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Former St. Frances player Briana Hutchen (right, in 2009) is one of the hosts of the U.S.E. Basketball Foundation Family Reunion, along with Shatyra Hawkes. The event aims to teach young girls about how to use basketball to improve their future and includes a panel and games.
Former St. Frances player Briana Hutchen (right, in 2009) is one of the hosts of the U.S.E. Basketball Foundation Family Reunion, along with Shatyra Hawkes. The event aims to teach young girls about how to use basketball to improve their future and includes a panel and games. (KENNETH K. LAM / Baltimore Sun)

When former St. Frances basketball players Briana Hutchen and Shatyra Hawkes hosted their first U.S.E. Basketball Foundation Family Reunion last summer, they were pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

They wanted to give back to the young girls who grew up playing basketball on the Baltimore courts just as they had, so they decided to host an annual event to showcase local role models and offer a panel discussion about how girls could use their basketball talent to further their goals in all aspects of life.

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They discovered that the event, especially the panel discussion that drew about 100 people, filled a need for knowledge about the basketball recruiting process.

"I was very surprised by the numbers that we got and the participation from some of the younger kids and parents, how involved they were and how much they really wanted to learn about the things we wanted to teach them," said Hutchen.

For Sunday's Family Reunion at St. Frances, Hutchen is expecting an even bigger turnout. The panel discussion at 9 a.m. will be followed by a day of basketball games for elementary school players and an alumni game bringing some of the biggest names in high school girls basketball back to the local court.

This year, all the players in the 11:30 Baby Ballers Game and the 12:30 Middle School Showdown are required to attend the panel discussion, which features several former All-Metro players including Hutchen, the 2010 All-Metro Player of the Year who played at Alabama; Hawkes, an Xavier graduate; Asya Bussie, the 2009 Player of the Year who played at West Virginia; and Asia Logan, a Digital Harbor graduate who played at Pitt.

The panel also includes coaches Tom Gizzi, from Seton Keough; and Chris Burley, a former Western assistant coach now assisting at Wilmington.

Hutchen said there has been so much interest in the panel discussion that many parents asked if it could run longer.

"This year we were thinking about making it a two-day process," she said, "but I think we're going to do that next year because the parents wanted to have an all-day informative clinic where they were able to learn about all the aspects. Two hours wasn't enough time to get done everything we wanted to get done. I got so much feedback from it afterward, so many emails and calls from parents who just were thinking so much about what we were teaching them — things that they had no idea about."

That's exactly why Hutchen and Hawkes started their U.S.E. Basketball Foundation. They turned their basketball skills into college scholarships that led to college degrees. Hutchen, who has a master's degree from Alabama, is director of basketball operations at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., while Hawkes is training and mentoring young girl basketball players in East Baltimore.

"I feel one of the biggest seeds that we planted last year was to hold your own expectations," Hutchen said. "There are always parents who want their girls to be the next Angel McCoughtry, but one of the biggest things that we preached last year was to hold your own standard and be as great as you can be. Don't measure yourself against anyone else, because no one else is you.

"Literally use basketball as a gateway to your future. That doesn't mean you have to play in the WNBA; it means you can use all the effort you put in all these years to get a scholarship, go to college and pursue whatever you want to pursue."

Gizzi, who took over the Seton Keough program last spring, said he "loves the concept" of the panel. He's been on all sides of the recruiting process — as a high school coach formerly at McDonogh, as a club coach, as a college assistant coach at Loyola Maryland and as a parent of two student-athletes.

"I've been at just about every seat at the table and I love the opportunity to pass on what we've all learned," Gizzi said.

"Everybody in women's basketball is 'Oh, I want to get a scholarship. I want to go play D-I.' They only see basketball through their AAU coach's eyes and their rec league coach's eyes and it's different for each player, so to get that perspective of 'been there, done that' from the players coming back to Baltimore and sharing some of their experiences — on the good side and the not-so-good side — I think is great."

After the panel discussion, games will kick off with the younger girls, followed by the DMW High School Showdown, featuring current high school players, at 1:30 p.m. and the College Alumni Game at 2:45.

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The rosters for the games are closed, but the event is open to anyone. Admission is $5.

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