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NBA Star Cole Anthony And Crystal McCrary McGuire Come Together To Launch Youth Sports App, ‘Game Up’

PHOTO: PATRICK MCMULLAN/PATRICK MCMULLAN VIA GETTY
Together, NBA star Cole Anthony and his mother, New York Times bestselling author Crystal McCrary McGuire are launching an app called GameUp, designed to make youth sports navigation an easier process for players and their families.
By connecting parents with teams, trainers, and developmental programs tailored to their child’s needs, this app is truly a game changer for the current athletes, as well as children of the next generation who aspire to be. Between Anthony’s journey in sports, in addition to McGuire’s experience raising three basketball players, this mother-son duo’s prowess make for the perfect team to create an app of this magnitude.
Outside of the difficulty of playing the game, it’s also a task finding the right team – and coach – for several of today’s players. Although that can be a tough decision for many parents, this app will also be able to assist with that aspect as well. “Many times parents don’t want to just put their kid on the most elite team possible,” Anthony explains. “You want to put your kid on the team where they’re going to play, where they’re going to have fun, where they’re going to make friends, because a lot of the time that’s what’s going to ultimately help them get better.”
While GameUp is available to all, there is focus on getting underprivileged youth an opportunity to excel in sports as well. The lack of access or resources to things such as this app is something that has existed historically across the country – especially within communities of color. For Cole and Crystal, GameUp is a movement that everyone can, and should, become involved with.
“The app is for the full spectrum of family,” McGuire says. “So while we do have an emphasis on eliminating financial barriers for families who won’t or can’t afford these programs, it’s for every family. There are going to be families that can afford these programs. So it’s all families that are really trying to navigate the youth basketball landscape.”
In celebration of the app’s official launch on September 10, Cole and Crystal spoke to ESSENCE about GameUp, its development and impact, their family/business partnership, and more.
ESSENCE: What is it like doing a business venture with your mother, and does it sometimes get difficult separating the family from the business?
Cole Anthony: That’s a really good question. I personally don’t think so. I have a lot of trust and a lot of love for my mother. So even if she may come to me with something that might be a problem with someone else, I don’t take it personally. It’s my best friend. It’s my best friend, and it’s been a pleasure so far. She’s obviously a very, very highly intelligent woman, so it’s been a breeze so far.
Why should people experience GameUp?
I think it’s more prevalent than ever how hard it is for parents, especially parents who haven’t done it before, to navigate just through the whole youth basketball scene. Now more than ever there’s just more basketball teams for kids at every single level. So I feel like this is something to make this easier to put them on one service, and help navigate them through the process, speed up the process, help them throughout the process.
My mom has been through it a few times – she’s dealing with it again right now. I have a younger brother who’s 10. Even still – it’s not something she’s perfect at, but she knows a lot of the right people. It’s something that I think is very necessary especially, and I think this is the probably most necessary place for it to be in New York.
Why are you taking on this endeavor so early in your career, as pertaining to just focusing on basketball since you’re still a young player?
Let’s not get it twisted, I’m still very focused on my basketball. This is an idea that my mom came to me and my partner with, and it’s something that I felt was a great idea. Also, I have just a soft spot for kids. I’ve got four younger siblings, three of them being 11 and under, and two of them actually happened to be on the youth basketball scene. So I know how difficult it is for a lot of parents out there, and how difficult it is to have these kids in the right program. I have my foundation, my 50 Ways Foundation. I’m like, “this is something I feel like would be great for us to partner up with.”
With this app, I see that there’s a heavy focus on fundamentals, which I think is amazing, especially nowadays. Cole, for you, what do you think is missing in the development of youth basketball players today?
Oh, man. I think you obviously, most kids, if not all who play youth basketball, they watch us. They watch the NBA, and you kind of see all these dudes doing all this sexy stuff. You got dudes like James Harden, they love to do the little James Harden step-back. They love to dribble like Kyrie, all that stuff, but I don’t think a lot of them realize and they don’t see a lot of the hard work that these dudes, us, we put in behind the scenes. And that all started with the fundamentals. There is none of that “extraterrestrial” stuff some of these dudes are doing without mastering the basics and the fundamentals first. So ,I think that’s a key with this, just because it’s got to be done. Especially if they really want to be great, like they say they want to be great.
Crystal, this question is the same that I had for Cole. Have you run into any difficulty in the development of this app, being as though he’s your son and not just a business partner?
Crystal McCrary: I have to say, having done a few different projects from different perspectives where Cole has been sort of indirectly partnered, from the first documentary on basketball that I did, Little Ballers, which was the subject of his team trying to win an AAU National Championship. So that was sort of not necessarily a business partnership, but that was our first opportunity of working on a project which aired on Nickelodeon.
