Brian James BWB 2007 blog

Basketball Without Borders 2007
A blog from Johannesburg, South Africa
by Brian James / Assistant Coach, Bucks

Brian James recently visited South Africa with the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. He kept the following journal for Bucks.com. (Getty)
Print E-mail RSS Feeds FastBreak Tix

The 5th edition of Basketball Without Borders Africa ran from Wednesday, September 5 through Sunday, September 9, 2006. Basketball without Borders Africa unites the top young basketball players (ages 19 and under) from across the continent to take part in basketball instruction and competition. The camp's participants are selected by FIBA and participating basketball federations based on their basketball skills, leadership abilities and dedication to the sport of basketball.

One of the goals of Basketball without Borders is to help explore, develop and nurture the top basketball talent across Africa. Some campers who have participated in the program have gone on to play competitive basketball internationally and at schools in the United States.

To promote friendship and diversity, the campers are divided into teams without regard to race and nationality. They share living quarters with their new teammates and participate in daily motivational and life-skills seminars that promote education, leadership, character development, healthy living and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

Bucks assistant coach Brian James was among the players and coaches that made the trip to Africa for the five-day program. James kept a blog while he was out there and shared it with Bucks.com upon his return.


September 5, 2007 | Pre-camp
Brian and the Bobcats. (Getty)

The first day of camp was more of a talent evaluation where the top 100 players were divided into 10 teams. Two game-like scrimmages were held so all of the NBA personnel, scouts and coaches alike could take notes on each players' strengths and weakenesses. This was in preparation of the upcoming NBA draft to be held at the Michelangelo Hotel upon our return. I've been selected as the Head Coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. My assistants are Emeka Okafor and Primoz Brezec of the actual Bobcats back in the United States. Coach Ngwenya Florsheim of South Africa rounds out our staff. We drew the #1 draft pick slot. With that top pick we don't get another choice until picks 20 and 21 since it is always in reverse order.

Before the practices, all the players and personnel toured the Johannesburg Apartheid Museum. What a wonderful cultural experience, showing a historical perspectics of the minority struggle for equal rights and power in South Africa. Along with that struggle came much bloodshed. Nelson Mandela is the main figure here. The architecture is beautiful.

After our draft meeting came our NBA Welcome Reception where dignitaries of South Africa spoke and thanked us and our sponsors for coming. Kim Bohuny of the NBA, who organizes Basketball Without Borders, Dikembe Mutombo, the most famous World Ambassador of NBA Basketball, and Bob Lanier, who all Bucks fans know very well, spoke next. Dikembe is considered a hero here in Johannesburg.


September 6, 2007 | Day 1
Brian and the other volunteers worked with 100 athletes during the four-day camp. (Getty)

I thought I should mention that the Basketball Without Borders camp is being held at the American International School in Johannesburg. We got an early start this morning. We had a press conference today where ambassadors and dignitaries welcomed the campers and the NBA. NBA players and coaches were introduced and took group pictures. Once the formalities were over, it was time to get ready for basketball.

The campers were put into their teams and they went through five separate drills for ten minutes each to cover certain aspects of basketball. I'm in charge of the topic of individual defense. 20-minute practices with each team were followed by three scrimmages of 15 minutes each. After lunch, all 10 teams them played two 40-minute games.

The players at the end were extremely tired after a long day of hard work. Hydration is a must to keep cramping to a minimum. The competition is very good and the players are very attentive. So far, my team, the Bobcats, are 0-2.

The 100 African campers are learning many things here besides basketball. Character, leadership, study habits, work ethic, and positive attitudes were points hit hard by a six-person panel, of which Bob Lanier and Steve Smith were included.


September 7, 2007 | Day 2
Brian's squad featured nine players from eight different countries. (Getty)

On Day 2, our coaches are hoping to see marked improvement in the learning development of the 100 African campers participating. I'm coaching the Charlotte Bobcats here at camp and in our second day together we were much better than Day 1. We have nine players on our roster from eight different countries. They are from Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Zambia, and two from Senegal.

We won our only game today defeating the Sonics 52-34. Today we were given two interperters that spoke French and the Tribal Language of our two players from Senegal. It made a "World of Difference" and our team really got after it today.

This is one day that I can honestly say is a major reason that the NBA Basketball Without Borders program came to South Africa. In addition to the basketball, today we worked together with Habitat for Humanity to help build two homes in Katlehong. I was one of the many that climbed scaffolding and laid bricks -- one by one! Other people were mixing the cement and passing us the bricks. I can honestly say that I now have a new-found appreciation for brick-layers!

We were told that Habitat has constructed over 30 houses in Katlehong since 2005. The houses are very simple and affordable, and they give those who live in them a much-needed improvement from the shacks they once lived in.

The name "Katlehong" means a place of "success" or "peace" in English. But this is hardly the case. Today, there is serious overcrowding. In each tiny yard, shacks are set up for rent housing - up to ten people in a one-room structure. One toilet often serves five to six families. Despite being surrounded by an industrial area, there is a high level of unemployment. Katlehong is one of the most poorly-served areas in South Africa in terms of community development. Together with Thokoza, it is the second-largest black township in South Africa after Soweto. We found out that the HIV/AIDS virus is up to 37% in this area.

