Rise Above
Jaci McCormack speaks during a Rise Above basketball camp.

Jaci McCormack Attracts NBA Stars to Native Hoop Camps

Cary Rosenbaum

After a successful college career in basketball, Jaci McCormack (Nez Perce in Lapwai, Idaho) stepped into a leading role as her tribe’s deputy executive director before she decided to start her own Native basketball camp, Rise Above.

A star basketball player at Lake Oswego (Oregon) High School, she earned an athletic scholarship to Illinois State and was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter after hitting a buzzer-beater that sent her team to the NCAA Tournament as a senior in 2005.

McCormack is taking Native American basketball camps to a new level with Rise Above, which has partnered with NBA hall of famer Gary Payton for appearances on Indian reservations in the Pacific Northwest.

Since last fall, the Tulalip and Colville Reservations have hosted camps, with two more planned for the Kalispel and Coeur d’Alene reservations.

Rise Above is getting the attention of some big NBA names. “Current and former NBA players Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas and Brandon Roy may come on board,” she says.

ICTMN talked to McCormack about starting the non-profit and attracting “The Glove.”

When did you know you wanted to work with kids?

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have a person playing college ball at the highest level to look up to. So I always told myself I wanted to be that person, to give back and be some motivation and inspiration for others.

You didn’t wait long to make in impact at home, did you?

So when I first graduated [from Illinois State], I had a lady here in Lapwai help me start this program. I called it, “I Commit.” It was just talking to kids about committing to what they’re doing: committing to their season, committing to being a good person, committing to their teammates. I worked here on the reservation. Anyone that really asked me for help or guidance, I tried to make time for them.

Why did you decide to go to Seattle to work with a non-profit?

I needed a fresh start, to wipe the slate clean and start doing what I love and working with kids.

Is that where you formed the idea for Rise Above?

I decided that I wanted to do my own thing and start something to work with Native kids. The stars sort of aligned for the Rise Above initiative. I met some really incredible people who helped me along the way, helped me form what it is. And also introduce me to some other key people who were interested in helping develop it.

There are hundreds of basketball camps. What separates yours from the others?

What we really want to do is have a true partnership with tribes. We want to say, ‘What is it that you’re struggling with and what can we address?’ We take that into an education piece and have education talks in the clinic. We don’t want to have a model that says just drugs and alcohol prevention, because every tribe’s different: basic motivation, tobacco prevention, suicide awareness, healthy lifestyles. Tribes can really pick what they want to do and what their camp will be focused on.

NBA hall of famer Gary Payton celebrates with campers following a Rise Above basketball camp on the Colville Reservation. (Courtesy Rise Above)

How did you get Gary Payton involved?

We were trying to figure out a way to get some star power. David Hudson, who runs the basketball portion of our clinics, talked to Gary and Gary was interested. Gary wanted to give back. So we went and watched a couple of his basketball camps to see how he does with his kids, because you don’t really know how the stars are going to be.When I went and watched Gary’s camp, I was sold with who he was and his commitment to the kids. When I talked to him about the mission of Rise Above, he was all for it. He was totally committed from day one.

What’s next for Rise Above?

Some sponsorships. A lot of nonprofits or full profits fail in the first five years, so my goal is to make Rise Above as sustainable as possible before we get too deep with partnerships with tribes. Ultimately my goal is to make it a national program. There’s a lot of work that has to be put into it to make that happen.

For more information on Rise Above, go to http://www.nativeyouthriseabove.org.


Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter @caryrosenbaum


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