Master P And Wooter Apparel Help Bring Hope To New Orleans At 2017 Essence Festival

Weeks before a 1,000 basketball fans, community leaders and local supporters flocked to the Xavier University of Louisiana Convocation Center on a Thursday evening in New Orleans, Percy "Master P" Miller stood moved.  

It was early June when the hip hop mogul and No Limit Records founder learned about the passing of a 7-year old boy in Louisville, Kentucky, Dequante Hobbs, Jr., who was struck by a stray bullet and died in late May. It was then that the New Orleans native and father of seven felt compelled to reach out to the family to provide some solace and hope.  

That feeling came to life as part of Master P's NOLA Celebrity Basketball Game at the 2017 Essence Festival on June 29th, which tipped-off with a peace rally prior to the game aptly named, The National Day of Peace. The goal: to raise community awareness about violence plaguing a number of inner cities around the US including New Orleans. In an event that featured Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal, Juvenile, Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers, former NFL wide receiver Jacoby Jones, former NBA players Caron Butler and Ben Gordon among a host of other athletes and celebrities, it was Master P's own son -- musician and actor, Romeo Miller -- who honored young Dequante by wearing the red and black number 7 jersey as a tribute.  

This was a proud moment for everyone at Wooter Apparel, who teamed up with Master P to outfit players and coaches on the court with jerseys and gear for his NOLA Celebrity Basketball Game.  

This was more than just another charity event.

Way more. 

The game served as a valuable reminder of how communities can come together for the greater good of investing back into its youth, as proceeds from the contest went to benefit the scholarship fund of Team H.O.P.E. NOLA. 

Late last year, Master P and New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Robert Pack launched Team H.O.P.E. NOLA (Helping Our Players Excel) as a way to help at-risk youth in New Orleans and provide them with the resources and information to keep them off of the streets, succeed on the court and more importantly in the classroom. The 20 players selected to take part in the Team H.O.P.E. NOLA program range from age 12 to 15 years old and are selected from area schools. By the end of the program, the players will be equipped to make educated decisions and choices as they prepare for college, careers, and hopefully opportunities to one day be mentors or community leaders themselves.  

Since then, Team H.O.P.E. NOLA has remained active in their community, from helping raise donations, to assisting at senior centers and sharing their message about focusing on education and overcoming obstacles in life. 

Both Master P and Coach Pack know how important mentorship and leadership is, on and off of the court. The two grew up together in New Orleans and played on the same AAU squad, long before Pack played 13-years in the NBA and Miller rapped his way to stardom and launched his own record label.   

Now, the two life-long friends are focused on giving back and paying it forward with Team H.O.P.E. NOLA, with the 2017 Essence Festival and Master P's celebrity game yet another example of how change and hope truly starts at home. 

From the Driveway to Dream Leagues, A Shot To Turn Pro in Staten Island

Growing up in Staten Island, Victor and Frank Schettino were like any other older and younger brothers in the neighborhood who grew up playing basketball in their driveway at home or the park down the block. There were a lot of one-on-one games. A lot of sweat. A lot of early mornings and late nights. A lot of hitting jumpers and talking junk.  

"When we were kids, we went at it a lot playing basketball. That's what we did. We played hard and didn't talk to each other the whole day," said Victor, 26, reminiscing about the games between him and 21-year old, Frank.  

It's this same sibling rivalry that has helped build this basketball brotherhood rooted in pushing each other on the court and in life.  

Vic Schettino grew up running point guard in high school at local Moore Catholic, where he averaged 19.5 points, 1.2 and 1.7 steals per game as a Senior in 2007-08 for the Mavericks. After attending Curry College in Boston, he landed a job working for the New York City Parks and Recreation Department and also serves as sports coordinator within his Staten Island community. Following in his brother's footsteps at Moore Catholic, Frankie just wrapped up an award-winning season at Division 3, College of Staten Island by leading the Dolphins to a 21-7 overall record as 2017 CUNYAC Champions and making national news by finishing as the league leader in triple-doubles (5), total assists (258) and free-throw attempts (260).  

And big brother is right there each step of the way to support and encourage Frankie to chase his dreams as he looks ahead to playing professionally.   

