Playing Lively in Shively

Ciara Scott, Jamari Tillman, Ciaja Harbison, Shania Beason and Molly Lockhart. Photo by Randy Whetstone Jr | Contributing Photographer

Ciara Scott, Jamari Tillman, Ciaja Harbison, Shania Beason and Molly Lockhart. Photo by Randy Whetstone Jr | Contributing Photographer

It was in 2009 when the founder of Louisville Team Shively, Gary Wheeler, discovered he had a group of girls from Butler High School who could really play the game of basketball. Upon realizing what was in front of him, he called Adrian Tillman who would eventually become the head coach to give him the great news. Wheeler said to Tillman, “I really think they are eager to learn and ready for some instruction.” Six years later, Louisville Team Shively has emerged as a top notch AAU program for girls in grades 10 and 11.

“When I met the girls, I was all in and sold on it,” says Tillman. “Then more girls would come and the word was spread a little bit. Six years later, we now have girls who will be playing Division I basketball with more to come. It’s been a blessing to see these girls as sixth and eighth graders, and now to see them going into their junior year and the attention they are getting from colleges is real rewarding for me.”

Louisville Team Shively is made up of girls who attend Butler, Male, DuPont Manual, Ballard and Sacred Heart. Most of the girls have known each other since their elementary days and made the choice to walk together in their basketball endeavors.

Tillman says the sense of family these girls have is what has made the program so special in his years as coach. Junior guard from Butler Tasia Jefferies can attest to this. She says she loves the kinship between herself and the other girls, being so close that they finish each other’s sentences.

“We’ve been together since we were 9 years old. Some of us went to the same middle and high school, and we decided to go to the same school because of AAU. Just seeing where we started and seeing where we are now and how the progress came along is amazing. We started our own AAU team, got in the gym and got better and made opportunities for ourselves.”

The opportunities have certainly expanded for this program. In the beginning stages, LTS would compete primarily at Mid America and local church leagues. After dominating the competition, Tillman decided to take the girls on the road to give them a greater challenge and enhance their presence around the region.

“Gary and I sat down, and in the last five years, we haven’t played in the city of Louisville. We decided to travel. From there, the girls have played against better players and good competition, and before you know it, you start to get better. And that’s exactly what happened.”

LTS consists of girls who have grit about them, love to win and leave it all on the hardwood when competing. Tillman says there are three things the team lives by.

“Playing hard, playing together, and I told them eventually the third thing will start to come into fruition; the third thing is playing smart. So now, that’s our motto. These girls have fun. They are not sore losers, but they love winning.”

Jaylenn Penn, a junior from Butler has seen her game progress since playing for LTS and under Coach Tillman. This young lady who started playing the game at age 6 says her mental toughness has improved and she now knows the game better.

“We are tough, and in practice we know what to expect from each other and it’s been fun. We have a lot of success, and we have been playing with each other since fifth grade.”

06In return, Penn has received interest from UofL, UK, Notre Dame, LSU, Xavier and UConn.

Moving forward, Tillman says the program will look to add more teams as a way to build upon the success that has already been established.

“Word has gotten around, and I believe we will have a couple of Ms. Basketball candidates in 2017 and 2018. Word of mouth is the easiest way for things to spread. I want to expand it, and I want to have up to five or six teams. People hear the ball bouncing and they show up. When kids want to be there, they buy in, and it makes me want to be there. So that’s what we have right now. We have a lot of kids who want to be a part of what we’re doing, so I believe the future is bright.” VT