SPD CSO Unit Holds Inaugural Basketball Combine

May 2, 2024

The Seattle Police Department Community Service Officer (CSO) Unit’s Basketball Combine was nothing short of a slam dunk, as Seattle athletes aged 17 – 19 took to the courts to show off their skills in front of local basketball leaders, coaches, and recruiters.

The event took place 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, April 12, and was held at the Bitter Lake Community Center in north Seattle. The Combine welcomed 50 male and female student athletes from all over Seattle, who played in front of coaches/representatives from five local colleges, including Green River College Head Coach Godfrey Drake and others. The athletes completed a dynamic warmup, followed by basketball agility drills, and finally, a high-energy scrimmage to finish out the program.

A total of 15 volunteers stepped up to help ensure that the event ran smoothly.

This event was funded by the Seattle Police Foundation, thanks to a generous donation from former University of Washington superstar and NBA great Spencer Hawes, who serves on the SPF Board of Directors.

Thanks to Hawes’ generosity, participants received a custom CSO Combine jersey and an accompanying medal, plus enjoyed free pizza, cookies, and fruit. Volunteers from the U.S. Army and the Seattle Police Department helped run the drills, and Lt. Brandon James and Randy Wo-Eng refereed the scrimmage.

The Combine was a passion project for CSO Clyde Weems III, whose background as a professional basketball player combined with his experience coordinating events for youth on the east coast inspired him to launch a combine in Seattle. He teamed up with CSO Vicki Pinkham, and the two worked together to recruit coaches, mentors, volunteers, and most important of all, high school athletes from a variety of Seattle schools.

The Combine was free for student athletes, which was one of Weems’ top priorities. More than anything, Weems wanted the event to be accessible to all Seattle students, especially people of the global majority and adolescents whose families might face financial barriers.

The event’s mission was threefold: to bring barrier-free opportunity to Seattle youth, to help build and improve police-community relationships, and to highlight the importance of both professionalism and academics. Sports are a universal language, so the Combine was a great way to leverage that sense of community and inspire Seattle teens to reach for more.

It was about pouring into the Seattle youth, to help set them up for success in the future and encourage them dream to a little bigger, Weems explained.       

“It’s really important to expose them to different schools and different opportunities, to help them grow as individuals and push them outside their comfort zone,” Weems said.

Weems knows firsthand the opportunity born through events like the Combine. It was a similar event held in Richmond, California where he grew up, that paved his way to southern California’s University of La Verne, and eventually a career playing professional basketball.

At the time, Richmond was one of the most violent cities in the country, and still to this day carries the dubious distinction of having one of the highest crime rates in the United States. It wasn’t a place that nurtured its youth or inspired many dreams. During high school, Weems had one foot on the streets. School was a challenge for him, and a darker, more dangerous lifestyle beckoned.

He found solace in basketball, which became an outlet, and eventually an impetus for change.

Weems was on the court at an open gym one night in the mid 1990s, playing two on two with his best friend. It was getting close to closing time, and neither one of them were ready to call it a night. He spotted Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter down at the other end of the court and impulsively invited him to join their game. Weems was bold and brash, embodying a bit of that famous Muhammad Ali cockiness as he goaded the coach.

His persistence paid off, and Carter joined him on the court.

Weems ended up losing that game badly, as Carter dominated on the court, making shot after shot. And while Weems was chagrined by the loss, Carter made a point of stopping him after the game and letting him know that he had talent. He handed him one of his business cards and invited him to stop by his business any time he wanted to talk.

Weems took him up on that offer and showed up at Carter’s business – a sporting goods store – the very next afternoon. That day was the start of an extraordinary mentorship that would alter the course of Weems’s life and continues to guide him to this very day.

“He became my mentor that day,” Weems said. “I would stop in after school every single day and we would talk about school, business, basketball, life…. Everything.”

He mentored Weems on business and basketball, while teaching him the importance of education, and helping him become a better student. Weems’ Grade Point Average (GPA) soared from nearly failing at 1.2 to an above average 3.5. It was the encouragement and structure Weems needed to excel in both academics and athletics, and he never looked back.

He was recruited by the University of La Verne, a private college located about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. After college, he played professional basketball around the world, including places like Italy, Denmark, and Germany. He eventually settled in New York, where he worked with youth at a nonprofit called Children’s Aid, and his wife attended New York University.

If the name Ken Carter sounds familiar, it’s because he made headlines in 1999 when he locked the undefeated Richmond High School basketball team out of the gym when 15 out of the 45 players failed to meet academic and behavioral standards. The lockout cost the team two forfeits, destroying the possibility of an undefeated season. Coach Carter garnered national media coverage for the unconventional tactic, which was meant to reinforce the importance of education.

The story reverberated across the country and was made into a major motion picture. The movie, distributed by Paramount Pictures, came out in 2005 with Samuel L. Jackson starring as Ken Carter.

The incidents depicted in the film occurred after Weems graduated, and he was in college when the film was shot. But he would travel to Los Angeles frequently to visit the set, where he rubbed elbows with Samuel Jackson, Ashanti, and other actors in the film.

He remains in touch with Coach Carter to this very day.

For Weems, the combination of education and basketball was a ticket to a life he wasn’t sure was possible. This is what motivated him to launch the basketball combine in Seattle, so that Seattle youth could experience the same shift that he did growing up. We are grateful to CSO Weems for his hard work and look forward to supporting more athletic events in the future! We are endlessly grateful to SPF Board Member Spencer Hawes for making this event possible.