Rob Babcock's Travel Blog

Rob Babcock
Director of Scouting / Administration

Monday, July 25, 2011
We had great weather on the last day (sunny, cool and dry), which makes me think of the hot sticky weather I left back in Minnesota. We combined our basketball workouts with a day camp that have been going on for a few weeks. The camp is staffed by some of the young Cree leaders and by college student/athletes from Montreal and Ottawa. These young men and women do an outstanding job. If you have ever worked a summer camp, you understand how much patience and endurance you have to have. The Cree here in Mistissini have a high school graduation rate of only seven percent, so they need as many good young role models as possible. It is difficult for outsiders to understand this high dropout rate. You need learn about the history and the culture before you can understand the problems and begin to look for solutions. A common problem throughout the world is that people with good intentions will offer assistance without learning about the people and the assistance pretty much goes to waste. I remember years ago when I was on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and the government had given the people mobile homes, only to be frustrated because the people wouldn't enter them. The reason was that the Navajo build their homes with the entrance facing east (for religious reasons), and the doors to the new homes were facing the wrong direction.

I was able to spend some time visiting the Cree Cultural Center and talk to some of the elders. The center is located on the lake and is called "Elder's Point". I watched the elders preparing traditional foods and also preparing the bark of trees for medicinal purposes. The tribal leaders have many activities to make sure that their history, culture and language are passed down to the children. I enjoyed listening to the elders speak their language and was impressed that all of the children speak it as well.

The last day on the court was spent doing more playing than teaching and more contests than drill work. Gord Hudson drove me to the airport for the flight to Montreal and it was good to spend some time alone with my good friend. He does a fantastic job helping the youth on the 9 Cree reserves. I don't know too many people that have the kind of compassion and dedication to do the job he does. His family lives in Ottawa and he is away from his wife and kids more than half the time. My career has involved being on the road scouting and I can relate to the challenges he faces, but I travel to big cities and stay in nice hotels while he travels to remote reserves where it is dark 18 hours a day in the winter and there is no pizza delivery. I have great admiration for people like Gord.

Speaking of traveling, I am in my hotel at the Montreal airport, where my flight has a mechanical delay. I was supposed to be back in Minneapolis at 10:30am and I am hoping now to get home by 6:00pm. I have a tip about hotels that I must pass along. About 5 years ago, I was on a flight and the guy next to me was a "high level" pest control expert. His expertise was bedbugs. He told me that whatever hotel you are in (one star to five stars); you need to check for bedbugs before you unpack. Here is what you do, pull up the sheet and mattress pad on the side of the bed and stare at one spot on the ridge on mattress for 15 seconds straight. If you don't see anything crawling across that ridge then you are OK.

It was a great trip and as usual, I learned more than any of the kids. I want to thank Gord Hudson and his staff and most importantly all the kids in Mistissini for their hospitality and friendship. As much as I enjoy seeing new places, it is always good to go home.

Sunday, July 24, 2011
It was an excellent day of basketball and a beautiful day outside. Yesterday, I was saying how great it is that we play basketball inside and today I wish we were outside. I did get a run in along the lake (my knees will be killing me tomorrow), but the views were worth it. The kids here have been great; they have worked hard and returned the next day ready to learn some more. Basketball is a great game to play. Every player has the opportunity to do anything that they are capable of. In football, the linemen rarely touch the ball. In baseball, the first baseman stays at first. In basketball you can be the tallest player and also be one of the best 3-point shooters. You can be a point guard and post up. Everyone has a chance to play offense, defense and rebound. You are only limited by your skill level. Basketball (and all team sports) gives players a chance to develop the team values that help make a team successful. Values such as loyalty, unselfishness, sacrifice, giving full effort, performing under pressure, performing under adverse conditions, discipline, leadership and many other values that players can carry with them for the rest of their lives. These values transfer to success on the job and with your family. Young players on a team have something to look forward to, goals to reach, people that accept them and people that support them. It is no wonder that when you are middle age and sitting around talking with friends that the topic you often end up talking about is teams that you played on. Our hope is that the clinics we do with these kids will inspire them to try out for a team or to participate in a recreational league. There is no question that kids that are involved in sports are less likely to get in trouble and more likely to do well in school. I spent some time today talking with one of the local police officers. He told me that the kids here have all the same issues as the kids in the city (drugs and alcohol). It's amazing that drug dealers will find a way to infiltrate every community, even a small remote reserve like Mistissini.

We had another adult group in the evening session and I observed something that gave me a flashback to my days as a player. When a player here fouls someone, they call the foul. When I was a kid that is the only way a foul was called. You would be a sissy to call a foul that someone committed on you, and if you didn't call a foul that you committed then you would likely catch an elbow to the face on the next play. I very rarely see that happen in pick-up games that I observe in the States, and the coaches here from Ottawa say that doesn't happen in their city either. I asked one of the players if they always call fouls like that, and he said, "Of course, it's a matter of respect, and if you don't call it you are going to get an elbow." Ah, the good old days.

Saturday, July 23, 2011
Saturday was a cold, rainy day. I don't think it got to 60 degrees. This is one of the great benefits of the game of basketball (we play inside). The main sport on the Canadian Reserves is hockey. There is a hockey camp going on at the same time we are having our basketball camp. Hockey is a great game, but every time you go to play, it takes you 20 minutes just to get dressed. Then you have to haul all the equipment around. Then you have to dry out all the equipment, or the smell will knock you out the next time you put it on. It is fun to watch these little 10 year old kids hauling bags that are bigger than they are. Nothing against hockey players, but I am glad I chose basketball.

