Jr. NBA

Launch of new youth leadership council headlines Jr. NBA Week

The Jr. NBA Court of Leaders focuses on off-court leadership skills, personal and career development and social justice issues.

Emily McCarthy, for NBA.com

S’mya Nichols of U.S. Central Girls was selected to the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders.

In conjunction with the sixth annual Jr. NBA Week, the NBA announced the launch of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders, a youth leadership council featuring 15- and 16-year-old boys and girls from across the U.S. who participated in the 2018 and 2019 Jr. NBA Global Championships.

The 18 selected council members will hone their leadership skills, participate in programming focused on personal and career development and broaden their understanding of social justice issues and gender inequality. As part of the program’s social impact component, they will also take part in a social responsibility project within their own communities and provide feedback to enhance future Jr. NBA events.

“The Jr. NBA Court of Leaders was born out of that commitment to holistic development,” said Adam Harper, NBA Associate Vice President of Youth Basketball Development. “For all of us in the youth sports and development space, the challenges and events of the past year have only magnified the importance and power of sport in the lives of young people.

“We wanted to establish a platform that recognizes the force of young people to drive change and empowers them to find and develop their voice — and for us to amplify their voice as leaders both within the youth basketball community and their broader communities across the country.”

Jr. NBA Court of Leaders member LT Overton of U.S. Southeast Boys during the 2019 JNGC Dunk Contest.

While the inaugural group of council members participated in at least one Jr. NBA Global Championship (JNGC) — a multi-day basketball tournament for top 13- and 14-year-olds from around the world that also features robust leadership and life skills programming — it was the athletes’ actions outside of gameplay that led to their selection to the Court of Leaders.

From ensuring their teammates were waking up to attend 8 a.m. life skills sessions to exhibiting high character when interacting with coaches, officials and opponents during the tournaments, the 18 council members stood out and caught the attention of Jr. NBA staff long before the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders came together.

“The Jr. NBA Global Championship brought together kids from all different countries and cultures around the world,” said Candice Haynes, NBA Domestic Youth Player Development Program Manager. “The kids we selected for Court of Leaders were very active in understanding the cultural exchange aspect of JNGC and really just took full advantage of the opportunity to grow themselves, not just on the court but off the court, as well.”

Each member of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders will be paired with a mentor who works for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League or NBA 2K League. The mentors work across various departments and are in different stages of their careers. They will connect with their mentees individually and in group settings to provide career advice and insight into off-the-court work in the sports industry. The council members also have access to a broader pool of mentors through virtual monthly meetings.

Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx and Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies join the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders as co-chairs and will be in touch with the council members to provide advice and further their development.

“They’re not just hearing from an NBA or WNBA player, they’re actually able to engage with and develop a relationship with these athletes that are on a path that they’re trying to get to,” Haynes said. “And I think when you’re a 15- or 16-year-old kid that’s extremely cool, to know that an NBA and WNBA player who are at the height of their game care about your opinion and want to understand what you’re dealing with as an athlete.”

The Jr. NBA Court of Leaders will also help shape Jr. NBA programming going forward as they aim to create a more immersive experience for future participants. The council members offer insights from a youth player’s perspective to positively impact programming at future Jr. NBA events, including the Jr. NBA Global Championship.

“It’s great to hear from them in terms of how they view what’s happening in youth basketball, how they view things from the fit of uniforms to the subjects that are discussed during life skills sessions to the format of tournaments and events,” Haynes said.

Jr. NBA Court of Leaders members Sumayah Sugapong (No. 10) and Jada Williams faced off during the 2019 JNGC.

While the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders have only met virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, the Jr. NBA staff is looking forward to incorporating in-person and experiential learning opportunities when it is safe to convene.

“Especially with youth, I think in-person interactions and experiential learning will really resonate and aid in the kind of development we’re seeking to provide,” Harper said.

This group of 18 youth athletes will remain on the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders until a new cohort is selected in August 2022, giving the current group plenty of time to make its mark on youth basketball and beyond.

“These kids who started this initiative will have left a legacy on the NBA and WNBA without even having to have stepped on the court,” Haynes said. “It’s something that is not just for this moment, but it’s going to help carry them throughout their lives.”

Royal Brown (No.12) of U.S. Northeast Boys is a member of the inaugural Jr. NBA Court of Leaders.

The inaugural Jr. NBA Court of Leaders is comprised of:

Boys

  • Royal Brown (N.Y.)
  • Kanaan Carlyle (Ga.)
  • Amani Hansberry (Md.)
  • Lebbeus “LT” Overton (Ga.)
  • Grant Stubblefield (Kan.)
  • Quinton Webb (Calif.)
  • Curtis Williams (Mich.)
  • Aidan Wing (Kan.)

Girls

  • Jadyn Donovan (Md.)
  • Kendall Dudley (Va.)
  • Mackenzie Nelson (Conn.)
  • S’Mya Nichols (Kan.)
  • Courtney Ogden (Ga.)
  • Malia Samuels (Wash.)
  • Sumayah Sugapong (Calif.)
  • D’Asia Thomas (Texas)
  • Jada Williams (Mo.)
  • Solé Williams (Ohio)

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