The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Bulldogs basketball program has become one of the largest youth club basketball programs in San Diego and Southern California. The year-round league for third through eighth grade players gives boys and girls a chance to compete on practice teams, league teams that play locally in San Diego or the highest level in club that travels to compete in tournaments.
Headed up by Program Director DJ Gay, the former San Diego State University standout, the program aims to develop not just great basketball players but great individuals.
“We try to make it as real-life as possible,” Gay said, noting players try out every three months and they can move up or down a level. “At the Bulldogs everything is earned. It instills in kids that they have to work to achieve their goals, they learn what it means to fight for their spot.”
All Bulldogs have “HEART” which breaks down into hard work, excellence, aggressiveness, respect and teamwork.
Winter season tryouts for the Bulldogs will be held on Monday, Dec. 10 for boys and Wednesday, Dec. 12 for girls at the Boys & Girls Clubs Polster Branch in Carmel Valley. This year, they are also offering the Lil Bulldogs program for first through third grade players or beginners.
Gay was a four-year starting point guard for SDSU under Coach Steve Fisher from 2007 to 2011, where he was a team captain, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award (for the nation’s best college point guard) and the school’s leader in all-time wins and games played. He played professionally in Europe in 2012 and 2014 before returning to San Diego and beginning a career in basketball coaching and skills training.
In addition to the Bulldogs, Gay is also the head coach of the varsity boys basketball team at Victory Christian Academy.
Gay helped get the Bulldogs up and running four years ago.
“I saw that basketball out here was really lacking fundamentals and a lot of kids were learning the game the wrong way,” Gay said. “I thought it was important to bring a fresh new style to San Diego and help the development of the game in the community.”
That first season, there were three teams. Now the program has exploded to 32 teams of boys and girls.
Gay believes that their success has come from the positive mentors they provide and the family-focus they provide. Not to mention the credentials of those leading the charge.
While Gay leads the boys side, the Girls Head Coach is Courtney Clements. Clements was also a SDSU Aztec, earning honorable mention All-America recognition and first-team all-Mountain West accolades in her final two seasons at SDSU (2011-13). She amassed 1,495 points, which ranks fifth in program history.
Clements went on to play in the WNBA with the Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky and the LA Sparks.
“Courtney has done a tremendous job,” Gay said of the professionalism she brings to the program. “We’re very fortunate to have her on the girls side… The fifth grade girls team hasn’t lost in six months.”
The Bulldogs play in the Sol and Thrive leagues as well as tournaments throughout San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County and Las Vegas— the boys eighth grade team is ranked number eight in Southern California.
Kids travel from as far away as Chula Vista and Temecula to play with the Bulldogs and scholarships are offered, “Our philosophy at the Boys & Girls Clubs is that no kid is turned away,” Gay said of the organization that served 7,000 kids last year.
Many Bulldog players have gone on to hoop in high school and have been recruited to play in college, “It shows what we’re doing is working,” Gay said.
The Bulldogs stress player development, hoping to shape players’ games and instincts to space the floor, find a way to help the team other than scoring, value defense (both man to man and zone) and understand the importance of team mentality.
In many cases, Gay is passing along the values instilled in him by the legendary Coach Fisher, who, he said influenced him a lot.
“(Coach Fisher) always said ‘It’s the team, the team, the team.’ When the team is doing well, everybody’s boat rises,’” Gay said.
Gay tells his kids that whether their goal is to improve, get a better ranking or win, it takes the team to reach that goal.
To have taken on this role with the Bulldogs for the past four years has been a surprise for the 29-year-old Gay, who admits he had never wanted to be a coach.
“I found myself in a position and started working with kids and I fell in love with it,” Gay said. “Watching the growth (of the league), I know this is what I want to do.”
The San Diego Bulldogs will host a Thanksgiving Camp from Nov. 19-21. For more information on the camp, upcoming tryouts or the league, visit bgcsandieguitoathletics.org