When James Parker, Jr. first approached his wife, Tarren Parker, with the idea to start a youth basketball league, he wanted to create a place to showcase the talent of Maryland youth. After coaching the Maryland Runnin’ Rebels AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team for ten years, Parker aspired to develop a league for middle schoolers to play at a high-quality level during the winter months, and so, he founded the Premier Youth Basketball League (PYBL) in 2013.
With Parker as president and Tarren Parker as director of operations, the husband and wife PYBL team have their work cut out for them. Tarren Parker, who graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in sport management in 2007, manages the day-to-day operations, including booking locations for the games and corresponding with parents and coaches. Parker—a 2009 communications graduate of Bowie State University—handles everything on the basketball court.
When the first season of PYBL began last winter, the main challenge was proving to people that they would provide quality basketball. There was an aura of uncertainty surrounding the league, and Parker had to convince parents, players and coaches that PYBL was not a threat to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
“It was AAU basketball or nothing else. We have a product that compares to AAU basketball. The competition level is high, the kids that do play in AAU play in our, as well,” said Parker. “People kind of fear what they don’t understand, but we’re not the enemy of AAU basketball. We just want all the kids to play high-level basketball, play competitive and get better.”
The competitive nature of PYBL is what separates it from its AAU counterpart. Whereas there are over 25 AAU boys’ basketball teams for middle schoolers in Prince George’s County alone, PYBL has nine teams in the entire league, one for each region. Only the best talent from Virginia (Alexandria, Fairfax County and Loudoun County), Maryland (Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Southern Maryland) and Washington, D.C. compete in PYBL. In fact, 21 of 27 games played so far in the summer season have been decided by eight points or less.
“There’s a certain pride factor to it. I loved the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. game (at the Summer Baltimore Showcase on June 21; Baltimore won 64-62) because the Baltimore kids were not going to lose at home in front of their friends and family,” said Parker. “When you’re fighting for your neighborhood and your city, it’s a completely different feeling, and it just adds to what we’re doing. There’s only one Montgomery County team. There’s only one Baltimore team. And they’re not just playing for themselves; they’re playing to show that Baltimore basketball is the best basketball in the Metropolitan area.”
The PYBL’s objective is to give its players an advantage to help them advance to the next level. The athletes will have the opportunity to network with and play against the best of the best, and high school coaches can scout the top talent without having to travel outside of the metropolitan area. The Parkers are also working on a scholarship program to help those kids who want to play at private schools. Its YouTube channel, PYBL TV, features interviews with players and coaches, as well as broadcasts of games.
In less than a year, the league already has over 100 participants. Even with its increasing popularity, PYBL remains a family business. With the playoffs approaching on Aug. 2, Life for the Parkers, at work and at home, revolves around basketball.
“Our household eats, breathes and sleeps basketball,” Tarren Parker chuckled. “Our living room is full of charts, graphs, schedules, sponsors, vendors, jerseys everywhere. Both sets of our parents are heavily involved on game day, we have cousins that help. It’s really a family effort.”
“We’re thankful for every player we have in our league. The support we have has been amazing,” Parker added. “I’m just in awe every time I walk into the gym. It’s a great feeling to know that they believe in you. It’s my responsibility to do all I can to make sure these kids succeed in basketball.”