Flash forward 10+ years, as he’s gone through a whole host of youth basketball programs, AAU programs, high school programs, college and now in the NBA, I will say this – Cole going into his fourth season in the NBA, it is such a pleasure to work with him not only as my son, but somebody who is a conscientious, smart, business-minded person who’s really matured. So I feel like we’re in a real sunny period of our relationship, because he really has had time to reflect on his journey through the youth basketball system.
One thing in the development of this app where Cole has been crucial in giving me information, is really feeding me info on, even though I was there as his mother going through it with him, but feeding me info on every stage of his youth basketball development. He essentially played for every type of team, every type of program. From the most beginner level team where some of those kids hadn’t even picked up a ball at the age of five or six, up through intermediate, advanced, elite, elite elite. So, the whole sort of attrition that occurs, he has walked me through that. And so his journey has served as a data point, and represents sort of a microcosm of many of these questions that I as a parent have received over the last 10+ years, which gave rise to even us having this idea of creating an app.
Parents would come to me for, as I said the last decade, asking me, what program should I put my kid in? Do you have a recommendation for a team that my kid should be on? Well, what level? Will he get playing time? Will she get playing time? Well, how’s the coach? How’s the system? And so I had been doing this for free for over a decade, and oftentimes popping off ideas with Cole as well as my other two children. I mean my daughter is 21, she’s a rising junior at Harvard. She played basketball throughout high school, won a state championship. And then I have a 10-year old who plays basketball for the Riverside Hawks, which is a storied AAU program that Donovan Mitchell played for among, Meta World Peace played for them as well.
And so we as a family and me as a parent have really seen every level of team, every type of program, every type of coach, every type of trainer, and really wanted to bring it all together to be a resource for parents and kids. Because kids get to a certain age, nowadays they’re so tech-savvy, they’re 9, 10 years old going on, “Let me try to find a team for myself.” And that is really what GameUp aims to be. It aims to be one stop shopping for parents, kids looking for the team, the right program for their kid.
In terms of the creation of the app, what was the process like when you were actually developing the app and connecting with its developers?
We just started doing research. And as I mentioned, my daughter Ella, she’s up at Harvard, but she has a lot of friends at MIT, and a lot of friends that are co-developers and computer science engineers. So, I just put the word out and started interviewing young bright talents out there to see who could get this concept, and also were capable. I ended up interviewing this guy by the name of Kenton Blacutt, who actually had come to us before to help support a couple other apps he had developed unrelated to the sports-tech space, but he has a lot of younger siblings that play sports as well. He really just got the concept, and we hired him, and he started developing this app with us, with our mission.
One of my young coders I have on this actually is a classmate of my daughters at Harvard, who’s this young, African-American woman genius computer scientist. Then we found this amazing woman graphics UX/UI designer who created the look of GameUp and the user experience, and we just started building from there. And then Kenton, who is the chief app designer, came up with an AI component to it. We have our little chat-bot Terry, who will help give users the experience that you can get by coming in and just typing a kid’s age, gender, and zip code. We also have the chat GPT that you can put in information and you will have that experience with Terry to give you the same info.
So, this is actually the last question, and for me it was actually one of the most important facets of this app that I saw. That you guys are providing safe options for youth in high violence and underprivileged areas. What methods are you two taking to spread that information to get it to areas that may not be as tech-savvy or may not have that access?
Well, that is a great question, and Cole and I think both can contribute to this, but I’ll tell you, thank you for asking that. You know many of these communities don’t always have wifi, many of these communities, one household maybe has an iPad. But most of these households do have iPhones, which you’ll be able to access through that.
But back to the launch event, it’s going to be held in Harlem, New York City, and it’s a free community event where parents and children are invited to come. We’re having a youth basketball fair, where several of the teams that are represented or included on the GameUp app are going to be there sharing with parents information about the teams.
And we’re hitting the community in the heart of an area where kids and parents would like to be able to participate in these extracurricular activities, whether it’s a local team, travel team, AAU team, or just a developmental team. But many of these teams and programs, they’re expensive, right?
Yes.
So, we’re also raising money that’s going to Cole’s 50 Ways Foundation for the parents who do end up signing up their kids for these programs, whether it’s a developmental program or whether their kid ultimately has to try out and makes the team, where we’re going to eliminate for as many families as we can, the financial barrier to joining these programs, to joining these teams.
The reality of the situation is nowadays, whether it’s a local team, whether it’s a so-called elite team, whatever you want to call it, they’re all expensive. They’re all going to cost some money. And we understand that we have a lot of parents who they would love, they’d love to provide this stuff for their kids, but the reality of the situation is, it’s expensive. And so we just kind of want to bridge that financial gap, and do what we can to try to ease the process for as many parents as we can on that side, and so that’s where my foundation, the 50 Ways Foundation comes in. And so we’re going to try to do our part on that front, and just help as many kids and parents as we can.

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