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Coaches Create Full-Time Business In Youth Basketball

The Oregonian

Basketball is a game, but two young Portland-area coaches are seeing if they can turn it into a full-time business as well.

Three years ago Dave Walker, 27, of Damascus and Ryan Menten, 30, of Hillsboro started a business running youth and off-season high school basketball leagues as a sidelight to their high school coaching jobs. Since then HoopSource Basketball has grown enough that both men last fall gave up their day jobs to make a go of running their business full-time.

"It's scary. We are going out on a limb," Walker says in the small office they rent in Tigard. "But we enjoy every minute of it and this is the time to try it."

The two met in 2006 when Menten was an assistant basketball coach at Beaverton High School and Walker an assistant at Aloha High. Menten also worked full time at U.S. Bank; Walker worked at Louisiana-Pacific as he finished bachelor's and master's degrees at Portland State University.

Although coaching at rival schools, the two talked often. Something clicked and after running camps and clinics in 2008 they talked more and more about starting an off-season basketball league for high school-age teams.

They tested the water in fall 2009. Twenty-two high school-age teams signed up for games in Clackamas and Beaverton. The following spring they added a youth league. Seventy-four teams signed up, including the first girls' teams.

By then Walker had moved into education, working as a substitute teacher and as an assistant coach at Central Catholic High School. Menten was a banker by day and a coach at night.

By 2011 HoopSource offered spring and fall leagues for boys and girls youth teams, a fall high school league, winter youth tournaments and camps. Both coach teams traveling to Amateur Athletic Union tournaments all over the West.

Their work paid off. This past fall they had 168 teams in their youth and high school leagues and expect more than 200 this spring. And that forced them to a decision -- keep their day jobs and shrink HoopSource or see if they could make a living coaching and running leagues.

"It came to a point that we were logging so many hours, it was really hectic, and we didn't want our day jobs to impact HoopSource," Menten said. "We decided to take it and see where it goes. It's what we love."

Basketball's changing landscape

Like volleyball, soccer, baseball and softball before it, youth basketball is no longer just a matter of the Saturday morning YMCA league. While recreational programs are plentiful, parents and kids seeking a more competitive atmosphere can almost play year around. And - for better or worse - there are coaches and leagues ready to accommodate them.

Ten years ago when there might have been three or four elite basketball teams from Oregon playing in AAU tournaments around the country, now there are dozens, most fueled by parents seeking college scholarships for their kids.

In the Portland-Vancouver area, Oregon Prep Basketball has offered youth leagues, tournaments and camps for 30 years. The Hoop, a private athletic facility in Beaverton, also offers leagues. Oregon Amateur Basketball organizes youth leagues up and down the Willamette Valley.

Most Portland-area high schools also organize players in their attendance areas into parent-coached teams, who seek out summer and fall leagues.

Walker and Menten, now also a varsity assistant at Central Catholic, saw a niche through their high school contacts, renting gyms, catering to those off-season high school and youth teams, and focusing on player and skill development.

"We felt there was a lack of basketball people running basketball leagues," Walker said. "We are basketball people and we are player development coaches."

That, says Nick Robertson, is the biggest difference.

Robertson spent 41 years as a high school coach, won state championships, helped start The Hoop, founded the Les Schwab Invitational Tournament, and is in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. He believes Menten's and Walker's involvement in high school coaching is critical.

"They're not just some AAU guy trying to make a buck," Robertson said. "They are a breath of fresh air because they're still coaching."

How it works

HoopSource organizes youth leagues in the fall and spring and tournaments over the winter for third- through eighth- grade teams. High school-age leagues are in the fall and spring. Walker and Menten also offer one- to three-day camps and clinics during winter breaks and the summer, or can help organize them for schools or basketball groups.

Teams pay $659 to enter a league and play 12 games over six Sundays. A winter youth tournament covers four weekends and costs $200 a team.

"On a given weekend no one has more teams playing than we do," Walker said.

One of the problems with youth leagues can be competitive mismatches, where some teams dominate and beat opponents by 20, 30 or 40 points once the schedule is set for the season. Walker and Menten try to eliminate that by going to a schedule that is adjusted each week to put teams in more competitive head-to-head games.

That's appreciated by Matt Taylor of Canby, who found HoopSource on the recommendation of a Clackamas High School coach and now has his sons' fifth- and seventh-grade teams in HoopSource's fall leagues.

"They see how teams are doing and try to match teams competitively," Taylor said. "They cater to everybody - even the smaller, less sophisticated teams - not just the elite. It's a well-run league and you know you are going to get competitive games at every level."

The Sunday schedule for fall and spring leagues results in fewer conflicts with youth football or baseball. Walker and Menten say they also try accommodate team scheduling requests and to limit cross-town travel.

"There's a lot more to juggle this way and it's hectic, but people appreciate it," Menten said.

After going full-time last fall, Walker and Menten also started scheduling referees themselves, which allows the two to communicate directly about any issues that arise during games. Their pool of 120 high school certified officials make $20 to $27 a game.

Walker and Menten also made a business decision not to charge admission to games, unlike their largest competitor, Oregon Prep. Parents appreciate that, said Fritz Page, who coordinates youth basketball in the Westview High School attendance area and had nine teams in HoopSource's fall league.

"Before it sometimes would cost $30 for a family to get into games to see their kid play," said Page. "This encourages more parents to attend."

Mike Petrino, the head basketball coach at Central Catholic until leaving last year to become an assistant women's coach at the University of Wyoming, observed and advised as Walker and Menten launched and built their business.

Petrino thinks the business is helping bridge a "big divide" between high school and club basketball because they have the respect of coaches in both camps.

"They have literally built this thing from the ground up," he said. "They are both passionate, high-character guys who try to put the kids first. Connecting with the high schools has given people a choice - and it seems to be working well."

Well enough that Menten and Walker can now make it their day job.


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