Gentry Reflects On His Trip to Brazil

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Aug. 11, 2011

With Basketball without Borders celebrating its 10th anniversary with three camps this summer, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry was one of the lucky few to take part in the program's camp in Brazil. Along with Gentry, the NBA sent former stars Dominique Wilkins, Allan Houston, Alex English and former Suns assistant coach Phil Weber over to the South American country. Gentry, who just returned from his trip to Rio, sat down with to talk about his experiences at the camp. So what was your day-to-day routine like in Brazil?

Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry: It was a typical basketball camp-like atmosphere. It was really good because we had the best players from Central and South America there. They also had some kids from Canada there that ended up being the best players there. We would just do drills in the morning and try to give them things that were going to be applicable to college or the NBA. We did a lot of screen-and-roll stuff, pin downs, catching off screens, shooting, stuff like that. We tried to give them drills that would apply to the level that they were playing. Then we would have a lunch and come back and do some things with the community. We went to some of the neighborhoods in Rio. The NBA refurbished one of the courts that was in one of the neighborhoods we visited. It was good to walk through there because some of these neighborhoods have as many 200,000 people in them. After that we would go back and have actual games for the campers to play in and against each other. We made sure that every team played each other. It was a really great experience and I saw some really great young players. Knowing what you know about player development, do some of those campers have the potential to play in the NBA some day?

Gentry: I thought there was about 8-10 guys that have the potential – depending on how they develop – to become NBA players. It’s interesting because the personality of the country where the kids came from was so prevalent in the players. Every player from Argentina played extremely hard, just like their professional players. They had a real passion for the game. The Canadian kids did a great job and Canada has a real chance to be very good at the national team level in the next few years. I thought these kids were very, very talented, played extremely well and had a good feel for the game. Was the language barrier an issue?

Gentry: It wasn’t that difficult and I thought that it would be a problem. I had an interpreter with me, while some of the other NBA coaches actually spoke Spanish. And if you could do that, you could get by because Portuguese and Spanish are so similar. So I didn’t think the language barrier was any hindrance at all. And basketball is kind of an international language anyway. Even when the interpreter wasn’t there, you could get through drills by using sign language and demonstrations. As someone who wasn’t getting paid to attend an event like this, what was your motivation behind going?

Gentry: I think the No. 1 thing is that it allows you to see other parts of the world. The fact that you don’t get paid is irrelevant. One of the other things is that at most of these places, we usually do something with Special Olympics, which I think is very important. Also, in this situation, you get to see where the level of basketball is in a camp that supposedly has some of the best young players from that region of the world. It’s a basketball thing. But to see the city of Rio, which is obviously a very beautiful place, is amazing. It’s the middle of winter there and it’s 80 degrees, the beaches are beautiful and everybody is outside because it’s such an active culture. There’s always volleyball, beach soccer, or something happening on the beach. And also, the food is excellent. What was the highlight of your trip from a basketball point of view, as well as from a cultural point of view?

Gentry shows off his defensive skills.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
Gentry: Basketball-wise, just watching the young players play was my highlight. The great thing for me is that I know these kids by name now and it will be fun to follow them and see exactly where they can get to and what level they can reach in their careers. I’m really excited about that. And culturally, to just to see the town of Rio, a place you hear so much about, was my highlight. You read so much about the statue, Christ the Redeemer, and we were able to actually see that and see how impressive it was in person. Also, seeing the little areas, the lagoons and the Sugarloaf Mountain from the James Bond movie, were all highlights for me. Lastly, being able to go to the neighborhoods and actually be involved in the community initiatives were good because it’s an entirely different culture with entirely different living conditions from us. I tell everyone that the other reason I do it is because it really makes you learn to appreciate what we have here in this country. I just think that if everyone had the opportunity to go away and see some of the things that are out there, they’d have a much better appreciation for our country. Did you ever see the movie City of God?

Gentry: Haha. Yeah, but that’s also the extreme to everything over there. Not everyone in Italy is involved in organized crime either (laughs). So not everything that happens in South America involves kidnapping and things like that. Although it’s obviously something that’s a concern down there, I thought that they were doing a great job at what they call ‘pacifying’ the tougher neighborhoods and taking them back from drug lords. I think they’ve done an unbelievable job at cleaning up those neighborhoods. The economy is really starting to thrive in Brazil now, isn’t it?

Gentry: I think so. The great thing about Brazil is that there are so many great restaurants down there. You get people from all over the world coming there. There are great Italian places, great steakhouses, and we ate at one of those Brazilian steakhouses down there (the steakhouses that have a green card that signals the server to bring more food, or a red card that signals the server to stop bringing food). I could see taking a football team in there and taking out the whole restaurant. But the food was excellent and the people are unbelievable. The NBA does such a great job with that. Kim Bohuny and her group, who is really behind all of this, do such a great job of setting this up and allow us to just come in, have fun with the kids and worry about the basketball part of this. I think what David Stern is trying to do is excellent. He’s trying to make the NBA feel like we’re in a global community and we do a lot of stuff in a lot of different areas, such as Africa, Europe and South America. The NBA name is known, thanks to the community service stuff the league does. NBA Cares is so well-organized and has such a purpose and the guys really appreciate doing it. I was down there with Dominique Wilkins, Alex English and Allan Houston, guys that are in the Hall of Fame or who are going to be in the Hall of Fame some day, and it was really exciting for them. Who did you pal around the most with down there? Dominique grew up in North Carolina and Allan played for you?

Gentry: We were pretty much a collective group down there. I’ve known Dominique a long time and obviously (Knicks assistant coach) Phil Weber and I worked together for a long time. Most nights we ate dinner together, after being together all day. It was a good situation for all of us. Would you say that the level of competition at the camp could rival the McDonald’s All-Americans?

Gentry: Some of them. Definitely. I would say that the one thing I didn’t see down there was the athleticism and the size of some of the young kids in this country. But some of the other kids were really good. Did the NBA take any precautions to protect you down there?

Gentry: Yeah, we had security with us at all times. And we weren’t going into places that we didn’t know anything about. The NBA does a great job with that kind of stuff. But we wanted to see the town and obviously you run into some people from the USA that are vacationing down there. Everybody always wants to go to Ipanema because of the famous song about it (The Girl From Ipanema). I asked all about that song and it’s pretty interesting because the girl that he wrote this song about is now 63 years old and is still a beautiful woman. At Carnival last year, they said she actually rode on a float in a nice little bathing suit. Rio is just a very interesting and beautiful place to go. And the weather is magnificent year-round. So what do you think of when you think of Brazil now?

Gentry: What first strikes me is that when you see the neighborhoods, they’re just massive and there is a lot of poverty. But I think what stood out to me is was just how beautiful and friendly the people were there. I thought that they were a culture that really enjoys life. It’s not that hard to do there when you see the beauty that surrounds that place with the oceans, lagoons, places you go and the things that you can do. I just thought that it was a really good experience.

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