Katlehong is a township located 35KM, east of Johannesburg in the Ekhuruleni municipality. This municipality caters for nine towns and cities drawing people from all ethnic groups under one name. Each of the towns and cities that make up Ekhuruleni has its own beginnings, but the one common thread is that each came into being because gold was discovered in the 1880's.


September 8, 2007 | Day 3
Brian shows his musical side with Dikembe Mutombo. (Getty)

Today was absolutely a great day. Everyday just keeps getting better with our campers. The attitudes have been great and the respect factor these campers have shown everyone is extraordinary. They are so happy to be here. The NBA is to be commended for putting on such a first-class operation here in Johannesburg. Kim Bohuny and her staff have just done an exceptional job with the logistics and organization of not only the camp itself, but also the community events/dedications and staff get-togethers in the evening.

What a privilege to be here!

At most weeklong basketball camps, on Day 3 the kids are basically looking forward to going back home. I have not met any camper here who wasn't enjoying himself, working hard, and not appreciative of being one of 100 African campers selected to the BWOB camp. The 100 campers were selected by being one of the top 100 players in all of South Africa. I would approximate that at least 15-20 would have a chance to play at a higher level in college with a chance to play professionally, either in Europe or the United States. This morning started with skills stations held both on two indoor courts and three outdoor courts. My station is Individual Defense. We work on individual defense play in a 2-on-2 setting. Our Bobcat team that I coach won their 2nd straight game by the score of 44-40 over the Knicks. Our kids have made great strides in developing chemistry, improving on individual skills, and essentially just continually learning how to play the game of basketball the right way. My translator/coach Coach Ede from Senegal has made a tremendous difference in the success of our team. As I mentioned before, we have nine players on the Bobcats team from eight different countries. Coach Ede speaks French to the players after every time I talk to them in order to explain what I am saying. Everyday I appreciate them more and more and have enjoyed this experience with my team immensely. After lunch I watched our power forward from Egypt, Mohammed Salah El Barbary, play in the All Star "B" game.

The highlight of my day though was our community event that the NBA players and coaches attended. In the afternoon we went to the Cotlands' Community Center House Dedication sponsored by the DeBeers Diamond Company. Cotlands started in 1936 as a care center for unwed mothers and their infants. Today, Cotlands is a shelter for abused, abandoned, HIV positive and terminally ill children from birth to nine years old. In recent years, Cotlands has extended its services to include things such as home-based care, community development and capacity building services on a national basis. Over 80 women work in the Cotlands support groups. There are 1.2 orphans in need due to the AIDS virus. After several other speakers, NBA player Emeka Okafor of the Charlotte Bobcats, who is from Nigeria, stated that "this was an Opening Center of Empowerment and Hope". We were then invited to assist in the ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by a tour of the facilities and seeing first-hand hard working supporters and wonderful children playing with their toys. Our entire NBA contingency bought some items that the ladies made themselves with the money going directly back to the organization for school supplies, food, and other necessities each family so desperately needs. Afterwards, there was plenty of dancing, singing, and drum music with everyone joining in and meshed as one. I had just a wonderful lifetime experience that I will NEVER forget. I feel so privileged to have been able to participate in this NBA program.


September 9, 2007 | Day 4

The participants. (Getty)

The last day of the camp is complete melancholy. Everyone here is a little homesick for their family members but are also disappointed in saying their goodbyes at the end of the day. Our Bobcat team is playing for 5th place against the Sonics. Earlier in the week, we defeated the Sonics by 17 points. In today's game, though, our players showed how fatigued one can get. We were never in control of this game, but led with just a couple of minutes to go. But in the end, we made some mistakes down the stretch and lost by four points. It didn't subtract from the feelings I have for these campers on my team and many others I've met. We can only imagine what conditions that each of them are going home to tomorrow.

The Bobcats had two players selected to play in the All-Star "A" game that followed. Daniel Chatchou Tchuigoua, our 6-8 center from Cameroon, and Byago Diouf, our #1 overall pick and 6-2 point guard from Senegal, played on the winning team today. Afterwards, we held the Campers/Coaches "Goodbye" barbeque behind the gymnasium. Awards were given to the MVP of the Camp, MVP of the All Star Game, the player with the Most Potential, and the Top 10 Players in Camp. Nike representative George Raveling presented the awards.

One of the most memorable moments of my entire life was when my team asked me to sit with them for the barbeque instead of sitting with the rest of the coaches. We visited as best we could and took pictures of each other. So memorable! Each received a Luol Deng authentic Chicago Bulls jersey, which they revered. I'm hoping that I can help place some of our campers in the near future. There is no doubt some have the talent. Tomorrow, Orlando Magic player Pat Garrity and his wife and I are stopping at the Apartheid Museum again and doing some last minute shopping for our families before the long journey home.

I'm looking forward to returning to Milwaukee, reunited with my beloved family that I miss so much, and rejoining our new staff in preparation of this year's training camp. I'm really excited about this Milwaukee Bucks team.

I personally want to thank the NBA and the Bucks organization for sending me to Johannesburg. I love teaching basketball and this was my first time for teaching the sport to underprivileged players in another continent.

Take care.

A LOOK BACK: Former Bucks head coach Terry Stotts took part in the BWB South Africa program in the summer of 2006 and also kept a blog for Bucks.com.