They practice at Queen Anne Park in Mid-City. They travel to events at various recreation centers throughout Los Angeles after being challenged by other teams. They are Mid-City’s Finest, a multi-ethnic basketball team composed of ten 9 and 10-year olds and one 11-year-old - Johnny Alvarado, Deshawn Dow, Paul Estes, Joshua Huezo, Khomani Jones, Paul Kim, Korion Steen, Erick Marquez, Diego Mullins, Michael Rodriguez and Harrison Ward.
Head Coach, Conrad Jones, 32, founded Mid-City’s Finest about a year ago after coaching the adult league at the Park and noticing a number of children playing basketball without a clear sense of some of the fundamentals of playing the game.
“I started the team after coaching some of the players in the younger division. After that I just started searching for all the best players at age 9 and 10 from the Park at Queen Anne,” Jones said. The team is open to both boys and girls. As long as Jones thinks a player has talent, he or she can join the team.
Once Jones, who played basketball growing up, found the best players in the Park, he created Mid-City’s Finest. (Until recently Jones had an assistant coach, William Hylton, who recently moved to Las Vegas.)
Mid-City's Finest is a traveling team and plays at different recreational centers, which like Queen Anne Park have teams composed of their best players.
When a team challenges Mid-City’s Finest to a game, Jones, the team and its supporters travel to such recreation centers as Saint Andrews at 8701 S. St Andrews Place and the Jesse Owens Community Regional Park at 9651 S. Western Ave.
After the players arrive at a challenge, Jones puts the team through various practice drills to warm them up for the pending game. After a buzzer sounds, alternating members of the team spend the next two hours or so running up and down the basketball court with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy. As they play, Jones shouts out encouraging instructions from the sidelines and at half times gathers the players to give them pep talks.
Players on both the court and sidelines encourage and support each other during games, as well. When a player makes a basket or misses a shot during a free throw, for example, teammates give each other low-fives for encouragement.
Also giving players support are team players’ families and other supporters who travel across the city just to watch the team play. “Wow, it’s an overall good team, good kids," said Ebony Williams, mother of player Khomani Jones. Williams is happy that her son is part of the team and praises the coaching efforts of coach Jones. She marvels at her son’s improvement. “Coach Jones is beyond amazing with patience. Khomani has improved so much in a year. He’s built up his confidence…. Every single kid is amazing. They adore coach Jones. All come in and greet him. No negative vibes, always embracing and learning. God bless him is all I can say.” To ensure players make it to practice as well as games, the coach even offers anyone a ride to games who doesn't have one, Williams said. "He even brings them Gatorade,” she said chuckling.
Parent Alejandra Marquez, mother of player Erick, also praises coach Jones,“I think he’s really a good coach.” Other coaches scream at players she added. "There’s no screaming, no yelling. Conrad is the best; everything Erick knows Conrad taught him.” Coach Jones praises the players’ parents in return. He credits their support at practices and games for helping the players thrive.
"Parents travel way to the other parks in packs. More come out to the parks than they actually do for practices and stuff. That’s most important that they’re willing to travel and support the team and the kids." Jones also hopes to support the team and other children by setting up a nonprofit foundation/organization. “It’s still in the beginning stages. I plan on getting it sponsored and basically have a program system where it’s more than sports.” It will focus on such things as academics. “A couple of students are really good academically, straight A students,” Jones said proudly. He would also like the nonprofit foundation/organization to focus on “lifestyle needs … health and fitness, various programs that will help [children] with life as they grow up."
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.