Former ISU guard winning at a new game
April 15, 2013
Former Iowa State basketball star Jake Sullivan speaks to a crowd inside the IKM-Manning High School auditorium Wednesday night. Sullivan runs the AAU basketball program Kingdom Hoops.
Jake Sullivan sits at the edge of his seat in the front row of the IKM-Manning High School auditorium.
Hands clamped together in front of his face as he rocks back and forth, back and forth. What was he doing?
A moment of self doubt? Unlikely. A pre-speech ritual? Perhaps.
Then he stops.
"And we welcome our guest speaker tonight, for Iowa State Cyclone basketball star, Jake Sullivan," says Ron Reischl, the emcee of the C-3's 3-K event, to the utter delight of the crowd.
Sullivan, gathers himself and walks up on to the stage set to tell the hundreds in attendance Wednesday night about his journey.
A prayer, yes, it was a prayer.
By now the former Iowa State basketball star (2001-04) is used to this sort of thing.
Sullivan heads the organization Kingdom Hoops, the AAU basketball portion of his foundation Kingdom Cares International, where he teaches boys and girls second grade through 11th grade not only about hoops, but life as a Christian.
Sullivan is proud to tell you that out of the 250 athletes who are consistently in Kingdom Hoops, 95 percent will earn a college scholarship to play basketball.
"From a basketball perspective that is the goal of our organization. But, obviously there's a lot of life lessons and mission work and these kind of opportunities," Sullivan explained.
Mission work is what led Sullivan to break away from All-Iowa Attack, the AAU program he originally founded with current president Dickson Jensen upon graduation from Iowa State in 2004.
Sullivan was not always an avid Christian. In fact, he came from a non-Christian home in Oakdale, Minn., and it wasn't until a beautiful brunette caught his eye at Iowa State that his belief in God changed.
"I was like, who is this girl," Sullivan said when describing the first time he saw his wife Janel.
Janel Sullivan attended The Salt Company, which is the college ministry at Cornerstone Church in Ames, so without any hesitation, Jake tagged along.
"I went because I wanted to date her," Jake said with an infectious laugh. "And all of the sudden, God kind of opened my eyes to people who knew God way differently than what I knew him. And in 2003 I actually became a believer."
An uber-competitive 6-foot-1 guard whose relentless work ethic led him to become one of the premier outside shooters in the country and helped him average 14.7 points per game in his college career, Sullivan, naturally, wanted to immerse himself more into the Christian faith.
It was Labor Day weekend 2008 and Sullivan found himself bedside kneeling in prayer, in desperation really, for something new to emerge in his life.
"I was bored," Sullivan explained. "I was like there's got to be more to this God stuff than just going to church on Sunday and trying to read my Bible and trying to live a good life. There's got to be more to it."
So in 2008 he decided to "give his life over to Christ."
He created Kingdom Hoops, he and Janel decided to adopt from Africa and begin mission trips to Ghana.
"Just a whole bunch of crazy things that I could not orchestrate began to happen," he said. "I never planned it, never thought about it and never had any intentions of doing it."
The Sullivans have adopted three children from Ghana: Justice, Jennifer and Jasara - and have had two biological kids, JJ and Jayla.
"When we decided to adopt, we wanted our children to know where they come from, the culture, knowing that God may call them back someday," Sullivan said. "And so I wanted to do something in Ghana, Africa. I connected with an organization called 'The Right to Dream Academy' and we decided to do a basketball academy in Ghana. Our paths went different ways, but that got me into Ghana doing mission work."
Sullivan says basketball gave him the opportunity to do something bigger in his life, something he never perceived possible when he first set foot on campus back in 2000.
"That's been the really cool thing with our organization is because of basketball and the opportunities that have been presented to me, it gave me a platform that was very, very unique for what God has called us to do," Sullivan said. "I was able to have a successful career at Iowa State and the doors that were open to me and the connections and being able to start a youth organization and all this other stuff because I played basketball has really opened the door for a platform to create awareness for what's going on in Africa and around the world."
Sullivan speaks, in part, at Manning because of what's going on in Africa, specifically Ghana. He shows a slide show of African children with birth deformities and serious illnesses that do not receive proper medical attention because of the poor villages they are from.