We had two good sessions today. It is a challenge because we have a very wide range of ages and abilities, and we have only two baskets to work with. There is an outside court, but the rain canceled out that option. We had the opportunity to work with some of the younger kids (4-6 years old). One thing that I have observed about kids everywhere is that the the little ones always have a great desire to learn. They are untainted by the adult world and they are adventurous and open. They have a great attitude and they love to have fun. By the time they reach 10 years old, many of the kids have lost that desire to learn and willingness to try new things. Somehow, we need to figure out a way to keep the smile on the kids.

Another thing that I have learned over the years, is that people love to get prizes. Sarah Haugen, our community relations director, sent a box full of Timberwolves goodies, and these kids go nuts if they win anything (even a little wrist band). We make sure that every kid manages to win something. Even adults at Timberwovles' games go to extremes to catch a mini-basketball or t-shirt and they are jumping for joy if they get one. It just shows that the innocent, happy child still exists within all of us.

This afternoon I got to witness my first 6-man football game. The high school team had a practice scrimmage against one of the other reserves and the entire community turned out for the game. Fortunately, it had stopped raining, but it was still windy and cold. It was good to see entire families out having fun. Something that I really love when I am on one of the reserves is that the dogs are free. It brings back my childhood memories when dogs roamed the neighborhood. Everyone knows all the dogs and the dogs all know each other and they are all friendly. The Cree have a philosophy of life that you should treat the land, the people and especially animals with respect. They hunt and fish, but only for what they need. I will be sad when I go home and see all the imprisoned dogs. This raises a question, why are cats allowed to roam free and dogs are not? I will end it there and let you ponder that question.

Friday, July 22, 2011
I didn't like getting up with just four hours of sleep when I was 30, and for you 30-something people out there I am telling you that it gets worse with age. At the airport I met up with Tony House, an outstanding high school coach from Ottawa. I have worked with Tony several times. He is a great guy who has volunteered his time for years. Even with just four hours of sleep, I couldn't close my eyes on the 90-minute flight to Mistissini because the views from the plane were spectacular. After taking off from Montreal, the city was quickly replaced with pine forests, small mountains, beautiful lakes and rivers and very few signs of civilization. It also helped that the Air Creebec twin engine plane flew at only 17,000 feet and allowed for fantastic views. After we landed, we still had a 60 mile drive to Mistissini. The area is unique in that all the small towns around the Mistissini Reserve are French and very little English is spoken and then when you get on the reservation, the main languages are Cree and English. We immediately went to the gym, where the youth camp was already in progress. The people here are very friendly and were very happy to see us. There were several adults who remembered me from Toronto, where I did clinics for them when they were kids. It felt good that they remembered me, but it also was a reminder that I am getting up there in age. The community is immediately next to the lake. From the door of the gym we had a great view of the lake, which was dotted with pine covered islands. We worked with the kids in the afternoon and then in the evening we had a special session for the adult recreational players. It was a Friday night and only five people showed up, but we did a clinic on 1-on-1 skills and finished off with a clinic on 3-on-3 skills. At the end of the session a 6'7, 300-pound player named Billy, got off his shift at the gas station and walked in the gym, allowing us to play some live 3-on-3. Billy took a couple of warm-up 3's that resembled a Nolan Ryan fastball and declared himself ready to go. He then went straight to the low post and began to put on a Hakeem Olajuwon demonstration. By the end of the game everyone was standing and cheering. It was a great finish to a great day.

I have been very fortunate to be able to work in the game of basketball and it has taken me all over the world. It has been a great education and with every trip I meet new friends and learn new things. The culture of the Cree Nation is a beautiful culture. I believe that exposure to different cultures can help you grow as a person and can bring people together. You will not always agree with a culture, but you should attempt to learn about it, understand it and respect it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Despite traveling all over the country and all over the world for 24 years looking for NBA prospects, I still get excited when I am traveling someplace new. I am heading to the Cree Reserve ( we call them reservations in the US) in Mistissini, Quebec. I am going there to teach the values of basketball to the youth and to assist the local basketball coaches. I have been working with native youth since I was a coach at Phoenix College in Arizona 25 years ago. I began working with the Cree Nation in Canada when I was the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. Gordon Hudson (hereafter referred to as Gord) is the director of youth services for the Cree Nation. Gord gave me a call and asked me if there was a way that the Raptors could help the youth of the Cree Nation. The reserve that he lived on was named Mistissini and the youth sufferred severly from depression, substance abuse and suicide. Gord and I worked together to bring a busload of kids to Toronto to give them a weekend of fun and learning and hope. Gord is an unbelievable man who has a real passion to help people and especially kids. We developed a close friendship and I have been visiting Cree Reserves ever since. My last two visits were to Great Whale, which is on Hudson Bay and is a fly-in community. This is my first visit to Mistissini and I am excited to work with the kids and to visit a new place. It is located 9 hours north of Montreal on the largest fresh water lake in Quebec.

I left Minny this evening (scheduled departure of 7:05pm, actual departure of 7:35pm). For those of you who travel a lot, you just get used to delays. We were further delayed by thuderstorms around Montreal and finally arrived at 11:30pm (over an hour late). I am not sure why, but in every country I have ever been in (inlculding the USA), when you arrive from another country, you have to walk about a mile to get to customs. When we got to our gate, the airport hotel where I was staying (I won't mention the name to protect future sponsors), was literally right next to our gate, but it took 45 minutes to get from the plane, through customs and to the hotel. I am always amazed that when you cross the border into Quebec, or enter the airport, it is like entering France. French is the main language and you definitely hear more French than English. I love it. It is like going to Europe, but only a couple of hours away. Montreal is a beautiful city, but I have a 7:30am flight to Mistissini in the morning so I am going right to bed. I get to Mistissini around 9:30am and have a full day of activitities. I will talk to you tomorrow night.

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jonah on Twitter. Visit the official Minnesota Timberwolves Facebook page here.