Flint FlamesHoops Skills & Life Lessons


Diante Lyles and E.J. Williams are eternally grateful for their decades-long friendship which began blossoming in elementary school through a shared passion for basketball.

As their bond grew ever stronger – even as Lyles excelled for Beecher High School and Williams for rival Flint Southwestern – there was no way either could ever have fathomed the far-reaching impact remaining friends well into adulthood would have.

Kids can participate in after-school programs like tutoring, financial literacy, wellness and nutrition, and activities like music and video production and even an African drumming class.

These days, hundreds of Flint-area youth, their parents and others are eternally grateful for what Lyles and Williams, now in their early 40s, have done for them.

After coaching at various levels for years, the pair founded their own youth basketball team – the Flint Flames – in 2019, when their sons had reached first grade. They had little trouble filling out a full squad.

“Our kids were both playing in another program, but then E.J. and I decided to use our coaching skills and branch off on our own when they became a certain age to train and develop kids in the way we felt best,” recalls Lyles, known as Coach DD. “Our team started getting better and we began traveling across Michigan to compete in tournaments and then to different areas of the country.”

As their coaching and mentoring reputations grew, Lyles and Williams found themselves being sought out by more and more aspiring hoop stars and their parents.

Now, the Flames program boasts three boys and three girls teams of over 70 players ages 6-14. They travel extensively, regularly winning or placing high in tournaments while appearing in state and national team and player rankings.

Lyles and Williams have filled out the coaching staff with Delano Poplar, Chuck Taylor and Myra Thompson.

“Honestly, we feel great about how far our program has developed into one of the best for youth basketball players in the state,” Lyles says. “It’s the result of all the work of everyone running the program and how much effort the kids put into what we are trying to teach, as well as the entire experience we provide. Playing against high-level teams in different areas of the country has certainly been beneficial, too.”

The Flames raised their profile even further by capturing championships in several divisions at a national tournament in Chicago last year. In a recent set of national rankings, their Class of 2031 team was No. 2 and the Class of 2028 squad was No. 8.

While trophies and awards are spread throughout Lyles’ basement and garage, he and the staff emphasize continuous development and nurturing the most.

“The most important thing is to provide a place for kids to go with productive activities they can focus on to keep them out of trouble and away from violence.”

Diante “Coach DD” Lyles

Mistakes are learned from, not dwelled upon, as they stress the importance of character, integrity, teamwork and work ethic to both foster their players’ basketball improvement and help prepare them for life.

“Each of our teams is on its own unique journey, and we don’t get too caught up in individual wins and losses because all the players know that if they continue putting in the work, consistent winning is going to happen,” Lyles says. “We don’t water down the game for our youngest players, but train them at a high level early on and push past what they might think their limits are. That process makes them better players as they reach the next age groups and it teaches valuable life lessons.”

The Flames’ success drew the attention of Elgin Bates, father of NBA player Emoni Bates, who founded the Bates Fundamentals basketball training program. Last year, they formed a partnership which allows Flames players to compete in Nike-sanctioned tournaments around the country under the Bates Fundamentals name.

“It was really cool that Mr. Bates was impressed enough to reach out to us and provide these additional opportunities and resources for our kids to test themselves in high-level events,” Lyles says.

Another major milestone came last fall when the program was awarded its first grant, a sum of $5,000 from Flint Kids Matter Fund through the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

“That was huge because, so far, all the money for what we do has come out of my pockets, the parents’ pockets or through donations, fundraising and securing sponsors,” Lyles notes. “It’s hard to sustain funding that way, so this grant was used to buy equipment and pay for things like travel expenses and building rent.”

The Flames are headquartered at Flint Development Center (formerly Bunche Elementary School), which provides access to much more than basketball for those participating in the program.

They can take advantage of after-school programs like tutoring, financial literacy information, wellness and nutritional guidance and activities like music and video production and even an African drumming class.

