Rising Stars Youth Foundation kept its boys and girls on their toes from the time school ended until the bell rang once again this August. From summer camps to league championships with a few community service events in between, there was never a dull moment for the nonprofit. Paul Savramis reflects on summer 2019 in the following brief interview.
Q: What are some notable events that took place this summer?
Paul Savramis: We had many exciting opportunities for our boys and girls. The first thing that comes to mind is our lineup of summer camps. This year marked the 25th annual end-of-August basketball camp. This camp is sentimental because it marks a quarter-century of success for Rising Stars Youth Foundation. Although this camp is a staple, we also extended our outreach to Long Beach, where we held our first-ever basketball program.
In the years since founding the Rising Stars Youth Foundation, Paul Savramis has seen countless talented players come and go. The ones he remembers best are not the best on the court, it’s the ones that were special off it. These are special individuals, many of which Savramis trained and coached personally. Many of Rising Stars’ coaches and executive staff were individuals that began as team members as early as grade 3 and now are back to support Rising Stars. Some have children of their own on teams.
But all share a common bond and remember Rising Stars as being among the best times of their lives. Sometimes, basketball remains a part of their life, as is the case with Evan Conti.
Q: Who is Evan Conti?
Paul Savramis: Evan Conti is a perfect example of everything we strive to do at Rising Stars. He has been a part of the Rising Stars family since he was in third grade. He was a recipient of the Dan Gimpel Sr. Memorial scholarship and played for Dan Gimpel (Jr.) during his time as an athlete with Rising Stars.
Q: What makes Conti stand out?
Paul Savramis: Most recently, Evan made news when he was appointed as the head coach for the NYIT men’s basketball team. He is actually the youngest head basketball coach in the US. Evan came on as an assistant coach with NYIT for the 2018/19 season. When Kevin Hamilton left the team, Evan was assigned the role of assistant coach. At the end of the season, Dan Velez, the school’s athletic director, with the support of the entire team made the decision to keep Conti on permanently.
Q: What are some highlights of Conti’s basketball career?
Paul Savramis: Evan played ball for Holy Cross High School in Queens. During his time there, he scored 1120 points and is ranked fifth all-time in scoring.
The student athletes of the Rising Stars Youth Foundation program are in a unique position to experience many events and activities that will enrich their lives, says Paul Savramis. From visiting Kobe Bryant’s Wizenard Series Training Camp, cooking for Ronald McDonald House, meal packing events for Haiti and other community service opportunities, the children are exposed to many people and unique situations that have a positive influence on their lives. One of the most recent notable experiences the student athletes have gotten for 2019 was on April 2, when they were honored to meet and listen to the legendary Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Dick Barnett. The experience was made possible through the generosity of Signature Bank, a foundation sponsor and advocate of youth development through educational sports programs.
Q: Who is Dr. Dick Barnett?
Paul Savramis: Dr. Dick Barnett is a hall of fame athlete, educator, author, poet, and motivational speaker. He played for 15 seasons in the NBA and was named all-American three times during college at Tennessee State University. Dr. Barnett, who is nicknamed “Dick the Skull,” holds a PhD from Fordham University and is a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Although he retired from teaching at St. John’s University in New York in 2007, Dr. Barnett has remained active off the court and is often invited to speak to up-and-coming student athletes about the importance of being a well-rounded individual and the very real value of education.
In October, the Rising Stars Youth Foundation held its first outreach tournament to much fanfare and even more cheer. According to founder Paul Savramis, the competition brought together the trifecta that makes the Rising Stars Youth Foundation formula a success: Basketball, Family and Education.
Q: When did Rising Stars Youth Foundation launch its initial outreach program?
Paul Savramis: These grassroots initiative programs, as we call them, have been in place throughout the city for the past six years and actually placed on Long Island last year. These are programs offered as outreach teams through local YMCAs and community centers to at-risk and underserved children. This includes all team activities free of charge, tutoring, and family memberships to the YMCA. Many of the students are given access to these new programs at a young age. They come from low-income families where addictions and gang-related issues are common.
Q: Why is it so important to introduce children to team sports and the importance of education at an early age?
Paul Savramis: I think that children, more than anything, want and need to feel like they belong. They long to be part of a team and to contribute to their community in a positive way. They do not want to feel like they are alone. Using basketball as our vehicle, we are able to let children see, from an early age, how all that is possible and how they can solve personal problems, as a team by applying the same basic concepts found on the basketball court to issues at home or at school.
Rising Stars Youth Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes education through sports. The foundation encourages underserved youth to excel within specialized programs that cater to youth most at risk of failure in school. The foundation does so by providing academic support through numerous channels, including private educational scholarship programs and making athletic participation for various outreach programs possible.
Paul Savramis, the non-profit’s founder, says his dream to give children an equal opportunity for success has now become reality and a vision shared by many.
Rising Stars, Inc., as the organization was first known, has gone through many changes and evolved in many ways since its humble beginnings as an after-school program at Bayside High School in 1996.
On November 4, 2017 Paul Savramis and the boys and girls of Rising Stars were honored to participate in the re-launch of the famous Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. The sports complex, built in 1972, was closed for renovations in 2015 and re-opened in April 2017. After getting the building ready for a full season, Nassau held her grand unveiling with thousands of adoring basketball fans, dozens of aspiring professional players, and at least one very special guest.
According to Paul Savramis, none other than Dr. J, Julius Irving, was on hand to watch the Long Island Nets on opening day against the Ants, a longtime rival team hailing from Indiana. Irving, now age 67, was recruited by the Nets in the coliseum’s original opening year. The 6’ 6” basketball legend grew up on Long Island, graduating from Roosevelt High School a few years prior to his first season with the Nets.
Recently, the Rising Stars girls basketball team participated in “Get in the Zone,” an innovative program offered by the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!). This latest addition to Rising Stars community seminars and life enhancement program, according to founder Paul Savramis, teaches personal calming strategies, such as stretching and focused breathing.
Savramis is very pleased to see these programs continue to grow in popularity as the focus of Rising Stars continues to be self help and promoting life skills to its student athletes.
During the program, the students were taught the “straw breath” breathing technique, which has been used by a number of famous athletes. Lebron James has been known to use straw breath to improve his concentration on the court. This focused breathing exercise involves creating a small straw-sized hole in the lips from which to exhale breaths taken in through the nose. Paul Savramis reports that breathing out for 10 to 15 seconds three to five times helps put the mind at ease and allows it to focus on whatever task is at hand.