Willie Kemp wanted to keep playing basketball.
After all, it had been the predominant focus of his life. Sure, the former Memphis Tigers star was nearing his mid-30s and had spent the past decade playing professionally – mostly overseas. But he still felt good. Like there was still plenty of gas in the tank.
Then came the accident. Driving in Memphis on a busy Monday in July 2020, Kemp could not avoid the vehicle that was stalled in his lane. The car he was traveling behind narrowly did. But, by then, Kemp did not have time to react. The wreck left him in a hospital bed with a broken hip for more than a week. Doctors told him he could continue playing basketball, however they advised against it, citing the potential long-term implications.
Acceptance wasn’t easy. Kemp didn’t exactly have a post-playing career plan. But that’s when it dawned on him that his path forward was one that would combine coaching the game he loves while also preparing young athletes for opportunities later in life.
The result: Beyond The Game 901.
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“We want to show kids they can do anything,” said Kemp. “But one day that ball is gonna stop bouncing. And we want to make sure they have something – at least a plan – to fall back on when it does.”
Earlier this month, Beyond The Game 901 officially launched. Kemp (officially a co-founder, alongside his fiancée, Misee Harris) employs fellow former Tigers Jeremy Hunt and Andre Allen, as well as former Wooddale and East Tennessee State standout Tayloe Taylor. Five days a week, the group gathers at the Early Grove Baptist Church gym on Lester Street where, sunup to sundown, girls and boys from 6 to 18 years old hone their basketball skills.
Harris, a Jonesboro, Arkansas-based pediatric dentist who shares Kemp’s entrepreneurial spirit, handles marketing and outreach for the non-profit. She has experience in real estate, construction and entertainment and said she’s never seen a turnout for a startup like Beyond The Game 901 did in its first week.
“It hasn’t been sprinkling in. We’ve been booked solid and it’s been beautiful to see,” she said, noting the company’s official website crashed twice in the first week.
The reception has been such so early that Kemp and Harris are already setting the next phase of their overall vision into motion.
“We’re in the process of looking for a location to build our own gym,” Harris said.
For Kemp, who spent the 2021-22 season as a graduate assistant under Memphis coach Penny Hardaway and the season before that as a volunteer assistant at Collierville, Beyond The Game 901 is an all-inclusive, year-round effort that eventually won’t be limited to a single sport. Kemp said the goal is to add football next.
Kemp and Harris also hope to eventually field an AAU program and one day establish Beyond The Game chapters in other cities.
But, Kemp adds, the most important thing is to never lose sight of the mission.
“The main part of this is just spending time with the kids, on and off the court,” he said. “For example, we’re gonna take all the kids that come here consistently to Six Flags. We have speakers come in and talk to the kids. We take them out to eat. We took them out to go bowling.
“It’s just making sure everybody is doing well in school. Making sure everything’s going well at home. Making sure they’re listening to their mothers and fathers. We’re really giving this our all. I can’t say the sky is the limit when it’s footprints on the moon. We’re trying to go far.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.