In an industry where connections can mean as much as talent, DeMarcus Weeks envisioned a LinkedIn-type network to create exposure for athletes — specifically basketball players from historically Black colleges and universities, as well as other small schools.
Put in his words: to give the small guys a voice by providing them a network to connect with coaches, trainers, and opportunities internationally.
“We were just trying to use that platform to connect people to potentially live out their dream of playing basketball,” said Weeks, a Memphis native, Kansas City transplant and former professional basketball player.
UHoops has helped more than 100 players kickstart their basketball careers since its inception, he noted. But the platform and the idea behind it have evolved as Weeks found an international audience for the sport — only to be fouled out by a global pandemic that sent travel out of bounds.
Its latest iteration adds youth STEM training and solar energy to the roster of Weeks’ plans.
Click here to follow UHoops updates on Instagram.
The UHoops network grew rapidly, according to Weeks, eventually expanding to more than 200,000 users from across the globe, including China, Mexico, and Australia. Its biggest base, however, came from Africa and the Philippines, he noted.
“It was a pretty unique thing that we had,” he said. “It was new. Nobody had really seen anything like it.”
But making money beyond online advertising was a challenge, prompting Weeks to create UHoops tours, wherein players could pay to participate in international exhibitions. Eleven such tours have been coordinated in China, Mexico, and the Philippines, he said.
“We took them overseas and pretty much give them the exposure that they are looking for,” he explained. “[The goal was] to try to get signed to an overseas team or NBA team or whatever without the paperwork.”
The company’s initial reach was confined to college players. But once Weeks got the opportunity to work with the Eric Berry Foundation, he was approached with the idea of doing youth camps.
“We just kind of fell into it,” he said. “It was a success and then people liked it. With the power of social media, people started seeing our stuff and we started getting invites from overseas.”
Through the camps, youth players were taught not only basketball skills but are given exposure to opportunities in STEM and other sports-related careers.
“A lot of kids always dream about being the next Steph Curry or LeBron James or even Kevin Durant, but, you know, it’s like 1 percent,” Weeks said. “But we can all be potential Stuart Scotts [the late ESPN broadcaster] or somebody like that.”
The camps were especially successful in the Philippines, where the UHoops crew took seven trips between 2016 to 2019. The country is one of the biggest basketball markets in the world, Weeks said.
“I didn’t know basketball was such a big part of their culture,” he said. “It’s like a way people fellowship, a way of people coming together as family.”
Idea fresh off the bench
Weeks’ own family is rich with entrepreneurial spirit, he said.
His grandpa owned farmland and a small casino in Iowa. Family members also own a trucking company and several real estate investments, he said.
But entrepreneurship wasn’t initially Weeks’ path.
He played one year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before going pro. He was selected in the NBA Development League Pre-Draft Camp.
“It was a life-changing experience because it was getting into the industry and just kind of really learning,” Weeks said. “I was young, probably like 23 at the time. I was naive about a lot of things. But I was excited to be in that space.”
While still playing basketball, he took a trip to Los Angeles and was inspired by seeing a friend running a successful business.
“It just kind of changed my life to see somebody that young to be able to be an entrepreneur and working for themselves doing these things at that time,” he explained. “I was just like, ‘Wow, you can actually do that.’”
Weeks always assumed he’d end up in the corporate world, but soon realized he wanted to merge these two life-changing experiences — combining his passion for basketball and entrepreneurship.
A friend suggested he start a networking company. That idea eventually hit the court as UHoops in 2013.
Watching the people of the Philippines embrace UHoops led Weeks toward a wider approach, he said.
“How can we do more to help these people, but also give them a more steady opportunity as far as outside of basketball?” Weeks asked, noting a desire to connect youth with needed support.
“That’s what I pride myself on when I go to these countries is to be able to create innovative ways for kids to be able to express themselves and things like that,” he continued. “Sometimes a lot of the parents in these places just don’t have the resources or the education. And they can use companies like me to be able to bridge that gap for their educational purposes.”
As with many businesses, the pandemic forced the UHoops to pivot. It put a stop to the traveling, camps, tours, and according to Weeks, opportunities with Manny Pacquiao’s team in the Philippines and Microsoft for STEM programs.
But that hasn’t stopped him, he said.
During the pandemic, he has been working on launching the UHoops nonprofit, which will target youth with a focus on STEM programs and solar opportunities. Solar energy happens to be another entrepreneurship venture of his.
“We are really excited about that,” he added.
One of its first projects — anticipated for fall 2023 — will be building a solar-powered basketball court with fresh drinking water in the Bahamas.
“So one of the things that a lot of kids in these remote locations lack is light,” Weeks said. “With the solar panels and things like that, it will produce light for the kids to be able to have a place where they can go play, a safe haven, and still be able to fellowship.”
He’s also hoping to pursue such a project in the Philippines at some point, he said, noting a desire to become more involved in the Kansas City community as well.
“Kansas City is home for me,” he added. “I love Kansas City as my own.”
But that doesn’t mean he has moved on from helping small-school college basketball players. A new UHoops League and website are also in the works.
The league is expected to boast eight teams with 64 to 100 total players in a week-long tournament to win prize money and an opportunity to work out with an NBA G-League (formerly the development league) that is affiliated with UHoops.
Click here to follow UHoops League on Instagram.
“We are working out the details for that league,” Weeks said. “Players would have an opportunity to play against other top talent in the Bahamas and be given a kind-of-like overseas experience.”
He’s hoping the league will tip off in 2023, in what will be the 10-year anniversary of UHoops.
“Through the eight years of building it, UHoops has kind of transformed from a local basketball company into an international company, all in a few years,” he said. “The mission was always to give people a platform and a voice but also give them hope — using sports as a way to navigate through life.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.
For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect at www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn