Ten years after graduating from MSJ, Class of 2003 Alumni Alex Hariz and Venkat Narasimhan reunited to create HoopSphere, a basketball organization for kids in the Bay Area to learn the sport and develop their skills in a supportive environment.
Hariz and Narasimhan’s basketball journeys began at 6 and 8 years old, respectively, when they picked up a basketball for the first time. “I wasn’t very good at first and shorter than most players, but I enjoyed the sport and continued to prove to myself that I could do it,” said Hariz. Narasimhan and Hariz were teammates on MSJ Boys Basketball and at the Technical Career Institutes in New York City before splitting ways for university. Hariz attended UC Berkeley to pursue a major in Economics and Narasimhan went to UC Davis to study International Relations. After graduating, they received offers to play basketball professionally from overseas teams located in Lebanon and India, but they ultimately chose to enter the financial industry to work for companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chase Bank.
Even while pursuing their respective careers, however, they knew basketball was still in their hearts. “We constantly used to think about basketball. I would be wearing a suit to work and on the lunch break, I would go change into my basketball clothes for a quick workout,” said Narasimhan. Both wanted to find a way to spread their passion for basketball to the younger generation.
In 2013, Narasimhan and Hariz reunited in order to make their goals a reality, creating HoopSphere in the Bay Area. Initially, one of the biggest challenges they faced was picking up a student base. However, neither expected their organization to grow as much as it did. “Once we started coaching it was like, ‘We have so much to give back to our community.’ I think the reason we grew so much was that the environment we created wasn’t very strict. We wanted to have a sense of brotherhood in our program,” Narasimhan said. Both coaches focused on instilling the values of confidence, resilience, and teamwork in their athletes, and HoopSphere was soon able to gain a good reputation. Hariz and Narasimhan have added 22 coaches to their staff and today, HoopSphere has more than five indoor and outdoor locations around the Bay Area with students ranging from beginners to advanced-level players. The organization is split up into skills training classes where players learn the fundamentals of basketball, a HoopSphere league with added competitive scrimmages between teams, and HoopSphere Amateur Athletic Union travel teams for more advanced players to compete against other Bay Area programs.
Beginning last March, Hariz and Narasimhan temporarily suspended indoor training, league games, and local scrimmages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have been able to continue outdoor skills training by implementing basic precautions, such as socially distanced bubbles and required temperature checks for all the players and instructors prior to each session. Students are also given the option of bringing their own basketballs and equipment to lessen the chances of transmission.
One major accomplishment HoopSphere has acquired in the last year is creating their own gym, which will open in April. Located in Warm Springs, Fremont, the gym has eight hoops and features three full-length basketball courts. Now, HoopSphere is looking forward to the end of the pandemic so they can work with more students and expand their program. “Our goal really is just to instill our passion and love for the game into every child. Whether it be the same amount of students we had earlier or less or even more, we love the work we do and want to spread it to others,” Hariz said.
With experience from their 20-year basketball journeys, Hariz and Narasimhan encourage young athletes who want to pursue a career in their sport to chase after their dreams. “If you love the sport… put in the work and in the end, it will definitely pay off,” Hariz said.
Cover image by Sports Editor Anika Arora
All photographs courtesy of Alex Hariz and Venkat Narasimhan