Aaron Nelson's Basketball Without Borders Blog

Suns Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson is in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to participate in Basketball without Borders Europe. This camp marks the first held in one of the former Yugoslav republics and Nelson will be sharing his behind-the-scenes experiences with some NBA legends and some of the most promising basketball talent a half a world away.

Campers and staff pose for a photo in Slovenia.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
Posted: Aug. 11, 2011
Day 5 - Basketball Without Borders - Ljubljana, Slovenia 2011

Today is the last day of Basketball Without Borders Europe. The camp has been a great experience, both personally and professionally. I have discussed the NBA coaches and staff involved, but only used NBA Legends without saying who they are, so here I go. Rasho Nesterovic, Bruno Sundov, Predrag Drobnjak, Zarko Paspalj, Dejan Prokic, Marko Markovic, Vlade Divac, Bostjan Nachbar, Zarko Carbarkapa(former Phoenix Sun), Milos Vujanic(drafted by the Suns), Daliobor Bagaric, Tomaz Fartek, Peter Markovinovic and Peter Hojc.

We were able to sleep in today, which was great due to another late evening. Our shuttle took us to the gym at 1:45pm, with the camp All-Star Game and Three Point Championship on the agenda. The game went well (only a minor ankle sprain) and Nike and the NBA named the MVP of the camp, Boris Dallo, a kid from France. I concluded by working on a couple of the coaches and Bostjan Nachbar.

Once back to the hotel, Jack Sikma, Joe Wolf and I headed out for a walk and a light lunch. The two of them travel to Russia tomorrow to be part of a coach’s clinic through Tuesday. The rest of us fly out to various parts of the world, with most of us departing the hotel between 4:30am-6:00am. I found out a couple of days ago that the Iowa State University(my alma mater) men’s basketball team was having 4 “Friendly” games in Milan and Rome. It would be a short drive from Slovenia (about 5 hours) to go see them, but I am really looking forward to getting home and spending time with my family again.

I will end this BWB blog by just saying how incredible Slovenia is in beauty, people, food and more. Ljubljana is a small town, but I would recommend anyone looking for a nice vacation spot to consider this area. The weather has been great (it did rain one evening), but otherwise warm (not hot) and sunny. Most people here ride bikes, use skates or walk and you don’t see many people that are overweight. Although I said it in an earlier blog, the NBA was first class with everything they did for us and the campers. It was an honor to be part of a great camp on the 10 year anniversary.

Off to dinner and hopefully and earlier bedtime. 15 hours of flying tomorrow!!!

Posted: Aug. 11, 2011
Day 4 - Basketball Without Borders - Ljubljana, Slovenia 2011

Wow! I finally conquered the fatigue or jet lag, whichever it was that made me feel like I was running on fumes. I woke up this morning feeling great and ready to roll! Good thing too, because I would need the energy for the overwhelming number of players reporting injuries and needing to get taped or treated prior to practice.

The day started similar to yesterday, where I had breakfast at 8:00am(remember, breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day). Again, I took an early shuttle over to practice. Upon arriving, I had several kids that needed taped and treated. They were finishing up the last session of Life Skills(Healthy and Safe Decisions) and would then go into their morning skills stations. It seems as though there are a few players that don’t like these sessions and would rather just play. I say this because I have a had a few players the past couple of days tell me they were hurt and couldn’t participate, but when it came to playing the games at night, they suddenly felt A LOT better!

After the morning session, the coaches and I went to lunch back at the hotel and then returned to the gym for the afternoon games. Following the games, the players continued their 3 on 3 games while I worked on Jack Sikma’s hip. During that time, I had a camper hit his chin on the court and split it open. After cleaning it, applying steri-strips and a bandage, the kid returned to play.

For the evening, we had a dinner with all of the NBA Legends, Coaches and NBA personnel. Joe Wolf and I decided to walk around for a couple of hours and explore downtown Slovenia before we met up with everyone for dinner. I know I said this before, but Slovenia is a beautiful country! Dinner was great. The NBA Legends(represented by the various countries of the former Yugoslavia), Coaches and I sat at the same table(about 25 of us). It was an incredibly funny and interesting time as the Americans and NBA Legends gave their Top 5 NBA Players of All Time, Top 5 European Players who played in the NBA, Top 5 European Players not to play in the NBA and finally the Top 5 NBA Point Guards of All Time. It was fun to hear the NBA coaches(Americans) and the NBA Legends(European) each give their individual takes on their Top 5.

