About 50 girls AAU teams from around the state are competing in the Knoxville Convention Center this weekend. Eight basketball courts all in one enormous room.

One of those teams, Tennessee’s Chosen Few, is coached by former Vol Damon Johnson.

Before Damon Johnson started for Tennessee for two seasons in the 1990s, basketball was his escape from trouble in Johnson City’s Carver Projects. 

“There was a lot of drugs, a lot of violence that comes with drugs and basketball saved my life and gave me an avenue to get past limitations that were set upon some of the people that were in our community,” Johnson said.

After college came a 10-year pro career in Iceland and Spain, but retirement in 2009 was difficult.

"I didn't know who I was. I had to find myself again because I was Damon the basketball player for 25, 35 years of my life," Johnson said. "Got with a couple people that got me into church and found God. From there I just started praying, 'what should I be doing with my life?'"

Johnson was called to help kids, just like basketball and coaches helped him escape drugs and violence.

"When you get around people that are just like you and you're playing the same game and every thing is kind of equal on the floor. It kind of equals it out for two, three hours of the day," Johnson said.

"That's what helped me when I was going through a rough time, my daddy died when I was 13, a lot of stuff but what helped me get through that was the game of basketball, just being around that family atmosphere as a team and having coaches look out for you."

Johnson started an AAU program with friends called Tennessee’s Chosen Few about seven years ago. The program has expanded to 17 teams and more than 140 kids.

"We use basketball as a tool to change many lives in many different ways. We had kids making all F's and they started making honor roll, because they wanted to play basketball. We had kids who were in unfortunate situations and we gave them an outlet, some place to go or a safe haven."

More than a game, a tool for success.