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The Daily Tar Heel

Student Offers Hope With Hoops

Take these two passions, add a need to hobnob with future employers, throw in a deeply embedded urge to mercilessly batter any basketball team from Duke University, shake vigorously and the result is Gradhoops -- a basketball tournament that raises money for cancer research.

Britt, who is working on a joint law and business degree, founded the tournament with Duke law student Gabe Feldman in 1998. "This began as a game for bragging rights between Duke Law and Carolina Law," Britt said. "I saw an opportunity for it to really grow into more."

And grown it has.

The fourth annual Gradhoops tournament will be held this weekend, with 21 teams of law students, master's degree candidates and young professionals coming from as far away as American University in Washington, D.C., and Bradley, Arant, Rose and White law firm in Birmingham, Ala.

Britt said he hopes the event will raise between $2,000 and $3,000 from entry fees and sponsor donations, which will benefit the Jimmy V. Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cancer research.

Teams will play for enjoyment on Saturday in Fetzer Gym, with competition turning more serious Sunday during a single-elimination tournament in Carmichael Gym.

But the Gradhoops weekend includes more than just shooting baskets. Ample socializing time is provided for the basketball buffs to discuss employment opportunities, Britt said.

Britt worked with seven other law and graduate students from UNC, Duke and N.C. State University on the Gradhoops project. Although he will graduate in May, Britt said he has high hopes for the tournament's future.

Over the next few years, he would like to see participation increase to at least 40 teams. "As graduate students go out and get jobs, hopefully, they will come back to play," Britt said. "So in a few years, we will have teams knocking down our doors instead of having to chase them down.

"This is basketball heaven. I could easily imagine having Dean Smith or Dick Vitale out there to toss up the opening ball."

Britt's vision for the future extends beyond the basketball court.

He has spent much of the last 10 years in public service.

"Robin is involved in a lot of different things," said Chris Manley, fellow Gradhoops organizer and student at UNC's law and business schools. "He's a great guy, well organized. He makes sure all his activities go off without a glitch."

Britt spent his undergraduate years at UNC, winning a Chancellor's Award for community service while earning a degree in history.

During a two-year break before beginning graduate school, Britt worked on literacy skills with underprivileged families in a public housing project in his hometown of Greensboro.

Through his work there, Britt observed firsthand the effects of the digital divide, and he recognized the role of technology as a means to enrich lives. "It used to be that literacy was the major obstacle to the poor," he said. "Now it's technology. Poor children are prevented from fully participating in schools and society."

This situation led Britt to begin Nexis Technology, a nonprofit organization aimed at "harnessing technology for the benefit of families in need."

The group provides computers discarded by businesses to child-development centers in low-income neighborhoods. "With the Internet, you've got the world, as opposed to just blocks and worksheets," Britt said.

But in the end, his life returns to the comfort of the court.

Britt coaches little league basketball, instructing 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds in the fine art of dribbling, passing and shooting. He said he loves working with children because to them, skill level is irrelevant. "If they think they can, they can," Britt said. "But all the skill in the world doesn't matter if no one believes in them."

Which is why his teams are all heart instead of all whistles and drills, he said.

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After his teams won four championships, Britt said he knew he would forever be a basketball coach.

He said, "And as long as I can lace my shoes up, I'll still be playing."

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