Jonathan Stone ’92 (above), a former Colgate basketball star, spent five of last summer’s hottest days directing a basketball camp for more than 50 teenage boys from low-income homes in Philadelphia, New York, and across New Jersey. But this was not just any basketball camp. The TopSpin Hoops Academy, held at The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., where Stone has coached the boys’ basketball team for 17 years, came about through a collaboration of Colgate alumni who knew each other as undergraduates in the 1990s. More than 20 years later, they came together to provide lessons not only on shooting, dribbling, and defense, but also on values, morals, and leadership.
“These are kids who don’t get an opportunity to go to any camps,” said Stone, who still holds the Raiders’ single-game scoring record (on March 2, 1992, he lit up Brooklyn College for 52 points). “It was an incredibly rewarding experience for me and I think for everyone involved. It was our chance to give back.”
The camp represented an outgrowth of TopSpin Charity, a philanthropic enterprise begun in 2009 by Peter Farnsworth ’92, a former Colgate lacrosse player. TopSpin began as so many worthy endeavors do — with some trash talk around the office water cooler. At the time, Farnsworth worked for the National Basketball Association as the senior vice president for global development. This particular water-cooler imbroglio concerned the perceived Ping-Pong talents of Farnsworth and his office mates. They decided to settle their dispute once and for all, with a Ping-Pong tournament, and along the way they figured they’d leverage their professional networks to raise money for education-based nonprofits.
In time, Farnsworth reached out to Colgate classmates Thayer Lavielle ’93, a former Raiders lacrosse player and a marketing strategist with Wasserman, a sports and entertainment agency, and Dan Gladstone ’94, a former executive with the New York Knicks who now works for the NBA Players Association. They helped Farnsworth secure corporate sponsors and celebrity participants. (TopSpin competitions have included a star-studded roster of past and current NBA players, among them Julius Erving, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Paul Pierce, and Steph Curry.) In 13 TopSpin events held over the past seven years — in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas — Farnsworth and friends have raised $2.5 million for 19 educational nonprofit organizations.
For Farnsworth, the son of college professors, education for underserved young people is an especially urgent cause.
“This fundamental notion that we don’t start on an even playing field is reprehensible,” said Farnsworth, who left the NBA in 2010 to start Foxrock, a sports marketing firm, in New York City. “At the same time that it’s discouraging, it’s also motivating to do something about it.”
Last summer’s Hoops Academy was the first TopSpin project outside the realm of Ping-Pong. Farnsworth said it won’t be the last. He’s already hatching plans to send 150 lacrosse players from Harlem to a camp in Maine next summer. He and Stone also plan to reprise the boys’ basketball camp, and Farnsworth said they’re adding a similar camp for girls.
“One of the neat things about Colgate,” Stone said, “is that you can all go off and do things and still stay connected.”
— Christopher Hann