Kevin Riordan: A Camden event aims to raise funds - and spirits

Tyheem Baker (left), Jrue Neal (with Baker's nephew Rayion, 10) are part of a benefit to help Camden.
Tyheem Baker (left), Jrue Neal (with Baker's nephew Rayion, 10) are part of a benefit to help Camden. (LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 11, 2012

After overhearing a conversation on a basketball court in downtown Camden last summer, Tyheem Baker got inspired. And got to work.

"One of the kids was saying they needed new shoes but couldn't afford them. The other said, 'If I ever make it big, I'm going to come back and open a basketball camp,' " he recalls. "And I thought, 'If a 12-year-old can think like that . . . why can't we?' "

So Baker, 27, decided to lift up the tough old town where he, too, grew up with basketball dreams. The inaugural Rebirth of Camden Charity Basketball Classic, which Baker and about a half-dozen supporters have organized, is set for noon Saturday at the Rutgers-Camden gymnasium.

The event is being promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere and will feature local entertainers, including the vocal group TRU.

Although any proceeds will be used to buy school supplies for city students, the event - which also will feature dunking and three-point competitions for children - is less about raising money than about raising spirits.

The highlight promises to be an unusual "Legends vs. Rising Stars" matchup between two generations of players with contrasting styles on the court.

"Everybody's always challenging us, but we don't like to play the younger guys, because the game has changed," says Jrue Neal of Mount Laurel, who participates in an over-35 league at Bonsall School in Camden.

Two decades ago, Neal, 36, was a point guard for Woodrow Wilson High School; now he's a small-business and data-sales consultant for a communications company.

"There's a lot more dribbling today," he says. "Not as much passing."

As Baker says, "Everybody now is about running and gunning. The older guy has that more flex play."

"Strategic," Neal says.

The intergenerational faceoff may demonstrate which approach rules.

"Will it be the younger guys' finesse, or the old heads' smart decisions?" Baker says.

"My oldest on my team is 42," Neal adds. "I have a lawyer playing and a teacher playing.

"It will be a quality game."

Charron Fisher, the second-highest collegiate scorer in America in 2007-08 while playing for Niagara University, will be among the Rising Stars.

He's optimistic about the event.

"I hope it brings a lot of kids out," says Fisher, 26, of Pennsauken, who has played professionally in Europe. "It will be good for the city."

Baker, a Bellmawr resident, works in security at Virtua's Marlton and Berlin campuses, where Robert L. Price, the director of safety and security, is his boss.

"I've worked with Ty for approximately seven years," Price says. "He has an admirable work ethic and goes the extra mile."

Calling Baker a professional with "a big heart," Price says coworkers and other employees held a bake sale to help raise money for rental of the Rutgers gym.

"I'm so proud of Ty," he adds.

Baker was thrust into the headlines in 2009 after he was shot in the chest during a party for rapper Beanie Sigel at a Philadelphia nightclub.

"I wasn't looking for trouble," Baker says. "I was there to enjoy myself."

It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; being at that basketball court at Fourth and Washington last summer was the opposite.

"That little guy on the court was my inspiration," Baker says. "We don't have millions of dollars. We aren't celebrities. But you don't have to have to be able to give."

He hopes the Classic will "put smiles on a few faces, and show kids there are options other than hustling and doing things you're not supposed to be doing."

Needless to say, Baker has heard the skepticism, if not cynicism, about efforts to help Camden.

Maybe you've heard it as well - the notion that failure is inevitable, and that the city isn't worth it.

And let's face it: Camden can be a deeply discouraging place.

"This isn't about one event," Baker insists. "It's about showing the positive side of Camden.

"I might not save the city, but I have an opportunity to save our youth. Our youth still have a fighting chance."

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at

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