NBA champion Marreese Speights back in Childs Park

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — As the six o’clock start time approached, the event celebrating world champion Marreese Speights of the Golden State Warriors would have been a sellout had admission been required. Cars lined the streets surrounding Childs Park Recreation Center, the place where it all started for Speights. The standing-room-only crowd showed support and welcomed home St. Petersburg’s latest favorite son.

“It was so incredibly refreshing to see a young man who was born and raised right here in this community come back and speak to the youth,” said Shawn  M. Drouin of the TASCO Teen program, a division of the Parks and Recreation Department with the City of St. Petersburg.

“It’s not too often our youth or community get an opportunity to talk to and get autographs from a NBA champion,” said Drouin. “I had a unique perspective from the stage and I got to see first-hand how mezmorized the audience was.”

Speights grew up playing at Childs Park. He played basketball at St. Petersburg’s Admiral Farragut Academy, which retired his jersey after one year. He also played basketball at Hargrave Military Academy (senior year) and Gibbs High School. He was considered a four-star recruit by, was listed as the number 13 power forward and the number 51 player in the nation in 2006.

Speights began his career at Florida in 2006, and won a national championship with the Gators.  After his sophomore season, he declared himself eligible for the 2008 NBA Draft. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 16th pick of the first round in the 2008 NBA Draft.

January 4, 2012, Speights was acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies, and on January 22, 2013, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He then signed with the Golden State Warriors on July 12, 2013. Speights won his first NBA championship with the Warriors after they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s NBA Finals in six games.

“Marreese is a real life example for our youth of when skills and opportunity are properly applied great things can happen,” said Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, Director of Urban Affairs. “For the community, this is a great example of the power of oneness and collaboration. In less than a week, people came together for a common purpose, which was to bring celebration to our youth and recognize one of our own.”

The event was spearheaded by Community Opportunity for Our People (COOP). COOP was started in 2014 by Tony Macon and Eddie Pelham. Macon had ACT Right; Pelham had Moving Forward With A Purpose. Both programs geared toward helping at-risk youths. Same work. Same language. Same community. The two combined both programs to develop COOP.

“This event brought together a lot of people who cares about our youth and the community. It allowed our young people to dream and see someone out of their neighborhood accomplish something,” said Pelham who complimented Speights’ family.

Drouin’s excitement said it all: “I got to see the pure joy when Marreese got his key to the city. He was smiling from ear to ear. You could call Marreese many things due to his accomplishments on the court, D-1 NCAA champion, NBA first round draft pick, very solid NBA player—but now he must be addressed as NBA Champion! And it started in Childs Park right here in St. Petersburg.”

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