by Troy Sparks
When the ball stops bouncing for some diehard basketball players after college, they don’t think about a Plan B.
That wasn’t the case with Devon Irven. Being a member of the Milwaukee King basketball team while tackling the demands in the classroom at one of the city’s best academic high schools prepared him for that backup plan he needed if basketball didn’t work out.
“I’m thankful that I went to King to learn that because it helped me through the rest of my life with basketball and career and everything,” Irven said.
Even though Irven didn’t play much at King, he learned that team success was a result of individuals working together to achieve a common goal.
It was evident from the team practices when the body didn’t always feel like cooperating around 6 in the morning to step on the court and perform at 100%.
Sometimes, Devon would pick up a teammate and drive him to practice, hoping they would make it in time to avoid the wrath of head coach Jim Gosz for being late. The Generals brought their hard hats (and still do) to work every day during the season to prepare for the biggest stage that the WIAA has to offer: The state tournament.
Irven was part of the 2004 King team that won the second of their back-to-back titles in Madison and the last City Conference team to win the Division 1 championship. The Generals were 49-3 in those two years, which included marks of 26-0 in 2003 and 23-3 the next year. They were treated like rock stars. “It was great,” Irven said.
“You just knew that you were part of something great. You had kids coming up and asking for autographs. There were lots of (King) fans there and great competition.”
Any other high school would’ve been fine for Irven, but having Troy Cotton (UW-Green Bay), Matt Goodwin (UW-Whitewater), Dupree Fletcher (Whitewater) and Mitchell Carter (UW-Milwaukee) on his team proved how deep those King teams were and could’ve been one of the reasons he didn’t see a lot of action on a regular basis.
After high school, Irven played two years at Shawnee Community College, near Carbondale, IL, earning an Associate of Arts Degree, before playing his final two years at UW-Parkside and receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree there in 2010. He participated in some pro-am camps after college and experienced the high and low point of one local upstart professional team that wasn’t around long enough to let the paint dry.
“(At first) it was great,” Irven said about making the first round of tryouts of the Milwaukee Blast. “It looked like it would be a real big thing for me, and then the team ended up folding. I was excited about it. When I heard about the team folding, that was unfortunate.”
The Blast was a new American Basketball Association team that was owned by Elzie Flenard in the spring of 2011. It was supposed to give local post-college players a chance to play in a professional league with professional rules while giving them exposure to more established pro leagues in the U.S. and overseas. It was supposed to be an alternative to giving fans that pro basketball fix during the NBA lockout.
After the lockout was over, the team struggled to attract people to games. Their games were scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights, which happened to be the same nights that high school teams played. That resulted in the Blast shutting down operations on December 15, 2011.
Irven was cut from the final roster, but he shook off that disappointment and continued playing in a summer pro-am league the last several years. He decided to start a summer adult basketball league of his own. Eight teams will play every Saturday evening at Evangel Assembly of God Church, 9920 W. Good Hope Rd., until mid-July.
This is the first year of the league. It was his idea to start a men’s and women’s league, but there was a lack of interest from the women. “We’re still looking to get a women’s league,” he said. “It’s just that we have to build up more interest because there are a lot of female basketball players out there. We just have to get to them, I guess, and connect with them.”
Social media, printing and distributing flyers and word-of-mouth helped Irven find enough talent to get the men going.
“This is just a start,” he said. “I’d like to do a few leagues every year then just build on that. I want to do a lot of different things with basketball. I want to do a kids basketball camp and reach out to the female basketball community and do maybe some tournaments.”
Irven, still in his 20s, is currently a manager at a bank. According to his Linked-In profile, he’s on track to complete his Master of Business Administration degree from Cardinal Stritch University by 2014. Irven wants to pass down the values of success through hard work and dedication to his kids as it was passed down to him by his parents, Cedric and Toni Irven.
There are many Devon Irvens out there who are learning how to be a team player through hard work, dedication and being unselfish through basketball and applying those skills in the real world and throughout life. That prepares them for the ups and downs of life and how to respond to each situation appropriately once that ball stops bouncing.