Celtics’ Coach and Players Teach Skills—and Life Lessons—to Area Youth.

John LeGrande and Carlow Tim KeeferJohn LeGrande was on lunch duty during the sixth annual P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Camp in the Oliver Citywide Gymnasium on Pittsburgh’s North Side when a lanky teenager plopped down across the table from him.

“So, what did I talk to you guys about yesterday?” asked LeGrande, a 6-foot-11 forward on the Carlow men’s basketball team. It’s no wonder he’s known around campus as Big John.

“Discipline” the camper said.

“Exactly,” LeGrande said. “Discipline. Obeying authority. Staying true to your brand—whatever you say you are, that’s what you have to own up to. Keeping your word. Going to college. What college are you going to go to?”

“I want to go to college and play basketball,” the camper said, “at LSU.”

“Thinking big,” LeGrande said, with a grin. “I like it.”

That’s exactly what the camp encourages young athletes to do.

P.R.O.M.I.S.E stands for Protecting and Restoring the Order of Mankind with the Initiative of Serving Elders. And the camp teaches more than basketball skills. These boys and girls, ages 8-18, are learning about life.

The sixth annual P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Camp is run by Jakim Donaldson, who plays professional basketball in Europe, in memory of his brother, Jehru Donaldson, who was the victim of gun violence in 2007 when he was just 18 years old.

“Jakim hosts this camp to stand up to gang violence,” LeGrande said. “I’m here because I support everything that he does—giving back to the community and the kids. He is definitely a good guy to look up to.”

Donaldson paid for all the food and start-up costs of the first camp so that children could attend for free. Today, he accepts donations from individuals and businesses. The staff is made up of volunteers who work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each summer for three days straight.

Carlow men’s basketball coach Tim Keefer has been volunteering since the camp’s inception, and he encourages Celtics players to join him. LeGrande was a natural fit.

The Celtics’ Big John attended Oliver as a freshman and sophomore before graduating from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School.

“I’m a North Side kid,” LeGrande said. “I’ve been where they are, and I’m past where they are.”

Campers are divided into groups and rotated through stations that include dribbling drills, shooting drills, defensive drills, and speed and strength workouts.

Each day, a different speaker addresses topics such as goal-setting, discipline, and the importance of attending college.

This year, one of those speakers was LeGrande. He says the camp’s mission reflects what he is learning as a team player at Carlow.

“The team motto is ‘All in,’” he said. “That means you do everything you can to stay true to who you are.

“Carlow Athletics is a Champions of Character program, and that’s all about community. If I can give back to a kid and help him learn that message and not fall into some of the traps that I fell into, I want to do that.”


By Kristin Seamon