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Meet Lamont Brush of Arizona Gremlins in East Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lamont Brush.

Lamont, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I relocated my family from Washington State to Arizona in July 2013. To get my kids integrated into their new environment, my wife enrolled them in a local recreational basketball league. I wanted to just be ‘dad’ and enjoy instead of coaching as I did back in Washington. However, a coaching shortage and some push from my wife got me back into coaching quickly. I coached low level recreation leagues for the first few months we lived in Arizona. After a lot of positive feedback, some parents approached me about creating our team and running them in higher leagues in the area. At the same time, I decided to apply for a varsity high school basketball assistant position to gain more experience. I felt if I was going to coach youth, I needed to better prepare the kids for what they would expect going into high school.

During the summer of 2014, I took my team of 4th and 5th graders and played in a more competitive league and lost every single game. It fueled everyone’s desire to get better and my passion for helping the kids improve. We decided the team needed a new name and identity. Various cliché names were thrown out. Finally, after one late practice, I tossed out an obscure 80s reference. A parent blurted out ‘Gremlins’, to which I latched on and declared it our team name for the coming season. It stuck. Over the next few months, people took notice of how I coached and how much the kids were improving. That next season we made it to the championship game and things were looking up.

That winter my second oldest son decided to give basketball a try. He joined the same recreational league I used to coach my oldest in. While watching one of his practices, I recognized a familiar face on the other end of the court. I approached the gentleman and we began talking about basketball and quickly realized we used to coach against each other when I had first moved to the area. This is how I got to know Paul Tapia, my future business partner. His son was on a new team, as Paul too decided to allow someone else to coach his son. I invited them to one of my competitive team practices, to which he accepted and did eventually attend.

Paul had his son join our team. Coach Tapia soon started helping me with practices. More interest poured in and soon we had three teams. A few months later we were up to five teams. Paul continued to assist with all of the teams and the kids were finding success in our model and style of coaching. With the spike in growth and consistent interest, my wife and coach Tapia convinced me it was time to incorporate and form an LLC.

A lot of planning and homework went into forming the Arizona Gremlins. The name was unique in the basketball world and was carried over as the business name once we filed as an LLC. Our ownership group was formed consisting of coach Tapia, myself, and our spouses Susie Tapia and Kristen Brush. We had help from close friends in outlining pricing, researching other area basketball clubs, and defining the guiding values we would be built on. I was nervous to present our pricing model and felt parents would not want to pay for this type of thing. I was running the teams prior out of my pocket, with parents paying their share of league fees. To my surprise, people not only bought in, but we exploded.

With the launch of the new website www.azgremlins.com and our social media presence, people were able to find us. However, we quickly realized the biggest draw was word of mouth and people seeing our product for themselves. The business was growing quickly, so we had to stay sharp with adding facilities and coaches.

All of our teams started in recreational and semi-competitive leagues. We responsibly expanded to more competitive tournaments and club leagues as time went on. Our teams and players were getting better and we were getting noticed. The competition fueled us to continue to push and expand even more. We started adding teams and running our top teams in out of state tournaments. Success was being built on success. Other clubs approached us about merging and coming under their brand. We decided it was best for our situation to continue to progress at our pace and stick with what was working.

Of course, growth is not all fun and games. In this business, you get to see some ugly sides to youth sports. Parent conflicts, unrealistic expectations, and becoming a target presents challenges. I am guilty of being a people pleaser. Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than making someone’s life easier or making someone happy. But giving everyone what they want is not always in the best interest of a business. Some tough lessons have been learned over the years. I’ve lost friends as a result of decisions that were made.

Despite our challenges, the Arizona Gremlins are still going strong. We’ve grown in numbers steadily since our inception in 2014. We continue to look for fresh ideas and ways to improve our offerings to make this a unique and enriching experience for youth basketball families. Recent developments have us looking at partnerships that could benefit our customer base in the long term. We continue to do our best to provide quality in a responsibly grown program for our youth athletes.

When all is said and done, we want to be able to look back with pride, knowing we kept our integrity through it all. We are helping kids develop not only on the basketball court but in life. The Arizona Gremlins model is centered around building character and teaching the importance of teamwork. Our measurement for success will not be defined in wins and losses, but by the life lessons, we’ve tried to instill in each player that comes into our program.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Early on I remember a club director telling me we were nothing and that we were at best a ‘bronze’ level organization. I left that conversation with my chest pumped out as I was happy to be on the podium. Once other clubs started souring on us I knew we had made an impact. It’s a competitive business in many ways. Our teams compete against other clubs weekly on the court. But we quickly learned that clubs are competing daily to lure players to their programs. We’ve been fortunate to stay out of that arena. I can only recall one time approaching a player on a rival club about our program. I do my best to stay out of recruiting simply because I feel the players should go where they feel at home. We have an open door policy for anyone wanting to check us out. It’s also important that kids learn to deal with adversity instead of run to another program hoping things will be different.

While some do say ‘quality over quantity’, we say why not have both? We’ve grown the Arizona Gremlins responsibly to where we provide high level opportunities but still hold onto our family-like values. Communication is key, and we believe there is strength in numbers. Our business model is simple, put the kids first in every decision and tackle all obstacles from that point of view.

We’ve tried to establish solid relationships with various club programs in our region in the hopes of softening some of the angst that exists. Building trust ultimately will benefit all of our programs and help the players get a better experience regardless of where they play. Many other programs are receptive and have positively opened relationship building. I’ve learned that the word ‘competitor’ does not mean ‘enemy’. We are lucky to have some very solid people running many of the basketball clubs in Arizona.

Please tell us about your organization.
The Arizona Gremlins is a youth sports organization focused on developing basketball players that want to improve on how to find success within a team. We serve athletes from pre-K through high school. We focus on character building as well as preparing youth athletes for higher levels of basketball. The culture we have established emphasizes respect and dignity over winning. The Arizona Gremlins take part in program-wide service projects to help show our players the positive impact they can have on their community and the importance of giving back. Great pride is taken in how we organize and communicate with our families and how we treat each and every player.

Communication is a key factor in everything we do. Our ownership group plans each week very carefully so we can be present and hands on as much as possible. The way we run the program and the organization methods we have in place help us stand out in a very competitive space. We’ve learned to get uncomfortable and not ‘stay in our lane’ over the years. Evolving what we offer and how we push our athletes year over year has proven to be a differentiating factor in our program.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We have been approached both locally and nationally about mergers and acquisitions. I never rule out that possibility if it means providing access to something affordable and better for our families and players. We are constantly engaging with other programs and training entities on how to make the youth basketball landscape in Arizona better. Right now the leadership team is looking at what premier travel events to target this coming year and what exposure events are available for our high school players looking to play at the next level. A dream would be to have a small training facility to call our own. In the meantime, we continue to seek out gym space and hire more coaches to accommodate the growing interest in the Arizona Gremlins. As long as we keep the youth players at the top of our priority list, everything will continue to fall into place.

Pricing:

  • Team Level: 3 Month Session – $375 ($125/month)
  • Club Level: 3 Month Session – $375 ($125/month) + Tournaments
  • Practice Only Level – $75/month

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sean Stevens Photography

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