He speaks of what IKM-Manning sophomore Kali Rasmussen and others saw on the latest mission trip to Ghana in August. She and her family are an integral part of why Sullivan has come to speak in front of the community. Kali plays for Kingdom Hoops and her father Gene, the IKM-Manning girls head basketball coach, also serves as a coach with the program.
Gene, who was touched by the stories his daughter Kali and wife Jenn brought back, said when he began with Sullivan at All-Iowa Attack in 2006 he didn't know it would lead to this.
"At first it was basketball and then we found that it was more than just basketball," Rasmussen said. "And what he was trying to do with the kids and trying to get them to go in the right direction, it's been a great experience for me, for our whole family and even the kids that he works with now."
Jean Stadtlander, who was instrumental in conceiving the event, said she admired Sullivan's story and thought it would be a unique opportunity for the youth in the community to hear it.
"I've always been so interested in what Jake has done after his college career," she said. "So I'm like, 'why don't we have a guy like this come out and tell about his journey, his successes and what he gave back and what his challenges were to get to those.' And I just started making arrangements and it all fell into place. It was amazing."
Sullivan, when speaking candidly before his speech, points to the randomness of his presence at this particular event to lend credence to his beliefs and that what he is doing with his life has a much higher purpose than basketball.
"Who would've ever guessed that when she (Kali Rasmussen) walked in my gym in 2006 that I'd be standing here with the opportunity to speak to a couple hundred people tonight about what God has done in my life and what he's doing in Africa and all the other places around the world," Sullivan said with an ear-to-ear smile.
Sullivan's message to those in attendance is what his life has been predicated on since 2008 - move when called upon. "One of the things in 2008 when I really gave my life over to Christ, was whenever God told me to move I'd say yes to it," Sullivan says. "A lot of Christians will say I'm going to pray about it, I'm going to think about it, I'm going to consider it - just get in that habit of saying yes. Sometimes it doesn't make sense when you say 'yes' and doesn't make worldly sense to say 'yes,' but just to say 'yes.'"
Pastor Bob Riggert and others involved with the C-3, which stands for Christ Community Celebration, wanted a message catered to youth.
"We want our kids to see that life is more than just basketball," Riggert said. "It is basketball, it is sports and it is all of those things, but those things too can be done in the name of and in the cause of Christ."
Sullivan spends roughly 40 days a year in Ghana spread across three different trips and the rest of his time is spent coaching basketball or at speaking engagements like the one in Manning Wednesday night.
But Sullivan's true passion covers Riggert's and the rest of C-3's aim.
"I look back at the people who made a huge impact on my life, and without these certain people in my life, I would not be at where I am today," Sullivan said. "So to be able to have that same impact on other kids is really what my passion is. I've always been comfortable with kids and one of the skills God's given me is the ability to communicate. To be able to communicate with youth in particular and to be able to help them reach their goals and help them have the opportunities that I had is a dream come true."
Sullivan connects with the crowd in the IKM-Manning auditorium like one of his jumpers do with the net. His jokes are impactful, his charisma oozing off of him like sweat after a dazzling shooting display freshman year against Kansas, His message has many moving parts but is succinct.
Simple doesn't figure into any part of the speech, however. If it were simple, Sullivan would surely have been on a sideline somewhere this March rather than catching bits and pieces of the NCAA Tournament through the comfort of his home.
"It's been a hard thing for me, because I still have that aspiration. I still have that desire. You watch the NCAA Tournament and you're like, 'oh I could do that' and I know I could coach at that level and I know I could be successful at that level, but at the same time, God calls us to lay down our lives and not to what we want and not to our own desires, but to what he wants," Sullivan says. "And I get to actively live that out every day. And from saying no to various opportunities that have come along over the last few years, because of nights like tonight."
Stadtlander and the C-3 committee presented Sullivan with a check of $1,500 from donations, which he will use to help finance future endeavors within his organization.
Sullivan has speaking engagements Friday and Sunday as well before heading home to Ankeny, where he will plan his next mission. This time to Chad, Africa where he plans to begin a basketball ministry there called "Athletes in Action."
He's not sure what will come from it, but as he said in his speech, that's not his prerogative.
"Who knows where it's going to go," he said. "My job is just to move."