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Basketball at Backyard looks to develop skills of local youth
Basketball at Backyard
Former Pitman High standout Austin Keaton is now running a year-round youth basketball program at the Backyard Sports Academy in Turlock (Photo contributed).

For years the Backyard Sports Academy in Turlock has been predominantly known for their baseball services, but Pitman alumnus Austin Keaton has brought another sport into the mix with his Basketball at Backyard program.

Keaton graduated from Pitman in 2008 and has kept a connection with sports ever since. After playing baseball and basketball in college, he did a number of coaching and training jobs throughout the area, serving as a basketball coach at Pitman and Central Valley high schools. It was during this period in 2017 that a unique opportunity came before him.

“I was with my former baseball assistant coach from Pitman, Jacob Payne. I was training Jacob’s kid in basketball, and we just kicked the idea around about starting a training program,” he explained.

Another huge factor in the process was their relationship with Backyard Sports Academy owner Steve Soderstrom. Keaton explained that Backyard had a basketball court within one of their buildings that wasn’t being put to full use.

“It’s just a big red barn out there, so you wouldn’t even think that there was a basketball court in there,” Keaton said, “They had the court out there, but no league or structure. It would be rented out for open gym or indoor soccer, but nothing official. That’s when we decided to go for implementing the basketball program and it’s been working out ever since.”

While the program has been in existence since 2017, there have been several changes. At first, the program was only a seasonal thing, taking place in the winter during the typical basketball season. In May 2021, Payne left the program and handed the keys over to Keaton full-time. It was then that the Basketball at Backyard transitioned into a year-round program being held multiple times a year for a 10-week period.

“It’s just been a year since going year-round and it’s been a great experience to work with the kids and see them improve,” Keaton said.

Keaton works alongside his friend and former Pitman teammate Sam Madden, who is one of the coaches in the program. Together, they introduce children to the fundamentals of the game and focus on playing with sportsmanship.

“We want to teach them things outside of basketball,” Keaton said. “This is the future, so we want them to go about things in the right way. If kids are having fun, making progress and learning the game in a positive environment, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

Keaton and Madden recently ended the spring session and are now preparing for the summer camp, which begins on June 20 and lasts through the first week of September.

The program is open to both boys and girls ages 7 through 14. Those interested in signing up their child can do so by filling out a Google Form on the official @Basketball_at_Backyard Instagram page. Additional questions can be answered by calling Keaton at (209) 485-4276.