Former Desert Vista High School varsity boys basketball coach Antonio Darden is turning his youth basketball organization into one of the Valley’s largest.
In two years, his Legion of Hoops has attracted more than 80 boys and girls ages 7 to 17 from Ahwatukee, the East Valley and beyond.
“Our youth program has been pretty successful thus far in a short period of time,” he said. “We have won a state championship.”
He also said that club leagues West Coast Elite and Grassroots 365 consider the League of Hopes teams for 10-, 11- and 12-year-old kids among the best in the state.
On his legionofhoops.com website, Darden said the club aims “to provide a platform for the youth of Arizona to achieve excellence in the sport of basketball.
“Through intense training, exceptional coaching, competitive experiences, and educational mentoring, members are given the very best opportunity to maximize his/her potential and reach their basketball and educational goals,” it adds.
He said he chose the name for a reason.
“The definition of ‘legion’ is a vast host, multitude or number of people,” he said. “Our vision is to create a large, welcoming family environment where all kids are welcome to come and improve their skills.
Darden is a 1998 graduate of Randallstown (Maryland) High School, where he helped the school to four consecutive region championships, the 1995 State Championship and trips to the state semifinals in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
He averaged 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a senior, and averaged 11.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and was named Honorable Mention All Baltimore County as a junior.
At Costal Carolina, Darden was a 6-foot-5 small forward/shooting guard. He finished with 720 career points, 520 rebounds and 32 blocked shots.
He returned to Randallstown, near Baltimore, after his playing days in Germany and the ABA were over and helped the program to the first of back-to-back state championships as an assistant.
In Darden’s first season at Desert Vista, the Thunder went 26-5 and reached the state final, losing to Tempe Corona del Sol 57-32. In his second year at Desert Vista, the Thunder went 14-13 and lost to Chandler Hamilton 63-50 in the first round of the 24-team Division I state tournament.
Darden was named Arizona Coach of the Year after his first year with Desert Vista.
Darden promises parents that for the standard $75 monthly fee in his year-round program, their children will be involved “in wholesome, energetic activity based on teamwork, good sportsmanship, and fellowship,” will “have pride in achieving the best possible” and will “sharpen their individual understanding of the importance and necessity of teamwork, fair play, cooperation, dependability and unity – the core of success in all team efforts.”
In addition, he aims to “build self-confidence and poise in your child through personalized attention, encouragement, and interaction with teammates” and “provide thorough, personalized training in the skills of the game according to individual age and exposure.”
Many of his 10 teams have been traveling throughout the West to participate in a variety of tournaments. Many of them also are ranked within the top five club basketball ranks.
“Our primary goal is to develop well-rounded basketball players with a high basketball IQ, who can compete not only at the club level, but at the middle/high school level and beyond,” he said, noting 96 percent of his players have made their middle-school or high school teams.
Darden also will be conducting a summer basketball camp and Chandler-Gilbert Community College July where he also coaches the school’s team. The camp is 9 a.m.-3 p.m. July 10-13 and includes lunch.
“We have done this camp for several years and has always had a great turnout and been lots of fun for the kids in the surrounding community,” Darden said. “Further, it is likely one of the best skill development camps in the valley.”
All that’s required for the camp and the League of Hoops, he said, is “a love for basketball and a willingness to learn and play their role, whether that is a starring role or supporting cast.”