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Tony Lange's Article about the DG Warriors

From The Chargin Valley Times

2013 champs
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            Forty years ago, DG Warriors founder Bob Fruchter’s hairstyle started to move to the middle of his back, and his lifestyle moved along with it.

            He never had to kill time counting the bubbles on a prison-cell ceiling, but facing the adversity of being disowned by his family was part of Fruchter’s story before an epiphany moment in May 1975 began to lead him along the path of becoming the health nut he is today.

            “God had a great plan for my life, and he needed to clean me up,” said Fruchter, who is now 62 years old. “There’s no question that, when I was standing in front of that mirror, that it was God’s prompting to save me and convict me of the devastation I’ve done to myself and my parents.”

            With the struggles and blessings of life in mind, Fruchter and business partner Damon Mintz, a 1992 Kenston graduate and Bainbridge resident, founded DG Sports with a vision to fulfill a mission: “Teaching kids how to win the battle in sports and in life, one way – with character at the core of everything they do.”

            And so when the first DG Warriors AAU basketball team launched five years ago – with 2013 Kenston graduates David Fruchter and Darryl Richards on the roster – Fruchter and partner Mintz recruited like-minded individuals to coach and teach young athletes with instruction centered around personal skill and character development, on and off the court.  

            Randy White, an all-state player at John Adams High School in 1976, and Derick Polk, a Cleveland Central Catholic graduate who played professional ball in Europe and with the Harlem Globetrotters, were the go-to guys to direct the basketball operations.

            As DG Sports has grown to 20-plus basketball teams and is now working on expanding upon three Junior Olympic volleyball teams with Director Deb Wordell at the helm, Fruchter and his staff have had to continue to recruit more and more coaches who fit the “one way” model of the company.

            And so arrived Clinton Smith, an Ohio player of the year at John Adams in 1982, a leading scorer for Cleveland State’s 1986 Cinderella team and a former NBA player.

            “So Randy (White) played at John Adams just like Clinton Smith did, and they were both huge names in the inner city,” Fruchter said. “So Randy is well-respected. He’s 56 now, and Clinton is 50. Randy had known Clinton pulled himself up by his bootstraps and came to me and said, ‘Hey, I want to bring Clinton Smith out for an interview.’”

            After living in Las Vegas, Smith moved back to his roots in Northeast Ohio in 2012 and began doing some work and traveling with Johnny “JB” Bethea, a coach with the all-Ohio Nike basketball program. Smith said he really respects Bethea for his ability to recruit and develop some of the top prospects in the nation.

            So when Fruchter sat down with Smith last summer, it wasn’t about selling him on the concept of AAU basketball or DG Sports but rather gaining a common understanding and trust of how to help kids in all walks of life.

            During that interview, Fruchter slapped down a pre-epiphany photo of himself from 1974 on the table.

            “We hit it off immediately,” Fruchter said. “I said, ‘Listen, the only difference between you and me is you got caught.’ I think it was fair to say that that was the beginning of our bond. So he looked at me and said, ‘Man, I’m in.’ And we’ve become best friends now, and he is just blowing up our company.”

            In part because of Smith’s full-time presence as a skills-development trainer and coach with the DG Warriors, they earned their first invite to a Nike tournament this weekend, the Midwest Showdown in Cincinnati, where the eighth-grade girls elite team will compete among some of the best programs in the country.

            “We’re just trying to build something and keep building for the kids, because what’s more innocent than a child, period?” Smith said. “So Bob accepted me, everybody accepted me. I really believe in doing what’s right. So I’m happy with who I am, and DG has been good to me. Bob (Fruchter) and Randy (White) welcomed me with open arms, and everything has been positive. We just like to turn the page and not dwell on the past.”

            DG Warriors is not a Christian program but rather a youth character-development program run by Christians who promote treating one’s neighbor as oneself, loving God and obeying parents.

            So when a kid in the program got in a fist fight with his mom, Fruchter made the final decision to drop the player, he said.

            “I give Clinton credit, because I didn’t want to do,” Fruchter said. “He was a good player, but it was the right thing to do. So we dropped him.”

            Smith said there was no other choice.

            “Yeah, we got rid of him, because, if we kept him, what message does that teach?” Smith said. “A fist fight with your mom, who does that? He did it, and so he’s not with us.”

            While DG Sports is based out of the Community B complex in Auburn Township, the DG Warriors are now promoting their basketball opportunities in the inner city with players from the Kenston School District, among others, traveling downtown to practice with scholarship kids, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the AAU experience.

            In that effort, Mintz and his other business partner Dan Martin, of Huntsburg, recently created a threefold partnership with 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker through the nonprofit Livio Cares Foundation, which will now be working with DG Sports to impact children and families around the world.

            It’s only the beginning, Fruchter said, with a dream-like “Warriors Park” in mind, which he hopes will encompass eight full-size courts, law offices to manage pro athletes, a Warriors Restaurant, a Warriors Motel and more.

            “I’ve put my trust and I’ve got absolute faith in Randy (White), Derick (Polk) and Clinton (Smith) to help me carry out the vision,” Fruchter said. “So when I’m gone, they will continue the legacy of the investing in the kids and families, because that’s what this is all about.”

            Smith said he considers Fruchter his “Larry Bird,” referencing the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, who gave former Cleveland State head coach Kevin Mackey a second chance by hiring him as a professional scout in 2003, despite his 1990 arrest outside of a crack cocaine house in Cleveland.

            “You know, I made a mistake in the past just like all humans, and Bob (Fruchter) gave me a second chance,” Smith said, referencing struggles in his post-NBA days. “That’s the kind of people I like to be around. These guys are my friends. Bob and I are great friends. And I don’t do friends. I really don’t trust most people. And Bob and Randy (White) I talk to and communicate with all the time.

            “So Bob’s my Larry Bird.”