Taking Their Shot: Pair Takes Aim on Home Court

Oakridge Neighborhood resident Peter Ngo was drawn to my attention by the managing editor of an area television station. He’d received a call from Peter, saying the station only covered news from Oakridge Neighborhood when something negative happened. He wanted the newsman to know there were all kinds of great things going on here all the time, like the basketball workshops he had recently launched that numerous Oakridge youth were all about.

The editor was intrigued. So was I. So, one day this summer I made my way to Peter’s apartment, where he lives with his dad, mom and five younger siblings, to get the lowdown. I was welcomed by 22-year-old Peter, and explained why I was there. He was gracious, kind, welcoming…and tall. He looked like a guy who might know a thing or two about basketball.

Since that first meeting Peter’s goal of developing an ongoing basketball clinic for area youth has started to blossom. What began as outdoor practice with a handful of youth on the basketball court at Oakridge this summer has evolved. Today nearly 60 students are practicing at various times throughout the week, some Mondays and Tuesdays after school at Edmunds Elementary School, some Saturdays and Sundays for more extended sessions just down the street at the gym at First Methodist Church.

Keeping Peter motivated is his righthand man and best friend since grade school, Mamoud Bayoh. Mamoud exudes positivity and encouragement. The pair met over basketball all those years ago, and today are partners working to evolve their current initiative into a sustainable program, a traveling league for area youth. It’s a model that has a unique twist: students come to basketball practice AND can get a free haircut, all in one, thanks to the barbering skills Mamoud brings to the table.

Hoops and Hopes

Peter was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The Ngos moved to the United States in 2005, joining family that was living at Oakridge. Peter did not know English, so was bullied at school in those early years. He says it taught him how to stand up for himself at a young age.

Peter and Mamoud crossed paths one summer attending a church camp, around 5th grade. They started playing basketball every day. Mamoud had already been introduced to basketball fundamentals through league play, but Peter was new to the sport and his style of play was “more street ball,” laughs Mamoud. Peter recognized that his buddy was besting him by consistently making some pretty complicated shots, which frustrated him. He started asking Mamound for advice, and Mamoud in turn began to teach Peter basketball fundamentals.

The pair played with Kingdom Hoops in junior high then joined the basketball team at North High School. Junior year, Peter transferred to Roosevelt High School, and Mamoud quit basketball after the death of his father. His artistic bent led him to ultimately go into barbering – complete with house calls!

In the meantime, Peter started his basketball career at Roosevelt with all kinds of bad attitude, he says, due to the rough start he had growing up. But sometime that junior season, he had an epiphany that if he didn’t change, he wasn’t going to get anywhere. “So I focused on my grades and I focused on my school life,” he says.

The change in Peter didn’t go unnoticed; many people told him how inspirational his pivot was from being “one of the baddest kids in school with attitude to one of the humblest kids.” His game also improved. “I always had work ethic,” he says. “When I started out everyone was better than me. But I surpassed their expectations. My mother always told me with hard work you can go anywhere; she ingrained that in me.”

Peter was awarded a basketball scholarship to Mount Mercy University, but when the pandemic hit, remote learning wasn’t for him, and he decided to return to Des Moines. Today he is employed at Amazon, while working to launch his youth basketball organization with input from his pastor and others who’ve initiated similar efforts. 

Basketball for 'a Better Future, a Better Chance'

The impetus for the new venture? Peter’s siblings.

“I need to help them find a better future, a better chance,” he says. “If you can enlighten a kid they can go far in life. Basketball can have a huge impact.”

Academics is an important component of the dialogue with the students, too. “We have them write essays,” Peter says. “And if they don’t do their essay, they don’t get to join practice.” Pretty motivating for a team of kids that asks for more practice, when practice is over. “We know we are doing something right when the kids are having fun and want to keep doing it,” Peter says.

This fall, girls and boys in grades 3-8 learned basketball fundamentals and are now participating in area tournaments. Peter and Mamoud hope that if they can raise enough money, the students will be able to participate in a competitive traveling league. Ultimately the duo aspires the have their own practice facility, and to provide a source of income for their efforts.

But in the short term, they are more concerned with the basics, like providing the kids with basketball shoes, backpacks for their gear, cones, shot clocks and the like. So far the parents of the players have really pulled together to try to help provide, Peter says.

For more information, check out some practices on YouTube at @brickzlegends8600

Mamoud’s barbering skills can be seen on Instagram at @kmb_hussle