TAMPA – Learning and improving in the game of basketball takes hard work and dedication. The Skills Center provides kids who love the game a real opportunity to showcase their skills year in and year out. The plan is to build something bigger than the sport itself.

Founded in 2007 by a trio of motivated and dedicated people Celeste Roberts (Executive Director), John Arroyo (Director of Basketball Operations) and Chris Ward (Director of Training), The Skills Center became a 501c3 non-profit organization in 2008.

Whether it is by holding leagues, after-school programs, summer camps and travel teams, The Skills Center is something that gives kids a chance to learn valuable life skills at a very young age, starting at age three

John Arroyo says the goal of the center is to build successful futures by meeting children, get on their level and to develop life skills and academic success through sports.

“We strive to enhance each child’s life with the skills and character development needed to promote positive well-being, healthy living and academic success,” Arroyo said.

The Skills Center has its own physical location currently but provides services in partnership with several different centers and schools.

With a high-quality staff, the coaches and mentors, Arroyo says what separates them from the rest is their ability to help children focus on achievements and help them realize their goals and how to use their skills through sports on the way to a successful future.

It’s a great thing to see that the center gives parents the opportunity to use resources to strengthen their families, connect these kids to role models and mentors and provide programs to them regardless of income.

Arroyo calls himself more than just a coach, a mentor. He was raised in a military family in which both of his parents came over from Puerto Rico. Because of his father, he says him and his brother were always around sports.

His mother served as a social worker which gave Arroyo the inspiration to help others which he does very well at the center. He says people look all of their lives for their passion, but he thinks that he was born with his.

“My parents were always helping others whether it was with youth sports or families.  I enjoy and get a great feeling in assisting youth reach their full potential and building great bonds with others. It’s not a job for me it’s a way of life. Family means everything to me and I love to share what I was taught with youth and families.”

In being a mentor, Arroyo gives his kids the ability to come to him with anything that is on their mind. This is more than sports and he says he strives to make himself an extension of the children’s family where he can guide them in life into becoming positive citizens who can use their attributes to be successful in whatever they choose to do.

Arroyo has served as the President of The Skills Center Elite travel teams since they began in 2010, the center currently has 17 travel teams ranging from third to 11th grade.

Rising juniors, Trey Sibert (Tampa Prep), Thierry Moliere (Jesuit), Tyrick Brascom (Tampa Bay Tech), Jovan Dilworth (Tampa Bay Tech) and Denari Garrett (Sickles) are the starters on the 12-man summer squad that has been together since the fourth grade.

The group started its schedule this weekend in Orlando at the EITI Invitational. They travel to Atlanta, Ga. two times later this month before the big May Day Hoop Fest held by The Skills Center at the University of Tampa on May 6-8.

Arroyo calls the Hoop Fest the most meaningful tournament because he says they never thought they would actually run their own tournament. It serves as the biggest fundraiser for the organization and over the last few years the amount of teams in attendance has averaged nearly reached 100. Parents and families assist in running the tourney whom Arroyo gives all the credit to.

After that, the team has five more tournaments, all in Atlanta from May-July. Also, the third-ninth grade teams have a long list of talented players on the rise on both the boys and girls side of things.


True Passion

Arroyo has had the drive to help kids dating back to his high school days as a youth counselor in Oklahoma. He played college basketball at Cameron University (Oklahoma) and served as a graduate assistant before becoming a Juvenile Probation Officer for three-and-a-half years.

After that, he moved to Tampa simply because he felt his current position wasn’t fulfilling. He worked for a program called Youth Opportunity alongside Roberts and Ward before creating The Skills Center.

He creates a competitive environment wherever the games are held saying that developing the players alongside a cast of family and friends is huge.

“I don’t think you can walk into any gym throughout basketball season and not see someone wearing that Texas Orange Black ‘The Skills Center’ attire.”

Jesuit's Thierry Moliere rocks the Texas Orange Black "The Skills Center" shirt Arroyo is referring to.
Jesuit’s Thierry Moliere rocks the Texas Orange Black “The Skills Center” shirt Arroyo is referring to.

Arroyo says he attends around three-to-four games a week during the Hillsborough County basketball season. His goal is to attend as many games of the players on his 10th-grade team and try to catch at least one of all the other grades. He wants everyone to support one another.

Jay Bowie, who Arroyo coached while at the YMCA (prior to The Skills Center) went on to become a star at Tampa Prep and made it the NBDL following playing college ball at Marist University. Bowie still returns to talk to the kids at The Skills Center and is considered a product of the organization, according to Arroyo.

Chris Ward’s son, Tyson, who is set to graduate from Tampa Prep following big senior season is committed to play at North Dakota State. Although he never played for any of the travel teams because they never had one in his age division, Tyson Ward trained and spent plenty of time around the facility. Ward and Bowie, two TP players are the biggest names thus far to be around The Skills Center with plenty of more to come.

Arroyo says the center does not look for the best players which is why they do not recruit. They simply want to develop their own kids to be the best person, player and individual they can be.

“Within the game of basketball we want to develop basketball players not a point guard, not a shooting guard, not a forward, not a center but an all-around basketball player who is a good teammate and can be counted on.

…The ultimate goal is for youth and parents to trust the process work hard and reach their full potential as an individual with a group that you can build long lasting relationships.”

Alongside Roberts and Ward, Arroyo is doing a fantastic job at making a difference in the Tampa Bay area. He’s a hard worker who is looked upon as a role model to each and every one of the kids he works with. The families there respect him greatly.

Go donate to The Skills Center, volunteer or simply read up about the leagues and by visiting TheSkillsCenter.org. Also, follow the center on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Jake Perper is the founder of Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to write below or email Jake at jake.perper@hotmail.com.

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