It ended up being a late night again, but tomorrow is the last day. We have the All Star Game and 3 point Shootout and then we end. It has been a fun and interesting camp, but I am looking forward to getting home and seeing my family again.

**On a side note, the NBA guys told me that my brother-in-law and former Suns/Jazz player, Jeff Hornacek, will be participating as a coach for the BWB camp in Africa in a couple of weeks. The Africa BWB is one of the biggest camps the NBA does. He will have a lot of fun!

Posted: Aug. 10, 2011
Day 3 - Basketball Without Borders - Ljubljana, Slovenia 2011

Day 3 has been, by far, one of my most exhausting and “tired” days that I can remember. The time change, late nights and early mornings have finally caught up with me. However, I’m not alone.

The other coaches and campers are feeling the same way. Today, camp times were similar to Monday, but a little extended in time. After a buffet breakfast (8:00 am) that the hotel supplies for all hotel guests, I had a shuttle take me to practice early to tape and treat the players. Following another round of Life Skills Seminars, the players began to warm up around 10:00 am and began their morning skills stations at 10:30 am.

I had to tape 10 guys and I had about ½ dozen guys that had injury complaints. Like I said earlier, they were tired from practice the day before and the soreness was showing up.

Following the morning session, the NBA Legends and Coaches went to a public elementary school where we painted murals, put up basketball hoops and did landscaping. I was on landscaping duty, which was lucky for Joe Wolf.

Joe is about 7-feet tall and has periodic back spasms. When I got to the site, he was using a shovel that was about 3-feet long, which is short for me and I’m about 6-feet tall. I gladly took over and begun to dig a very wide rectangle (about the size of two picnic tables and about 8-10 inches deep).

After drenching my shirt in sweat, I got to go paint a square on the sidewalk. This was another great event by the NBA and NBA Cares Program. The kids, teachers and principal were all very excited to have the NBA there, particularly the NBA legends that represented the area of the former Yugoslavia.

After the event, we went back to the arena for a 30 minute practice and 2 full 40 minute games and the players had just finished an hour of 3x3 games. Like I said in the morning, the kids were exhausted!

The games were fun to watch as the coaches battled to start earning the best record. Following practice and games, the coaches (Jack, Joe and Jay), a few NBA personnel (Kim, Brooks and Neal—mentioned in an yesterday’s blog) and myself went to dinner near the hotel for some great pizza.

At 8:30 pm, we met out front of the hotel to take a bus to the 6 Nations Cup Finals where Serbia played against Croatia for the championship. It was interesting to see a game in another country in which the Suns were not playing. Just sitting up in a suite during the game felt strange for me. But I had a good time.

About 11:15 pm, the NBA Legends, Coaches and NBA personnel went to a small restaurant for dinner with the mayor of Slovenia. It ended up being a late night and I was looking forward to catching up on sleep and the feeling of exhaustion. I got back to the hotel around 1:00 am, Skyped with my family 4:00 pm Phoenix time), sent out some emails and went to bed. How would I feel for Day 4????

The best young players in Europe were at the Slovenian camp.
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Posted: Aug. 10, 2011
DAY 2 - Basketball Without Borders - Ljubljana, Slovenia 2011

Day 2 is filled with excitement and exhaustion. While trying to overcome and adjust to the 9 hour time difference from Phoenix, I am excited to meet and see the 44 campers.

The camp is made up of the best 17 year old boys from across Europe. Although I may miss a few countries, some of those present represent Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Latvia, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bosnia Israel, Turkey, Germany, Spain, France, England, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

The camp is being held at Tivoli Hall and has several courts and baskets to provide plenty of room to coach and play basketball. However, my training room consists of a single table court side and my bag filled with tape and sports medicine supplies.

We arrived to the gym around 9 am (only about 5 minutes from our hotel). The campers are going through seminars in the morning called Life Skills Seminars and they are taught important life issues that they will deal with both as basketball players and as just a regular human being. The seminars are taught by coaches and administrators, but different individuals teach each morning.

At 10:30 am, we had a large press conference to introduce the coaches and NBA legends which consisted of some of the best players from the area that also played in the NBA. The coaches consist of Jack Sikma, Jay Triano, Joe Wolf and Michael Curry.

I am the only athletic trainer. There are also several other coaches from the area and international basketball that are also heavily involved.

Following the press conference, I warmed up the players and they began morning skills stations for positional development. This ended about 1:15 pm and everyone had lunch at the gym.

At 2:30 pm, the coaches and NBA legends help a community event at the gym for Special Olympics. This clinic was fantastic and had participants who ranged in age from about 8 years old to a gentleman in his 60s.

