Thunder Giving Back Through Basketball Without Borders
From August 30th through September 2nd, Thunder players Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich, in conjunction with NBA Cares, will help host the global basketball development and outreach program that will help mold the skills and minds of 60 basketball players aged 18-and-under from throughout Africa. Those fortunate young basketball players will have the chance this week to learn from NBA stars and coaches alike through practices, games and skill sessions.
It’s remarkable that out of the eight NBA players participating in the program, half are from Oklahoma City. The Thunder locker room has always been a tight-knit, family-style environment and that identity is only further reinforced by the fact that these four players decided to travel all the way to South Africa together to work hard in the community.
On Thursday, thunder.nba.com got a chance to catch up with the Thunder quartet via telephone all the way from Johannesburg. The unequivocal response from the players is that both they and the campers are thrilled about the activities that lay ahead of them.
“It’s been great, we’re just starting the camp,” Sefolosha said. “So far it’s been very good. We feel as basketball players we are all really motivated (to help).”
Not only are Sefolosha and his Thunder teammates showing the campers the basics of basketball and helping them along in their development, they’re also connecting on a personal level and teaching important life skills to the young men who will one day be leaders themselves. For a 22-year old like Ibaka, only a few years removed from his days of growing up in the Congo, it is a special moment to be able to give back and help influence young players who may have had a similar upbringing.
“For me, it’s great to come back to Africa and to be a great role model,” Ibaka said.
In addition, this trip is an opportunity for the players to give back to needy communities. For instance, the four Thunder players will be dedicating a refurbished sports complex in the Alexandra Township and be building two homes in the Orange Farm Township with Habitat for Humanity. Sefolosha’s father is South African, so the area is a special one for the 28-year old Swiss guard, making the ability to give back in the community all the more rewarding.
While Sefolosha, Ibaka and Collison have all been a part of Basketball Without Borders in Africa before this year, this is Aldrich’s first time to Africa. Needless to say, it’s been an eye-opening experience for the Thunder center that hails from Minnesota and attended the University of Kansas. Whether it’s the culture, the climate, language or lifestyle, Aldrich has had an incredible time simply soaking it all in.
“It’s been great, you always have little visions of what it’s going to be like, but it’s totally different from whatever you can imagine,” Aldrich said.
For all four Thunder players to be entering a generally unfamiliar environment, the fact that the quartet is there in South Africa together as a unit makes the situation even better. Back in Oklahoma City, the Thunder relies on one another both on and off the court during the grueling rigors of the season. Even in the summer, it's clear these Thunder players want to be around one another and help each other through new encounters.
"It helps a lot," Aldrich said. "Serge is from the area, just to the north. Thabo does a lot of work over here and Nick has been here before. To see the familiar faces is great and it’s nice to have teammates here as we go through these experiences."
Most of all, however, the reward for these community-oriented Thunder players is seeing the effect they have on the local South Africans and the campers in the Basketball Without Borders program.
From working with Hoops 4 Hope to engage the 60 African youngsters on issues like leadership, character development, gender equity and education, to simply working with them through the basics of the pick-and-roll, the four Thunder players are seeing just how much influence they can have on the lives of kids from halfway around the globe. By the end of the week, the fact that Sefolosha, Ibaka, Collison and Aldrich will have inspired so many young minds will be a memory they can take with them forever.
“It’s so much fun doing these camps because the people here in Africa and South Africa mainly are so basketball-friendly,” Aldrich said. “You can tell they have fun because they just want to soak up everything you tell them. It’s great to see that because they’ve been working so hard and they have bright futures ahead of them.”