"The guy is gifted." said Vic. "That's why we keep playing. It's only going to get better for him."

Working Hard In The Dream Leagues

On any given Monday night at the Fastbreak basketball center in Staten Island, you can find the Schettino brothers and other die-hard hoop heads playing in the Dream Leagues: a physical game of four-on-four with rims lowered to 8.5 feet featuring players from area rec leagues up to former Division 1 college players who are eager to compete.  

"Dream leagues is just a different atmosphere. It's a fun to get out there but it's physical too," Frankie explained.  "Anytime I'm playing anywhere I always working on my game, so Dream Leagues helps me stay sharp and ready to go." 

When Dream Leagues first started in 2012, it was a chance for guys to live out their own NBA dreams by dunking on some friends during pick-up games. But in a matter of months, the league grew from 12 to 32 teams with two divisions (Gold and Purple) and now prides itself on being more than just another weekly rec league or pick-up game at the gym.  

"It's more important that we stay engaged with our players, teams and even fans on a weekly basis by providing full stats, video highlights and function like a professional league," said Staten Island native Dylan Fusco, who launched Dream Leagues as 19-year freshman at St. John's University. 

He has grown the idea into a non-profit organization, while also serving as Dream Leagues Commissioner and CEO. 

"We keep the league professional and for the players, we look for ways to compete and give back to kids  in our communities too, from Staten Island and the area  We are the same kids who grew up playing games with friends on dunk hoops. And that's when it hit me, that's the kind of league I wanted to help start and give back through." 

Growing Something Together In Staten Island

When Alex Aleksandrovski helped launch Staten Island-based Wooter Apparel in 2014, the goal was to develop a one-stop-shop market place for youth, rec and professional sports leagues to create and develop everything from quality jerseys and apparel to managing their own local leagues, so it's no wonder Wooter felt an instant appreciation for the Dream Leagues. 

"The vision Dream Leagues had for the league is what made the partnership opportunity so sweet," Alex started.  

"They ran the league better than anyone else in Staten Island, and they created a player experience similar to that of the NBA with their full-stats, videos, player interviews and more. Together we want to revolutionize organized sports. We’ve established Dream Leagues into a non-profit because we want more kids to be able to play in a league that would become a big part of their lives. It’s not about the money for Dream Leagues, it never was. We want to create Dream Leagues nationwide and add sports such as football, baseball and soccer on top of basketball." 

Thanks to the Wooter App, that dream will become a reality within the next couple of years. 

The digital platform is equipped to provide sports leagues at all levels a pro feel and look, complete with teams and players with profiles, updated stats, Players of the Week, Top 10 ranking and video highlights.  

"For everyone at Dream Leagues, our aspirations for ourselves extends beyond the court and back into our league and communities," added Fusco.  

"We knew instantly that a brand like Wooter felt the same way. We wanted to change the game and know they did too." 

"He's My Biggest Fan And That's Why I Look Up To Him"

Some things never change. Vic and Frankie are at it again with the basketball in their hands.  

It's another Monday night on the Fastbreak courts in the Dream Leagues and the Schettino brothers are having driveway flashbacks and putting on a show. But this time it's different. There is a crowd. There are cameras. And there is more at stake here than just bragging rights going up against each other. Frankie's team has a pretty big lead at halftime, until Vic's squad catches fire in the second half with Vic hitting a string of big threes to take the win. Game time. 

"We still don't speak all day until the game is over," Vic confessed when asked what it's like playing against little brother Frankie these days.  

"I'm slowly passing the torch."

Then again, maybe things haven't changed that much over the years playing ball.

While games continue weekly in the Dream Leagues, competition and community remain at the heart, and players are provided that pro experience thanks to Wooter, there is no substitute for brotherly love.  

"My brother Vic has done a lot for me over the years. I used to play with him no matter where we went and with older kids. He's my biggest fan, everyone knows it and that's why I look up to him", said Frankie, who will travel to Las Vegas in July to play in pro exposure camps for the chance to sign overseas for the 2017-18 season.  

"He has pushed me to make me a better player." 

From the driveway to the Dream Leagues, Frankie's own pro dream is becoming a reality in Staten Island.