Stephon October Smith (just call him “October”) grew up in New Orleans’ Westbank neighborhood, where he learned to love the game of basketball. Today he’s an all-sports coach here at The J, where he teaches kids ages 3-8 the ins and outs of basketball, soccer, T-ball, and flag football. He’s also in charge of the men’s pick-up basketball league.
October loves coaching kids. “For me it’s the impact and influence that I’m able to have on youth. If I’m able to influence a kid to love their sport enough to stick with it, that means I’ve successfully paid it forward because I was once in their shoes” (but maybe slightly larger footwear, since October was wearing size 16 by 6th grade — the same size he wears today).
“Because basketball is my trade, I can directly relate to a kid going through the process of trying to learn the game,” he explains. “My goal is to make kids first fall in love with the game. From there I’m able to teach them to become a good player and how to play the game while keeping it fun and competitive.”
October knows a few things about competition. Growing up in New Orleans, he spent summers going from park to park across the city playing against anyone and everyone. “It helped that I looked like a teenager at the age of 11,” he says. In 6th grade he dunked the ball for the first time during a game.
That summer October was traveling the country with his first amateur team. By 2005, he was 6’5” and one of the top middle school talents in the state.
And then Katrina hit.
The hurricane forced his family to join the quarter-million New Orleans residents who left the devastated city, and they relocated to Jackson, Mississippi. Despite the difficult situation, basketball “exploded” for October while it helped ease his transition to Jackson. He again rose to be one of his state’s top middle hoopers.
Eventually he moved to Dallas, where he competed in the state’s toughest district for high school basketball. “Man, was it tough,” he recalls. But his team played well, and after fielding aggressive offers from countless colleges he ended up at San Jose State. October finished his college career at the University of New Brunswick in Canada before spending four years playing professionally in Canada, Italy, and Sweden.
Picking up the pick-up games
While October loves coaching the kids, he also has a very soft spot for The J’s Wednesday night pick-up basketball games. “We’ve got a good group of guys that come consistently — all of whom are competitive and skilled,” he says. And the play is challenging since a number of them have collegiate-level experience. Always the coach, October encourages youngsters to join as well. “It helps their development to play with older guys.”
October has instituted a number of changes to improve the pick-up experience: games end at seven points, three-point shots are worth two points, and two-point shots are one.
“This keeps the defensive play high and helps manage game flow — because nobody wants to lose quickly,” he chuckles. To speed play he runs a 25-second shot clock, and he’s planning to bring in referees every other Wednesday to give the game a more official feel.
With his big presence, easy demeanor, ready smile, and expertise, October is having a ball while making a difference here at The J. “I’m really glad to have landed here, and I hope to be here for a long time,” he says.