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From South Shore Backyard To Chicago Sky Coach: How Hoops Trainer Ahmad Starks Found His Way Home

The former Whitney Young standout played all over the globe, and didn't know what to do after retiring. He's now grown his training business to 100-plus players — including Candace Parker.

South Shore native Ahmad Starks gives pointers to Sky point guard Dana Evans before a recent game at Wintrust Arena.
Tommy Ngo/tommyfilms_
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CHICAGO — Professional basketball took South Shore’s Ahmad Starks all over the world: Sweden, Australia, Canada, Brazil and North Macedonia. 

Now Starks, 29, has found his spot with the hometown team — as the skills trainer for the Chicago Sky. 

Starks, a 5-foot-9 point guard, played at Whitney Young and the University of Illinois before traveling the world for professional basketball. He retired from his overseas career in 2019. He rekindled his local connections and built a clientele of 100-plus Chicago hoopers, training everyone from high school kids to pros in whatever South Side gyms he can talk his way into. 

Word reached Sky coach James Wade, who gave Starks a call before the start of the team’s season in May. Taking the job was a “no brainer,” Starks said. 

“I’m honored to be in the position to help bring another championship to my hometown, just to have a role in that,” Starks said. “I’m not ready to go anywhere else again. I love what we’re building here.” 

The local trainer now practices with the Sky every day, working directly with the championship-winning team’s stars, including Candace Parker. 

“Candace is a super competitor, talking a lot of stuff every day. It gets everyone going; it gets me going,” Starks said. “She gets a few buckets, but I get my fair share, too.” 

Starks won a state championship with Whitney Young in 2009 and owns the all-time 3-point record at Oregon State, where he played before rounding out his college career at the University of Illinois. 

Life playing pro ball across continents can be taxing and isolating, Starks said, “just being away from friends and family consistently.” He suffered an eye injury in Sweden and found his way to Bitola, North Macedonia, where he didn’t know the language and dealt with culture shock. 

When Starks’ father was diagnosed with cancer, he knew it was time to come back to Chicago. 

“I could have kept playing, but I was ready to hang it up. It’s just a feeling you get,” Starks said. “I came home and I was lightly depressed, trying to figure out what to do next.” 

A former coach at Whitney Young asked Starks if he would stop by his former gym to help out a high school point guard. 

The player’s dad watched the workout and asked Starks, “What’s your price?” 

“It was word-of-mouth from there. I didn’t recruit anyone. I just started training people due to my relationships,” Starks said. “I love working with the local high school kids, seeing the growth and the process. I’ve been in those shoes. I can relate to them and help mold them.” 

Credit: Tommy Ngo/tommyfilms_
Starks warms up with his hometown Chicago Sky before a recent home game at Wintrust Arena.

Gym spaces have been hard to book during the pandemic, Starks said. He searched the South Side for places to take his players, even taking them to his old backyard. His childhood home in South Shore still had a full-length basketball court.

Starks talked the new homeowners into letting him use it once again. 

“When nobody else had much going on during the pandemic, I was able to use my old court,” Starks said. “That grew my platform.” 

Starks’ clients now include pro Jabari Parker and local high school standouts JJ Taylor and Brianna McDaniel. 

Recently, Starks has encouraged Sky champion point guard Courtney Vandersloot to shoot more jumpers. He showed Parker “a move she can use on the perimeter,” he said. 

Starks will travel with the Sky this year and join them on the bench at games. 

“These women can really play. They listen and they look to get better,” Starks said. “They’re crafty, and they’re pure shooters.” 

Starks said he hopes to continue to grow his business, Starks Training, to support local athletes while he chases a championship ring with the Sky. 

“I didn’t picture myself being here at all. It’s a huge blessing,” Starks said. “Everything I’m doing is genuine. I love the city, and I just try to dissect everyone’s games.”

Credit: Tommy Ngo/tommyfilms_
Ahmad Sarks warms up with his hometown Chicago Sky before a recent home game at Wintrust Arena.

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