Little played basketball all through high school on the Berrien Springs High School team, winning High School All-conference where he enjoyed the challenge, the competition, and the chance to step up his skills.
It was only when he came to Andrews University in 2008 that he realized that his games could be about more than just competition. Playing for a Christian school made a huge difference, Little says. “Before practices, games, and trips we prayed; we went to church together. It was cool to go to different schools and be able to talk about our university and what we were about.” Ryan found that his reason for playing was a little different: not only did he play for his team to win, but he and his teammates also had to remember “that the way we acted and played not only represented ourselves or our school, but our religion.” Basketball teams always represent their school, but people notice when a school represents a religion and God as well.
Playing for a Christian school made a huge difference...
And Little was well worth noticing: an impressive stats record earned him several awards. In the 2010-2011 season, he was ranked #2 among USCAA scoring leaders for making almost 500 points in a season, averaging 24 points per game. He made 48% of the shots he took, and 76% of his free throws. He is a College All-American and Academic All-American player, and was awarded the USCAA Tournament MVP in 2011. Little was elected team captain of the Andrews University Cardinals for the 2010-2011 season, after playing point guard for 2 years. That year, the Cardinals won against the University of Cincinnati Clermont in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Division II Championship.
The Cardinals also got to be the Christian example Little spoke about at the tournament. Their Friday night and Saturday morning games were rescheduled by the USCAA “in order to accommodate for Andrews University, a Seventh-day Adventist member…” as stated on the USCAA website. The United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) is an association of 90 four-year and community/junior colleges that organize a yearly tournament.
Little wanted to give kids the same opportunities he had to “grow as players and as people" and he believes that "basketball can open up so many doors and can teach so many things.” So, he founded Faith Basketball Academy in 2012 with the intent of “strengthening young adults’ spiritual relationship with God, while also providing excellent basketball instruction and training,” the Academy’s website says.
“Sports can be very effective at bringing people together and building relationships,” says Little, and just as a statistics record like Little’s takes time and lots of work, so does a relationship with God. “We wanted to create one of the first high-intensity, Christian-focused basketball camps out there,” he says. Many basketball camps provide excellent training, but there are few available that also emphasize Christian values. “We wanted to provide good training for kids already in the church,” Little says, “but we also wanted to draw kids from the community that might not know anything about Jesus or the Bible. We wanted to use sports to bring young people together and instill good values–another way we can change the world.”
We wanted to use sports to bring young people together and instill good values–another way we can change the world.
Little is a coach for the academy, as well as Dave Jardine, head coach and athletic director at Andrews University; and Kirt Brower, head men’s basketball coach at Pacific Union College. Little manages the camp while also working as a Financial Analyst at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital in Illinois. Brower previously worked as the assistant men’s basketball coach at Redlands University in southern California.
A former teammate, Michael Nixon, remembers first hearing about Little’s idea. “When Ryan first told me, I was skeptical if it could happen on such short notice. But Ryan did whatever it took to get the camp up and running! The first camp was really successful, and it was very inspiring to see Ryan taking charge.”
Faith Basketball Academy’s first camp was held last summer at Andrews University, and 20 students between the ages of 6 and 12 signed up. “It allowed us to give a lot of individualized instruction,” said Little. A typical day at Faith Basketball Academy usually includes drills, position-specific training, scrimmage, and team playoffs, as well as worship and seminars. FBA recently gained certification as a nonprofit organization, and Little hopes to expand the Academy to include camps for girls, more age groups, and camps in multiple locations. He’d also like to develop day camps or clinics for students throughout the school year.
Photo credit: Jonathan Jacobs