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‘Why not me?’

Waupaca native Jordan Johnson takes a break while working out with Hortonville basketball players Kallie and Kardyn Peppler at Grit365, the basketball skills facility that Johnson recently opened in Appleton. The Pepplers are two of several Fox Valley area basketball players that work on their skills at the gym. Greg Seubert Photo

Waupaca native trains basketball players

By Greg Seubert

Jordan Johnson honed his basketball skills on youth and high school teams in Waupaca.

He’s been sharing those skills for years in the Fox Valley and recently opened Grit365, a basketball training facility, on Appleton’s north side.

“It’s taken 14 years to get to this point just growing the training business from one kid to four to 32 to 100 to 400,” said Johnson, who went on to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh from 2004-08 after graduating from Waupaca High School. “This is a membership facility and there are a lot of kids that come here on a nightly basis just to work on their game. Over the course of the last dozen years, it’s been putting the time into the gym with community players and eventually making the leap of faith that something like this would exist. Why not me?”

Johnson’s love of the game of basketball started in Waupaca, including playing for former high school coaches Ron Weber and Tim Locum.

“Certainly, Waupaca is my roots for all sports: football, baseball, basketball,” he said. “I learned a lot from youth coaches all the way up to high school and college coaches. I would travel over to some of the daylong or two-day camps in Appleton, but the majority of what I did was in Waupaca.”
Recruited for basketball and football, Johnson eventually decided on basketball and UW-Oshkosh.

“I saw how much you had to put into the game to really be goo,” he said. “The decision really came down to being close to home, being close to family, and being able to have family at games. I knew I wanted to go into business and Oshkosh is a business school. It was a perfect fit.”

Johnson graduated from UW-Oshkosh with an accounting degree in 2009 and eventually settled in the Appleton area.

“Growing up in Waupaca and having been over here for the last dozen years, it’s certainly opened my eyes to how big the area is, not only with high schools, but middle schools and elementary schools,” he said. “They’re feeder systems and we’re talking Division 1 (Fox Valley Association) schools. Over the past several years, I’ve certainly seen a vision for an area like Appleton to have an exclusive basketball training area. This is the first one in Appleton.”

Focus on skills

Grit365 focuses on skills and fundamentals, according to Johnson.

“We bring kids in here throughout the school year and we’ll train them in the evening, in the morning, after school,” he said. “During the summer, we run our big camps. It’s not a day camp, it’s not a three-day camp, it’s a full summer-long camp. There are members that are part of this facility just like a 24/7 fitness that can come here and use the facility. That’s really what it’s about: them using this space as a place to get their skills and fundamentals better. On a given night, there are a couple hundred kids that will be in here on a weekly basis.”

Johnson said a facility like Grit365 wouldn’t work in a community the size of Waupaca.

“You have to have a large area with a pretty good population to be able to do this,” he said. “It’s about trying to inspire kids at an early age. I have young kids. I want to inspire them. If basketball is their sport, that’s awesome. If it ends up being volleyball, football, baseball or softball, that’s great, too.”

Johnson has worked with several players that keep coming back to Grit365.

“There are kids that will graduate this year that have been with us for seven, eight, nine years,” he said. “They started as third-graders or fourth-graders. There are a few Kimberly girls that started training with me in fourth grade and now they’ll be graduating this year and going on to play high-level college basketball. I’m just a small part of that. At the end of the day, they have to commit to being here.”

Grit365 includes players of different ages and skill levels.

“People have to understand that to be a high-level college player, you have to start in third grade, second grade, kindergarten, whatever it may be,” Johnson said. “These boys and girls that are playing high-level college basketball did not start as great players. They started with the same fundamentals as a beginner.

“We focus on third-grade boys and girls all the way through collegiate boys and girls,” he said. “We do not mix and match age levels and gender levels. We keep it very specific to age, gender and skill levels so we maximize a players’ potential. You could classify a third-grade boy in the same category, whether you’re tall, short, fast or slow. For the most part, they start out with the same type of skill and some of them advance quicker than others. We have the ability to take a sixth-grade girl, for example, and train them up with a seventh-grade group because we recognize a skill level. It provides us that flexibility with the relationship we have with the kid to say, ‘Hey, I think you should go up a grade.’”

Players from more than 50 Fox Valley area schools have worked out at Grit365.

“We’re talking about the entire Fox Valley,” Johnson said. “We have kids from Waupaca, Marion, Green Bay, Wrightstown, Hilbert, Fond du Lac. I love the fact that we are not exclusive. We’re inclusive of all genders and backgrounds.”

Johnson recently moved Grit365 to its new location at 320 Allegiance Court, Appleton.

“Grit365 has been in existence for 2 1/2 years,” he said. “Prior to that, it was just strictly Jordan Johnson Basketball. This facility opened Nov. 4.
It’s close to 12,000 square feet, six hoops, two full courts. It’s a similar model to our old space, but double the size. It offers a way better environment with a floor and lobby area. This is brand new and custom-built for basketball. Everything in here down to the square foot is customized to what we want it to be.”

‘Passion project’

Johnson has helped train several Division 1 college players over the years.

“Come in here in a few weeks and you’ll see 29 banners hanging in here of all the players that have come through our training program, but I think it’s bigger than the player playing collegiate basketball,” he said. “The game of basketball provides that opportunity for players to become a better person. For me, I love to see players compete at the highest level and I want to see them succeed in life, whether that be college basketball, college volleyball, track and field, something that they feel really worth doing at the next level.”

Johnson is a manager for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. out of its Milwaukee corporate office.

“This is a passion project,” he said. “This is for players and parents. The purpose is for families to come in here and for kids to get rebounding by their parents. It’s better than I expected. The response has been great. The most important thing I can do is provide a safe, inclusive environment for players and parents that they can utilize to become better.”

Details on Grit365 are available at jordanjohnson.com; on Grit365’s Facebook page, facebook.com/jordanjohnsonbasketball/; or by calling 920-277-8668.
“There’s not a lot of advertising and marketing that goes into this, but kids keep showing up and that’s what it’s really all about,” Johnson said. “Once you get a couple of players who are really influential in their communities, younger players see them working out and hear about them working out. Why wouldn’t they want to become a part of that?”

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