Harold Ellis Talks About Basketball Without Borders

uring the NBA's offseason, many NBA personnel spend their time working on their game - working out, improving their handle, and getting stronger for the players, and working on new sets and strategies for the coaches. However, for Hawks scout Harold Ellis, the offseason gives him a chance to participate in one of the NBA's great new initiatives: Basketball Without Borders.

For the second straight year, Ellis was involved in the BWB initiative in Africa, where he got to work with teens from all across the continent, teaching them basketball fundamentals and working to help educate them on a variety of topics including healthy living and AIDS awareness.

We had a chance recently to talk with Ellis about his experiences overseas, including leading his team to the league title. Ellis is getting used to winning titles, as he coached the winning team at the BWB camp in 2004 and led the the Rome Gladiators to the World Basketball Association crown this past season as well.

Q: Talk a little about this year's experience with BWB - was it different from last year?

Harold Ellis:
"Actually each year really gets better. The NBA puts a lot of money into the program and they really take care of the African kids. This year we had more kids and more teams represented. It was a lot of fun, we split the participants into teams and played a short league complete with a tournament and everything - and of course I got a chance to win a championship again. We beat Mark West's Phoenix Suns team in the championship game. It was good for the kids because they really want to learn."

Q: Do you find the competition has gotten better from year to year?

"I think the kids are practicing more and getting better. There is more skill development and the kids are better because they're learning there are more coaches teaching them. You see the repeat kids that have come back from last year and are much better than a year ago."

Q: Are there some guys that have the potential to be playing over here?

"There are four guys that a lot of people really liked, especially some big kids who are seven-feet tall. It is unbelievable because in the US you don't see many guys that tall, but there were like 60 guys here who were seven-feet. In the future, as the younger kids in camp get older and more experienced, we could definitely see some of them get an opportunity to play over here."

Q: How many kids participated in BWB this year?

"We had 144 in this year, split up into 13 teams. We played in divisions and then single-elimination games when we started into the playoffs. First we did drills in the morning then played the games in the evening. It got very competitive - because you got NBA guys there and everybody trying to win. But you put in your own offense and teach the kids and just hope for the best."

Q: What were some of the things you did off-the-court?

"We do a lot of stuff. We did a health awareness program and talked about AIDS, which one of the biggest things on the continent. We did that every morning, and also some education, whether it was about health, AIDS, or dealing with food, and hunger. Dikembe Mutombo has a lot to do with that, and he did a great job."

Q: What was it like for you being in Africa the second time around?

"This time I got to go back and really appreciate it. Every time you go back you try to do a little bit more. Every time I go I want to put a little bit more effort into going and to making sure we do a lot of stuff. I gave away a lot of Hawks gear and I'm just thankful that Billy Knight and the whole organization want that type of representation for our league. It's called basketball without borders eventually that's what we will have - we will be all over the globe."

Q: Must have been nice to win the title two years in a row.

"I had a great summer. My WBA team won the title, and then we won the BWB title. It just gets so competitive. You spend so much time with the other guys (NBA coaches and players) and become friends because you are always on the road together, so when you get the chance to play against them you really try to rub it in."

Q: What is your coaching style like?

"Its kind of interesting because I take a lot of everybody's stuff. This year I used a lot of things Woody (Hawks coach Mike Woodson) did, a lot of Larry Brown's stuff and I like Pat Riley's emphasis on conditioning. I am a little different. I wouldn't say I'm a player's coach - I'm real demanding and I'm not afraid to get on guys. I prefer coaching the hard working types. That's how I played, so I want guys who will play with a lot of energy."