Ashanti dribbles towards ‘Coach’ role

Par hoops pic to begin lensing Jan. 16 in Los Angeles

Paramount has tapped R&B songstress Ashanti and thesp Rob Brown (“Finding Forrester”) to join Samuel L. Jackson on the “Coach Carter” team.

Studio tapped the duo for the teenage leads in the basketball biopic, set up with Tollin/Robbins and MTV Films producing and Thomas Carter (“Save the Last Dance”) directing. Brown will portray the captain of the basketball team while Ashanti will take the role of his girlfriend in her bigscreen debut.

Par launched the project in 2002 when it acquired film rights to the life story of Ken Carter, the controversial boys’ basketball coach at Richmond High School in Northern California. Lensing starts Jan. 16 in Los Angeles.

The coach became nationally known in 1999 after benching the entire undefeated team in midseason for poor academic performance and forfeited two games. Those moves helped lead to an increased focus on academics at what had been a violence-plagued campus.

The “Coach Carter” title is tentative, with the project also known as “Back in the Day” and “All Day Long.”

Brown is repped by WMA; Ashanti is repped by TalentWorks and managed by Tina Douglas. She received two Grammy noms last month for best R&B song and contemporary R&B album.

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