Washington College forward’s sudden gift to kids at a Baltimore youth center is his final high school event

When Arie Braswell was 16 years old, a National Basketball Association scout presented him with a stack of scholarship offers from several top-tier programs, including South Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Virginia, Marshall, East Carolina, Grambling State, and Towson State.

“As soon as I walked in [to the NBA prospect camp], I said, ‘This is going to be my last year of high school,’” Braswell recalled, describing an eerie sense of already-made-up limbo. “Even though I knew this is my last year, I was just scared because, hey, how’s this going to look when I get into my senior year? I mean, they’re talking about what’s going to happen [in the NBA],” he said. “It wasn’t totally cool. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to take that offer,’” because, Braswell noted, it was such a huge deal.

But his efforts didn’t end with leaving his last year of high school. Instead, the 6-foot-8 forward turned to a charitable foundation — the charitable foundations of basketball players bring attention to kids in foster care, fight poverty and homelessness, and improve education — that raised $100,000 for a tiny West Baltimore school in 2008. In 2012, he directed the foundation to The Yard Youth Development Center, a center that offers academic lessons to at-risk students.

And this year, Braswell donated $250,000 to The YMCA’s Berry S. Bazemore Family Center, a place for underprivileged children to get the education and training they need to further their futures. The center was named after his late father, who had served as a substitute teacher for Maryland’s Public Schools in Baltimore County and Baltimore City and who died in 1996.

“In very humble terms, I just felt like once I bought my dad a house, I wanted to give back to the community that gave me a home,” Braswell told The Washington Post in 2010. “That’s what it was about.”

So for three years, Braswell (left) and other professional basketball players have attended the center’s basketball programs, putting in about two hours each week. Next month, the NBA will take things to the next level by having the players come back as part of NBA Cares All-Star Youth Services program. The effort will bring NBA players to several cities in the country — including Kansas City and Sacramento — and give the youths an opportunity to ask the players their own questions about their lives.

But before this month, Braswell had already made some deep cuts. He was to play basketball for Maryland, not Florida State. Although he isn’t exactly close with his childhood friends, he took them to the high school’s basketball practice several times. The two got to work out at their old high school gym. It will be his last high school event, Braswell said, until he’s done college:

“I think if I stay close to home, I’ll have more friends and I won’t be as nervous,” Braswell, now 21, said with a laugh. “I think this will help me come to terms with it. I’ll actually be able to play basketball. I’m not going to fall behind, and my grades won’t be affected. That’s what I’ll miss about high school, being able to put in the extra hours, do well on the court, but also have all these distractions. I can focus.”

While Braswell’s ’06 experience was more of a point of pride than any altruistic impulse, he said he does think the foundation helps its players become more engaged in their communities. “I think their knowledge of their community is elevated,” Braswell said of his friends who live in the Maryland community.

Braswell plans to return to his college choice, Maryland, in November. But the parting he remembers most is when he heard about his new job — telling his dad, who was in the room.

“If I was to say goodbye, I would say, ‘I love you,’ ” Braswell said. “It just sounded wrong. I think it just made me sad that he wasn’t here, seeing the joy of his surprise.”

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