Basketball players mentor in Whiteriver, Arizona

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
by Wes Bloomquist |

TYLER – A contingent of UT Tyler student-athletes led by associate head men’s basketball coach Jake Deer traveled to Whiteriver, Arizona this month for the Respecting the Circle of Life: Mind, Body, and Spirit – a camp which served approximately 200 kids from the White Mountain Apache Indian Tribe.

Along with Deer and his wife, Carrie, the Patriots were represented by Deon Rodgers, D’yonne Luke, Madison Wilson, Deion Robinson, Dy’Seana Carpenter and Dia Evans. The camp, which was hosted in conjunction with a group from John Hopkins University, mixed lessons from the game of basketball along with leadership, teenage pregnancy, suicide prevention, behavior health and high school dropout prevention.

“For over 12 years I have been running basketball camps in Whiteriver, Arizona with an emphasis of the hope founded in Jesus Christ,” Deer said. “This year, I had the opportunity to go out to Arizona with a compilation of 15 people. We had former coaches and players from Florida Christian College in addition to current and former players and coaches from here at the University of Texas at Tyler.  I cannot begin to express in words how powerful the experience is for all parties involved, both the coaches and the apache teens alike. Our athletes were able to learn how powerful the ‘ball’ is, in its ability to create and build relationships with people from other cultures; to encourage, equip, and empower youth in a land with very little hope, and the ability to use their platform—as collegiate athletes—to encourage youth to stay in school and that—apache youth too—have the ability to achieve their dreams.”

The Patriots on the trip assisted John Hopkins with their research and training along with fostering relationships with the Apache youth. This was the first year that UT Tyler students traveled to Arizona with Deer on his mission which started in 2004 and helps youth who come from tough situations.

“I believe all UT Tyler players—number one—came away with a since of gratitude for the opportunities that they have in life and the opportunity to build a future for themselves by attending a university such as this one,” Deer said. “Number two, I believe—they also learned—how to use the game of basketball for a greater benefit than for themselves.  Number three—I believe—each athlete now sees how there are kids all over our country in tough and bad situations that need pastors, coaches, educators, and mentors—like themselves—who are able to stand in the gap in order to make a difference in the life of a child.”


“Going to Fort Apache in Whiteriver, Arizona, has to have been the most fulfilling life experience that I have ever lived. Being on the reservation makes you truly appreciate what you have in life, and makes appreciate and recognize the simple things in life that have taken for granted. Having the opportunity to coach basketball, and the ability to build relationships that will last a lifetime was truly amazing. I can't wait to go back to the reservation.” – Deon Rodgers

“This was my second time going to the Rez, and words can't explain the experience I had either time. Being out there working camp is just so peaceful, in spite of all the non-peaceful things that go on there. When we work camp, the kids feel safe. They get out of their shell, they open up and confide in us. Not to mention all of the beautiful mountains that surround it. But the place as a whole is not glorious, though it may sound this way since I've described it. The kids and people go through trouble every single day. There is poverty and trouble everywhere. So when we go down there and spread Jesus, love and joy through an orange leather ball, it's like things start to make sense. They work hard, harder than so many kids I've ever met. They just want to hoop! Yea they might not have the right shoes, court, or ball but as long as they can hoop they're there! So many want to make it out and play college basketball, they just need the right opportunity I think. Seeing the kids grow mentally and on the court within only a few days is my favorite part I think. The kids miss camp as soon as it's over, despite all of the burpees they may have had to do during it. And we miss it too. I think the fact that they can connect to us through a sport they love and feel attached to us, loved, and wanted... It's what I'm all here for. I'd go out there everyday for free if it meant seeing those kids smiling like that again. Words can't describe how much I enjoy the Rez.” – Khadijah Evans

“The Rez was truly a life-changing experience. Being able to experience the trip with fellow Christians was great. The relationships formed throughout the trip will last a lifetime. Going out there I intended to make a difference in the kid's lives, but I believe they made a bigger impact on my life. I truly want to thank Coach Deer for allowing me the opportunity to go on the trip.” – Deion Robinson 

“This was my second time going on the Rez, and it's always a great reminder of how blessed we are to live the life we do. We go to the Rez thinking we're going to help the kids and impact their lives, but it's really the kids who have a life long impact on us. They don't have much but what they do have is an incredible love for the game of basketball. To see how a little orange ball can bring so much joy and happiness to a group of underprivileged kids is truly amazing." – Madison Wilson

“Going on the Rez these last two years have made me appreciate the game and the people in my life a lot more. It makes me thank God for everything he has done and given me. Both times I went I learned more about myself while being able to give love to the amazing children!”--Dy’Seana Carpenter