.
By 2016, Phillips assumed a leading role, managing the massive schedule while Monica Harris ran activity in the gyms, which included three sites at Lake Ridge High School. Among the local supporters are Michael Evans, Mansfield’s mayor and the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and local sponsors WR Roofing and El Primo’s Mexican Grill & Cantina.
As if that’s not enough support, former Future Stars player and current NBA star Tyrese Maxey appeared this summer to speak to the young players, who were wide-eyed and attentive to be addressed by the first-round draft pick, fresh off an appearance in the Adam Sandler movie, “Hustle.“
Hill, 66, was raised by his grandparents in the small Central Texas town of Jewett, and was introduced to basketball by his aunt, who took him to games where she served as a scorekeeper. That interest stayed with him into adulthood.
He was inspired by Coach Billy Evans, who became a legendary high school volleyball coach at what would become Leon High School and got Hill intrigued with Little Dribblers basketball.
“That was my dream, my goal, that one day God would allow me to have a Little Dribblers program for inner-city youth,” said Hill.
When he joined the Dallas ISD as a special education assistant, he put together a basketball team of 14- to 17-year-olds, naming it the Dallas Hoyas after his favorite college team, Georgetown.
“I just wanted to be a help to somebody,” said Hill.
That team, which featured Dallas legend Larry Johnson – later a star on the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ national championship team and a lengthy NBA career – played in tournaments around the country, and in showcases throughout Texas, including in Hill’s hometown.
“That was one of the greatest highlights of my life, in my hometown, to see Larry Johnson playing in Jewett, Texas,” Hill said.
The pandemic put a stop to the league, but couldn’t keep Hill and his crew off the courts for long. This summer, the league boasted 24 teams at Lake Ridge, 20 at Irving Nimitz and 20 at Arlington Sam Houston.
Mansfield, Texas, is a booming city, nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, but with a personality all its own. The city’s 76,247 citizens enjoy an award-winning school district, vibrant economy, historic downtown, prize-winning park system and community focus spread across 37 square miles. The Mansfield Record is dedicated to reporting city and school news, community happenings, police and fire news, business, food and restaurants, parks and recreation, library, historical archives and special events. The city’s only online newspaper launched in September 2020 and will offer introductory advertising rates for the first three months at three different rates.