DENVER – Denver metro area kids who love basketball are learning how much math is involved in their favorite sport. They're realizing this through a board game called NBA Math Hoops.
"This idea of bringing sports and education together is not necessarily a new idea but no one has really done it well ... yet," Khalil Fuller said.
Fuller, 23, is the CEO of Learn Fresh Education Company, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that is based in Denver. They develop and distribute NBA Math Hoops across the country.
This is how NBA Math Hoops works.
Students draft a team of NBA and WNBA players, and then go through "a basketball game" on the board.
Each "coach" holds a card for each basketball player, complete with that pro's statistics for making free throws, two-point and three-point shots.
With each roll of the dice, a player has the chance to score, but it depends on the stats of the NBA and WNBA players on the team. It also depends on the child's ability to quickly figure out addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems.
The game is timed, and there is a shot clock as is the case in any basketball game. There is a white board where "the coach" (the student) figures the fundamental match problems to strategize their next play on the court.
NBA Math Hoops is currently being played by an estimated 1,500 kids in the Denver area. DPS has the board game for its students. The Denver Bridge Project, Denver Parks & Rec centers, YMCA locations and the Boys & Girls Clubs also have NBA Math Hoops teams.
"The NBA Math Hoops Community Program is growing at 400 percent annually," Fuller said. "We're reaching 14,000 kids across the country which is great for a nonprofit, but it's still just a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of kids who deserve to find the joy in math."
Aside from fun, the game is proving to be a really effective tool in teaching. Fuller reports a recent study discovered that students who play NBA Math Hoops had their math scores grow 300 percent more than the students in a controlled group.
To see those numbers is thrilling for Fuller who grew up in a family in Los Angeles that didn't have a lot of money but really stressed the importance of embracing school and getting a good education.
Fuller also loved basketball, and his idols growing up were professional players.
"As a middle-schooler, I became obsessed with the shoes the players wore, the Nikes, the Jordans, but I couldn't really afford them," Fuller said. "I borrowed $100 from my mom, started a buy-low, sell-high business and by the time I was 16, I had about 55 pairs of Nikes in my closet, bought a car and in the process, I fell in love with math."
Fuller ended up tutoring some of his best friends who wanted to drop out of high school because they felt far behind in math.
"That set me on this path," Fuller said.
Fuller would incentivize the friends he was tutoring by promising them a round of basketball if they finished their work.
"I thought what if I could bring together math and basketball because when I look at the sport of basketball, I see all the beautiful math that's there," Fuller said. "Kids on blacktops all over the country are having these math-based conversations about basketball, they just don't know they're math-based conversations. How many kids talk about Kobe vs. Jordan, LeBron vs. Kobe ... and these are really stats-based conversations. When you give them the power to pull in those stats, it's a wonderful thing to watch."
While at Brown University, Fuller met Tim Scheidt, the inventor of what is now NBA Math Hoops.
"What Khalil and the Learn Fresh team are doing with it now here in Denver and all over the country is absolutely amazing," Scheidt said.
Scheidt was in Denver recently to witness a "live version" of NBA Math Hoops.
Bradley International K-8 and Valdez Elementary were the top performing schools out of the 80 around Denver for the "first quarter" of the NBA Math Hoops season.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets teamed up with the kids. When the kids figured out their math problems, they would tell their players where to shoot on the court.
The kids were obviously thrilled. The players were equally as impressed with the quick-solving math skills of their "coaches."
Having the NBA's support is huge for this program.
"We're fortunate that we have a royalty-free license from the NBA, actually for the first time in their history," Fuller said. "Getty Images provides free use of the players images which is otherwise very expensive. We're also really fortunate that Hasbro makes and produces our board games for us for free."
Learn Fresh has also received grants the National Players Association and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
While NBA Math Hoops is currently only a board game, there are plans to develop it into an app so kids could have access to it any time.
"If you can show kids how fun learning can be and you ignite this spark, the long-term consequences are just endless," Fuller said.
To learn more about NBA Math Hoops, visit: http://www.learnfresh.org/.
(© 2015 KUSA)