By Eugenio Torrens
Harold Givens wasn’t happy and he decided to do something about it.
His daughter, Jade, was playing AAU basketball in 2003 when Givens decided there was room for improvement.
“We figured we could do it better, we could do it more effectively,” Givens said. “So we started Tampa Bay Inferno.”
And with that spark, Givens and his no-nonsense basketball regime began.
Givens called AAU pressure packed, noting how kids aren’t there to solely have fun. They’re there to learn and win in the process.
“If you don’t measure up, you don’t play. If you don’t compete and win a spot, you don’t receive a spot,” Givens said.
Givens has applied his philosophy to his recreational league as well, the Junior Magic, which practices in sync with the Inferno.
“We serve a clientele that’s being underserved, and that’s for people that want the truth and want their kids to be taught,” Givens said.
Currently, Inferno includes seven girls teams ranging from sixth-grade to high school players. The AAU season goes from late February to October — including roughly 15 tournaments and traveling within Florida, to Georgia, all the way to Virginia.
Givens’ success didn’t come without trials and tribulations. He said people originally took his kindness for weakness, including sticking their hands into the organization’s pocket.
“I learned on the fly how to run a business,” Givens said. “I watch where the money goes. I watch my people, I watch the parents. If we have to dismiss a parent and a kid, we have no problems.”
Givens also has shied away from dealing with parents and politics. He has no qualms cleaning house.
“They want things their way and they don’t want to follow the rules as far as Tampa Bay Inferno,” Givens said. “That’s really not accepted here. … We’re going to do this thing right.”
Part of the reason Givens strives for a nonpolitically charged environment is because his organization serves kids from different backgrounds. Kids come from Wesley Chapel, Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and from as far away as Zephyrhills and Polk County.
One thing that translates, no matter where kids come from, is Givens’ yelling.
“You have two types of kids: kids that can deal with aggressiveness and some kids that can’t,” Givens said.
While Givens has tried to temper his attitude, there’s a lot of yelling. He wants kids to have fun and achieve, so long as they don’t mind a bit of screaming along the way.
Anika Moffitt, 12, is in her first year with the Inferno and said she has no problems with Givens’ techniques.
“Anybody can go out there and tell themselves to quit, but you have to have a strong mind to tell yourself to keep going,” Moffitt said. “He’ll even walk over to the door and tell you to leave.”
Givens added, “It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s why I love this country so much — this country has choices. You can choose to keep your kids here or you choose not to. It doesn’t bother me.”
And Givens’ at-times abrasive attitude has attracted kids more than it has scared them off.
“You gotta let Coach (Givens) coach,” said Carol Brower, whose daughter, Stephanie, is in her third year with the Inferno. “If he’s gonna yell at your kid to get your kid motivated, that’s what you gotta let him do.”
Brower said she noticed immediate improvement in her daughter’s game and Stephanie wouldn’t play anywhere else.
Anne Dykeman said Givens’ intimidating and gruff exterior isn’t the whole story.
“He might tell you what you’re doing wrong, but he builds you back up,” Dykeman said.
Some of Givens’ colleagues don’t agree with his coaching mentality, but none can argue with the results. The Inferno’s sixth-grade team was the Youth Basketball of America national runner-up in addition to the AAU state champions.
“I want to be a national powerhouse,” Givens said. “The ultimate goal, we may not reach it, is for everyone of our kids to get to college. Every single one. I want them all to obtain college scholarships.”
For more information on the Inferno, call Givens at (813) 997-9933 or email .