The participants had varying physical and mental challenges, but all of them were excited and energetic during the 1 hour clinic. The players and coaches did a wonderful job making the stations active and fun.

From 3:30 pm-5:00 pm, there was an evaluation scrimmage in which all campers played to allow the coaches to start thinking about who they would draft to make up their teams for the rest of the week. These kids are pretty good and very competitive.

With such a large mix of countries represented, it is going to make for a fun camp. At 6:00 pm, the coaches help a draft at the hotel to make up the four teams, each coached by one of the coaches I mentioned above. This was a lot of fun and reminded me of my fantasy football draft, with the exception that these are international players and not NFL stars.

The day continued for a reception at the US Embassy. This was a lot of fun and we were able to meet many new people, both working in the Embassy and involved in media.

I have some video from the ambassador speaking to the group, so I will try to get that posted as well. Following the reception, several of the coaches and some of the NBA staff went out for dinner and some nightly entertainment. Again, what a wonderful city!

I am really happy that I was invited and accepted the invitation to attend this event. It truly is amazing the impact the NBA has not only with the campers, but on the community.

Kim Bohuny, the main woman in charge of BWB and Brooks Meek, both with the NBA, do an incredible job as they have arranged 27 Basketball without Borders trips in the last 10 years throughout different countries and regions.

They have been fantastic to work with and treat everyone with incredible respect. There are also several other NBA personnel involved from security to community relations and every one of them has been first class.

Finally, with limited access to family and friends (no phone service here, only wireless internet while in the hotel), I am grateful for Skype since I have been able to talk to my wife and boys. I have to wait until around 1 am local time to do it, but it is great to talk to them and make sure everything is going well back home.

The players received instruction from NBA personnel all week.
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Posted: Aug. 9, 2011
DAY 1 - Travel to Ljubljana, Slovenia

This morning (Saturday, August 6th), my wife (Jessica) and two boys (Andrew and Logan) decided to hit our favorite breakfast burrito spot (Los Favoritos) in Gilbert before they dropped me off at Sky Harbor Airport to embark on my 14-hour journey. As usual, the burritos were great and spending some time with the family was awesome. Preparing for this trip, I forgot how difficult travel can be (at least the part that takes me away from my family).

The trip started with a quick flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City (only an hour and 20 minute flight) at 1:24pm Phoenix time. After changing planes and getting to terminal D in SLC, I boarded what would be the “long haul” portion of the trip. My flight on Delta/Air France would last about 10½ hours and get me to Paris, France at 11:00am (9 hour time difference). For anyone who has flown into Paris De Gaulle, I hope you weren’t as confused as I was! Luckily, I had a little time to figure out how to get to Terminal G to catch the last leg of my flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I think I am good at reading signs and following directions, but after about 30 minutes and a small amount of panic setting in, I found a bus outside the airport that took me to Terminal G, which was on the other side of the airport. Once there, I found another interesting item at Paris De Gaulle. After I got through security, I came to a large holding area where everyone was sitting and waiting like a heard of cattle (I am from Iowa). With about 20 flights leaving out of Terminal G, everyone, regardless of destination, had to wait until 20 minutes from the departing time of their flight before the gate assignment was released. I had a 12:55pm departure, so I didn’t know my gate assignment until 12:35pm. At that point, it became a scramble for everyone to get to the appropriate gate.

The plane we took from Paris to Slovenia was the smallest commercial plane I had flown on. There were about 45 seats, and I maybe being generous. A few former NBA players who will be coaching at the camp were also on the flight (Jack Sikma, Joe Wolf and Michael Curry). Jack and Joe are 7-footers, so I felt really bad for them trying to get comfortable on the 1½ hour flight to Slovenia.

Once we landed, NBA personnel were there to meet us and escort us to the hotel. Slovenia is a beautiful country! Very green and somewhat of Midwest, USA feel. We settled in to our hotel around 4pm and had our first meeting at 7pm that evening. After meeting everyone and getting instructions, we all went to dinner at a place called the Castle. It was an incredible atmosphere and they were showing a movie outside on a huge screen and under the starry sky. A full audience was watching a movie that I wasn’t familiar with, but it was a pretty cool concept regardless. After dinner, I journeyed into the small town with several of the coaches and NBA personnel for a post-dinner exploration. Again, Ljubljana was a great city. The area we ended up in was packed full of people, both local and tourists. The weather and atmosphere were terrific. There was no better way to begin our first night of Basketball Without Borders!