ENGLEWOOD, N.J. -- Giving back to the community, Englewood police have raised money to support a native teen who's playing AAU basketball this spring.
As a freshman, 15-year-old Nakie Graham started varsity last season for Garfield High School, where coaches believe his physical and mental maturity could make him a first-team All League player someday.
Nakie is honing his skills this spring playing for the Englewood-based Bulls Basketball Club, an elite traveling team that competes against some of the best squads in the Amateur Athletic Union across the Metropolitan area.
"We have some talented individuals on our team, several of whom who play basketball at the college level," said Nakie's Bulls coach and mentor, Teshawn R. Warren.
A small budget makes covering the cost of facility space, travel and equipment tough, however, Warren said.
So the league turned to the community for support -- and Englewood police answered the call.
They were impressed with Nakie and quickly raised nearly $500 for him, Lt. Matthew de la Rosa said.
The oldest of four children, Nakie grew up in the rough-and-tumble Rock Creek Terrace apartment complex just off Route 4.
Most often, he was found down at the Broad Avenue courts -- "kind of a must, growing up there," he said.
"I was a football baby but started to love basketball as I got older," Nakie said, "and it became a part of my everyday routine to go play ball with my friends.
"During the summer days we spent hours out there to only take breaks to chase the ice cream truck."
After his family moved to Garfield, Nakie said, he "started to take basketball very seriously."
Besides making varsity, he's kept his GPA above 3.0 -- a must for participating on the Bulls spring team.
"Although I had to move out of Englewood, it will always be home to me," Nakie said. "It will always be the place that helped me build my love for sports and showed me my potential for greatness.
"Sports is my way of telling my story. It shows what I can accomplish with hard work and dedication."