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ASU senior uses basketball to teach life lessons to youth

May 10, 2011

A big heart and a passion for basketball have combined to lead David (DJ) Heyward toward a commitment to help young people. At 22, he already is a coach and mentor for about 45 middle-school and high school students who need his guidance.

When he first moved to Arizona four years ago, Heyward got involved with Team M’Phasis, a nonprofit organization that helps young men and women in the Peoria area learn life skills and reach their full potential through playing basketball.

Meeting with teams up to five times a week, he and founder Will Roberts teach the youngsters leadership skills, responsibility, goal-setting and spirituality. Heyward spends the rest of his time on schoolwork, maintaining a 3.9 grade-point average at ASU. He will soon graduate in nonprofit leadership and management with a certificate in American Humanics.

It’s a major he never thought about until he talked to an ASU adviser, describing his work with Team M’Phasis as a “dream job.” He transferred to ASU from Glendale Community College under a transfer partnership two years ago. He’ll complete an internship with the downtown Phoenix YMCA this summer.

“Character lessons are engrained throughout practice,” says Heyward. “We teach them how to interact with others, practice discipline, learn team spirit. We have a ‘circle of excellence,’ in which we talk about obeying their parents, showing respect, doing chores.

“What keeps us going are the times when we see kids grow and change and excel. It’s worth more than any paycheck. The parents tell us they see an improvement at home. We had one student who couldn’t read, another who had been in jail, and they’re both now making As and Bs in school.”

Heyward learned volunteerism from his parents, who regularly opened their home to family members, co-workers and college students who needed a hand. There were always extra people at the kitchen table. The family lived in Delaware, near Wilmington University, and Will Roberts was one of the college students who stayed at the Heyward home.

“Will saw me playing basketball, and he started helping me, and that’s how our friendship grew,” says Heyward. “He has impacted a lot of people, me included. He’s always there for people. He moved to Phoenix, and years later after I graduated from high school I came to Arizona to live with his parents and go to college.”

Roberts founded Team M’Phasis about seven years ago, after seeing what a difference his efforts made with Heyworth.

The two men hold fund-raisers to pay for the kids’ uniforms and for a trip to Las Vegas for a tournament. The Peoria Boys and Girls Club provides free memberships, gym space and computers for study time.

For more information about Team M’Phasis, visit

Sarah Auffret
Media Relations