In East Palo Alto there is a harsh irony. The city, which is just five miles from Stanford, has been excluded from Silicon Valley’s rapid growth, and the aura of inspiration and opportunity that surrounds the university is nearly impossible to find. Jacqueline Diep wanted to address that issue, and members of the Stanford men’s basketball were willing to help.
In Diep’s most recent project, ‘Hoopin’ with Santa,’ NBA and Stanford players participated in a winter clinic for East Palo Alto youth. Organizing such an event was not new to Diep, who hopes to empower the area’s kids with her passion for basketball.
Despite being surrounded by some of the most affluent neighborhood in the world, East Palo Alto lacks the same wealth and privilege that surrounds it. Nearly 13% of the city’s 30,000 residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census, which is more than double the rate in neighboring Palo Alto.
A Bay Area native, Diep spent a large portion of her adolescence in foster care, relying on mentors and teachers for help navigating her situation from age 11 until she was emancipated. Fast forward to 2020, and Diep, a recent USC MBA graduate, attributes much of her success to those who guided her and the sport that inspired her.
“There were a lot of things that I went through as a child,” Diep said. “And I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for these [basketball] clinics that I went to, or the network of people.”
Since returning to the Bay Area following her graduation, Diep has spearheaded two basketball clinics in East Palo Alto, both of which have involved NBA or NCAA players. To Diep, the clinics are a way of bringing in successful athletes who would not otherwise come to East Palo Alto. In turn, Diep hopes that introducing the players will serve as a source of inspiration and prompt kids to aspire to education and careers beyond the struggling community.
“The mentality that you have to have to become a professional athlete or collegiate athlete…is the same mentality you have to have to get out of any situation,” Diep said.
“You can apply that same hustle, grit…those values that you’ve learned or had to learn [are] the same thing that gets you…through college or through any tough situation.”
With the idea of instilling these values in mind, Diep’s first program, which was held in August, featured San Jose native, and current member of the Orlando Magic, Aaron Gordon. After witnessing the success of the clinic, the majority of which was organized in just 12 days, Diep knew that basketball clinics could be her key to positively impacting the city.
“We were onto something really special,” Diep said.
Three months later, Diep began preparing for her second clinic with the help of Remi Sobomehin, Director of Volunteerism and Community Engagement for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, and Packie Turner, Chief Training Officer at UP Basketball in Burlingame.
This time, however, the clinic featured talent from even closer to home: Stanford men’s basketball’s redshirt freshman Sam Beskind, freshman Neal Begovich and juniors Daniel Begovich and Isaac White. Dubbed ‘Hoopin’ with Santa,’ the clinic took place in December and, like Diep’s debut program, brought the NBA to East Palo Alto with a guest appearance by Jacob Evans of the Golden State Warriors.
When approached by Turner about participating in Hoopin’ with Santa, Begovich reflected on his own experiences with the game of basketball as a kid. Begovich, who is originally from San Francisco, has trained with Turner since he was a young kid, but considered the opportunity to be about more than just helping out an old acquaintance. The fact that the clinic was set to occur during week 10 of Stanford’s fall quarter, referred to by students as “Dead Week,” did nothing to phase the freshman.
“I remember I was in that position as a little kid,” Begovich said. “I looked up to players that were in college and the NBA.”
“To be able to be in that position to…make a kid’s day and see the smiles on their faces when you’re able come help them, that’s everything,” he said. “It’s bigger than basketball.”
Begovich and his teammates spent much of their time at Hoopin’ with Santa manning various skills stations, from shooting to ball handling to finishing. Approximately 60 kids took part in the clinic and were split into smaller groups before rotating from station to station. Stanford players not only worked on technique with the young basketballers, but also emphasized the importance of less tangible qualities of great athletes such as work ethic, teamwork and dedication.
With basketball holding such an influential role in his life, Beskind was quick to understand how he could use the sport to encourage key values and have a positive impact through Hoopin’ with Santa.
“So much of my life has been dedicated towards basketball,” Beskind said. “If there’s one thing I can really give back right now in a meaningful way…it’s basketball instruction as well as just bits of advice on hard work and persistence. Any opportunity I can get to do that, especially in a disadvantaged community…I like to take advantage of it.”
Hard work and persistence are anything but unfamiliar to Beskind. After walking onto Stanford men’s basketball last year, the redshirt freshman was surprised with a scholarship for his remaining years of eligibility while in Europe during the team’s international tour in August.
Evans shared stories from his life and experiences as a professional basketball player with the group. To truly put the day’s work to the test, the kids were given a chance to take on Evans or the Stanford players in a game of one-on-one. Despite their 8-1 record at the time, the Cardinal were not always quick to prevail.
“Sam Beskind got busted up a little bit,” White joked.
White, who is also close with Turner, thought of being asked to participate as something LARGER than a friend just needing extra hands. It was an opportunity to fulfill some of the responsibilities White considers to be part of his role as a Stanford basketball player. His position, White explains, enables him to be more than just a distant example for kids growing up in a struggling community just five miles from one of the best NCAA sports programs in the country.
“[Being a Stanford athlete] is a platform,” White said.
“[Stanford players] are in a unique [position] to be a realistic role model for kids,” he said. “We’re…only 10 years older than most of these kids, so it’s…a really neat experience [because] we can tell these kids about the pathway that we had.”
Thanks to Diep and her commitment to using basketball to spark inspiration and opportunity in East Palo Alto, White and his teammates were able to do just that. Diep hopes, however, that she is not the only one to recognize the true significance of the professional and collegiate players’ act of kindness.
“When those kids see people like Aaron Gordon or…these [Stanford] athletes, that makes all the difference in the world,” she said.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.