- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

RICHMOND | On a July night in South Richmond, he is standing beside a wall near the entrance to the George Wythe High gym, waiting for a summer league basketball game to start. The gym fills quickly, and nearly everyone who enters, it seems, has a word, a smile and an embrace for the man they call “T-Squire.”

Twenty years have passed since Tony Squire founded one of the first Amateur Athletic Union basketball programs in the Richmond area. He’s been a positive influence in the lives of hundreds of young men and is on a first-name basis with Division I college coaches across the country.

Back then, however, the local basketball establishment bristled at Mr. Squire. He’d never been a head coach, never even played varsity ball at Huguenot High. And yet there he was, an unknown trying to lure players from Richmond Metro, then the area’s premier AAU organization, to his new program.

Richmond Metro’s leaders in 1988 included George Lancaster, who’d been varsity coach at Huguenot High when Mr. Squire played JV there. Mr. Lancaster encouraged Mr. Squire, but others weren’t so supportive.

“There are people who resent competition, there are people who resent youth, there are people who resent a sort of outspoken brashness, and Tony was all of those things and more,” says Mr. Lancaster, who’s won two state Group AAA titles as coach at Highland Springs High.

Mr. Squire, 45, says he understands now why many reacted negatively to him in the late ‘80s.

“They probably looked at me like, ‘Who’s this guy?”’

The guy is, among other things, a survivor. Other area AAU programs have come and gone, but the Richmond Squires endure.

“Twenty years: That’s a long time in this business,” Boo Williams says.

Mr. Williams speaks from experience. He’s considered one of “the founding fathers” of AAU basketball, as Scout.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep puts it, and he runs perhaps the nation’s most prominent program. Its alumni include Allen Iverson, J.J. Redick and Alonzo Mourning, and its success has led to lucrative sponsorship from Nike and helped Mr. Williams build the $13.5 million sportsplex in Hampton that bears his name.

His longtime friend Mr. Squire resides in a more modest AAU neighborhood. In the early ‘90s, such luminaries as Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett made guest appearances for the Richmond Squires, and Mr. Squire still keeps in touch with both players. But his program, unlike that of Mr. Williams, doesn’t churn out players who go directly from high school to the ACC or the Big East, and finances are a constant struggle.

Mr. Squire’s players each must pay a $300 annual entry fee, and to raise money for their trips to tournaments, they wash cars and sell raffle tickets and restaurant gift cards. In better economic times, Adidas supplied the Squires with shoes, uniforms and other gear. Reebok, with which Mr. Squire’s program is now affiliated, provides less merchandise.

“As the last decade has gone on,” Mr. Telep says, “Tony’s had to grind it out. … Not everybody can be Boo Williams, so you’ve got to find your niche.”

But Mr. Squire’s players don’t always come from two-parent homes in middle-class areas, and they don’t always have solid academic foundations. Mr. Squire regularly takes players to the federal prison in Petersburg, where inmates warn them about the dangers of the streets, and he uses his extensive contacts to help find scholarships for his players.

“Tony’s helped the community, and he’s helped kids through some situations,” Mr. Williams says. “Everybody’s got a niche. He’s done a good job helping kids that wouldn’t normally be helped.”

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