Tucson Spartans: A Basketball Program for Local Kids

Drake Frederic

Coming from St Louis — known for producing NBA stars such as Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Larry Hughes and many others — I was curious what the basketball scene was like in Tucson, having just finished my own “basketball career” with The St Louis Magic Basketball Program under Coach Peewee Leonard. I reached out to Marvin Beckwith, who is the director and coach of an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program called Tucson Spartans. Coach Beckwith invited me to a practice so I could get a better sense of what the program looks like with players on the actual court.

While at the practice I got to meet some of the players and ask them questions about the program and I really got to see what they were all about and the connections the players had not only with each other but with the coaches as well. As soon as I walked into the gym, I could see everyone greeting each other as soon as they walked in, but not only the players but other players parents as well. Coaches would ask players how their families were and how classes were going as well. Everyone in that gym knew what was going on in each other lives outside of basketball, and not only the 8th grade team but the whole program 6th-12th. It’s a really unique thing for a basketball program to interact with their players outside of the gym.

I arrived at the Steve Daru Boys and Girls club one spring afternoon about 10 minutes before practice. At first I thought I was at the wrong place because, from my car, the building looked closed. Getting out and walking across the parking lot I noticed how quiet everything was. But then, as I approached the entrance. I saw through the dark door a little child playing with a basketball and knew I was in the right place.

As I was directed to the gym by the friendly lady who was working at the front desk. Slowly, with each step I took, the sounds of basketball emerged — the familar squeaking of players’ sneakers against a gym floor and, of course, the ongoing thud of basketballs being dribbled on the court. When I walked into the gym some of the players’ heads snapped toward me — a stranger! — but they quickly snapped back to their upcoming practice session. All of the players had the same reversible jerseys. Some of their parents were in the stands watching their kid practice. 

They started off with defensive slides full court. I was surprised how many of these young players’ faces were enjoying this challenging drill. I don’t think their smiles were because of the drill. I had the impression that they just liked being able to practice with their friends. Everyone was just so happy in the gym — even the coaches. I remember when I was their age and my coach would make us do defensive slides, most players at this age would be in a mad mood for having to do fundamental drills. But that wasn’t the case with these kids, they were just happy to be all together.  

At one point, the coaches huddled to carry on some business among themselves, taking their attention away from the kids on the court. Once some of the players noticed they weren’t being observed, they slowed up. Well, that didn’t last long! A few of their teammates took over, prodding those who began to slack to pick it back up. And they did!  I was impressed to see how these kids held each other accountable.

After they got through the fundamental drills the team had a scrimmage. Personally for me, this was my favorite part of practice when growing up. I loved anything that was a competition and I could tell these kids felt the same.

What Makes the Spartans Program Special?

One thing that really struck me is that the coaches tend to see their kids not in terms of being on a team, but as being part of a big family. Some of them come from single parent homes and look to their coaches for insight and advice. While this program is a family to their players they also help the community around them. Every holiday season they have an “adopt a Family,” which would provide a family in need with clothes, shoes, or anything essential. 

The Spartans don’t do this for show. “We don’t like to take pictures or videotape it because that’s not what it is about for us.” Coach Beckwith told me. I was glad to hear that since these days too many organizations seem eager to post their charity work online for everyone to see. This is just another example of how this program is teaching their kids to do good things for others in their communities without expecting anything in return. 

What They Do Outside Of Basketball

Coach Beckwith started the small program at the time in 2008 not knowing what it would turn into. He actually got pulled into coaching by happenstance at a young age of sixteen. At the time, he was working for the Tucson’s KidCo Program this program would provide a safe place for children to be after school.

While working there one day an AAU needed someone to fill an emergency coach position, so he filled in for that game and ended up falling in love with coaching. He also knew that he wanted his program to be bigger than just basketball but to help the kids lives outside of the gym. Besides the program being like a family for its players, it also plans events outside of basketball for them to enjoy together. The program rents out a movie theater multiple times a year and takes the boys to enjoy a movie all together. The program also has a yearly picnic with the whole organization, where they cook and play games. The coaches pay for the meets and each team is responsible for bringing the buns or drinks or other sides. Both players and coaches play games like football, kickball, soccer or bring inflatables for the kids to enjoy also. This really brings the chemistry of not only one team’s bond closer but the whole organization. 

During the end of the AAU season in June, the older teams that play in the Coca-Cola national tournament in Anaheim, California will head up to two days early. One day for the kids to go to the beach and have fun. The second for the team to go  Disneyland and hang out all day. Then the next day they get ready for the tournament. 

The Real Success of this AAU Program

While the program is still young and has only 14 years under its belt. It has put roughly 100-150 players in college basketball. While the original three players that Coach Beckwith started the program with, all three have played professional basketball. One player of the original three still plays. His name is Bryce Cotton and he currently still plays for the Perth Wildcats in the National Basketball league in Australian. While there is only one left of the original three that is still playing, Coach Beckwith says this is what drives him to keep going year after year. While Coach Beckwith has put a lot of players into college play this isn’t his only goal for them. Basketball isn’t forever even for players such as Lebron James. Eventually everyone will have to hang up the sneakers and shirts and move off the court. He wants the kids to be successful in all areas of their life and not just basketball. The future of this program looks bright, but so does that of the many kids who go through it. 


Drake Frederic is from St Louis, Missouri. He is studying pre-Business at UArizona.