When The Times-Gazette caught up with Tirrell Cumberland Friday afternoon, the local basketball instructor had two students running drills at the former Warren Furniture warehouse on Muntz Street.
“It’s nothing fancy, but it works,” Cumberland said of the facility. He’s been running his company, TC3 Basketball Skills and Development, out of the warehouse since March 2016, but his passion for teaching youngsters goes back much longer than that.
In all, Cumberland said he’s been giving basketball instruction for about seven years, beginning when he saw a young athlete at the Hillsboro YMCA struggling to shoot a basketball and began helping him out.
Now, he has about 45 students who come to the warehouse for extra coaching, although he had as many as 60 students earlier in the summer.
Cumberland said he’s never advertised his services, and has never had to.
“I don’t chase people down,” he said, mainly because he believes that if students want to improve enough, they seek out training.
Cumberland, who graduated from Hillsboro High School where he played basketball for a number of years, said he has students from all around the county, mostly Lynchburg and Hillsboro, although some come from as far as Winchester and Jamestown.
Cumberland would occasionally interrupt the interview to correct a sloppy shot or poor dribble by giving advice or illustrating methods himself – often offering instructions like, “You’re dribbling too high,” or “Hey, that’s coming off your pinkie finger.”
Cumberland had more to say about his faith and philosophy than basketball techniques – representative of his belief that basketball instruction isn’t all about the sport itself – but he wasn’t afraid to brag on his students’ skills.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “This is about the kids… And I’ve got some kids who can flat out shoot it.”
According to Cumberland, two or three of his students have the potential to receive generous scholarships if they choose to move beyond high school sports, but that’s not his end game. He said he wants his students to learn the same lessons he learned in earlier years: Stay humble. Work hard in school. Shrug off the critics. Find a way to give back in any way you can.
And some of those lessons, Cumberland said, were learned from his own students.
“I’ve learned a lot from these kids… When I first started, I thought it was all about basketball, too,” he said.
Even so, when it comes to training, Cumberland runs a tight ship. Kicking the basketball, flipping water bottles and not responding when spoken to are all offenses punishable by a set of push-ups, and Cumberland said he doesn’t tolerate anger – either from students or himself.
“I will not raise my voice,” he said. “I hear a lot of coaches saying, ‘respect, respect,’ but not showing respect to their kids.”
When students get angry — and he said they often do — it’s more push-ups or a calm heart-to-heart conversation to take things down a notch. Either way, there’s plenty of room for tough love, he said.
Cumberland said he faced his fair share of skepticism when he first moved into the warehouse, but he took the leap anyway — and he said it’s turned out well.
“If you treat people right and offer a decent product at a decent price, you’ll always be in business, that’s what I think,” he said.
Even now, he has plenty of critics, but he said he takes it in stride.
“That don’t bother me a bit,” he said. “At the end of the day, I let my actions speak for themselves.”
Currently, Cumberland is looking to expand his operations with a new facility at the old city water plant property on U.S. Route 62 north of town. Hillsboro City Council recently transferred the property to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation, and the site has been surveyed for new construction.
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings told The Times-Gazette earlier this week that the city is set to build a “finished warehouse structure” and arrange for Cumberland to buy it.
“The plan is still there, it’s just not moving as fast as it could in the private sector, which is always frustrating,” Hastings said earlier this week. “It’s still up in the air as to exactly how we would do it, but it would be something that’s workable for all of us. What we would probably do is arrange to build it with an agreement to sell it to him, then he gets financing or we help him get financing.”
Hastings said the structure will be big enough to house an entire basketball court.
Cumberland said he’s looking forward to the opportunities the new facility could present if the deal comes together.
“If I can do that, it’s game on,” he said. “I could offer so much more.”
Until then, he said he’s more than content with what he has.
“It doesn’t even feel like a job,” Cumberland said. “I’m blessed. I really am… I felt like this is what God wants me to do, to serve other people. And this is my service, right here.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.