In other words, kids can come for basketball and stay for more life-enriching lessons and experiences overseen by Flint DC Executive Director Shelly Sparks-Green and Program Manager, Tamika Boxley.

“We are there to provide kids with whatever they need to succeed in life and try to accommodate what they are interested in,” Lyles says. “Sometimes, that takes us in an interesting direction like with the drumming class. The most important thing, though, is to provide a place for kids to go with productive activities they can focus on to keep them out of trouble and away from violence.”

Tragically, some children Lyles and the others coach have already been affected by the Flint-area’s violence and being part of the Flames has helped them heal, cope and thrive.


The Flames program boasts three girls and three boys teams of over 70 players ages 6-14.

Perhaps the most poignant example of this is Trustin Farmer, who witnessed an unspeakable tragedy at only six years old when his father, Robert, was gunned down in front of their Burton apartment. A horrified Trustin was standing mere feet away.

Now, the ten-year-old is consistently ranked among the nation’s best players in his age group. In fact, Trustin is the only Michigan player rated five stars on Top25scouts.com’s list of the country’s top 75 class of 2031 standouts. The Playmakers website rates Farmer the state’s top point guard and No. 28 in the nation.

“I miss my pops so much but I know he’s proud of me Rest peacefully daddy,” Trustin wrote on Facebook last year.

Farmer is also the nephew of Flint Northwestern legend Desmon Farmer, who starred for USC and played professionally for 12 seasons, including brief stints with the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and San Antonio Spurs. He has been an assistant coach at USC the past four seasons and eagerly follows Trustin’s exploits.

“Nephew, you looking good out there keep working – 10 years old handles nasty,” Desmon recently posted on Facebook.

Other top talents include Rocket Williams, who has a four-star rating on Top25scouts.com’s Top 75. Jayden Capers and Qua Towns have three-star ratings on the Top 75 list.

Tylan Curry, Reed Cotton, Armani Williams and Jaden Lyles, Diante’ son, also appear on various lists of the state’s top players in their age groups.

“Tylan Curry – Best (Class of) 2033 player in Michigan hands down,” raved Diante on the Flames’ Facebook page. “There is no 3rd grader more skilled, tough, or can shoot like this kid. He could play two grades up.”

Ten-year-old Jaden Lyles is as thankful as anyone for the tireless efforts of his father and others running the Flames.

“I appreciate how they have helped me develop basketball skills and life skills at the same time and it’s been really cool playing in and winning tournaments in other states, not just Michigan,” he says. “I’ve learned different skills from different coaches the past four years like moves on the court and three-point shooting. My friends on the team talk all the time about how being part of the Flames has really helped them. We all encourage and lift each other up.”

Overall, Lyles has been coaching in the Flint area for 16 years, working with Beecher great and current NBA player Monte Morris early on, before crossing paths with the likes of current NCAA Division I players Keyon Menifield (Arkansas) and Jalen Terry (DePaul).

Those experiences and being mentored by legendary coach Mike Williams, who led Beecher to six state championships before moving to Davison in 2021, helped pave the way for Lyles’ current success. This past high school season, three former Flames started for their varsity teams as freshmen.

“Coaching has been all good for me and I’ve been able to build great relationships with the kids and others I’ve come into contact with as a result – and there is no better coaching role model than Mike Williams,” Lyles says. “I can call him whenever I need something and his son is part of the Flames. He even works with our kids and coaches from time to time.”

Somehow, Lyles juggles running the Flames with owning lawn care and T-shirt printing businesses, as well as doing videography and photography work and being an attentive father to six children ages 2-17.

“Being in charge of the Flames and working for myself gives me the flexibility to do everything I need to do, but life certainly gets hectic,” he says. “It helps that my whole family is involved with the Flames and we’re together. I would not want my life to be any other way because when I leave this Earth, I want to leave a legacy of kids looking back on how Coach DD helped them.”


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