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Jr. NBA Court of Leaders development program building mentorship bonds

To celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day, Jaloni Cambridge and Mikaela Campbell share how the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders introduced a bond that extends beyond the court.  

Jaloni Cambridge (left) and Mikaela Campbell exemplify that mentorship is not dependent on age.

When high school student-athlete Jaloni Cambridge and NBA Marketing Partnerships & Media Planning Associate Manager Mikaela Campbell were asked who their role models were growing up, their answers were unanimous. “My mom.”

The young women gushed about the qualities their mothers embedded in them throughout their upbringing, singling out sacrifice, courage, and strength.

Cambridge and Campbell’s paths crossed when the second cohort of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders tipped off in November with an educational trip to Washington D.C. The two found out they had a lot in common – just like their answers indicated.

Hence, a mentor-mentee relationship blossomed.

“There’s nothing really to explain, it’s just the connection was there from the jump,” Cambridge told about her first interactions with Campbell. “I’m just blessed to be a part of her life, and I’m glad that I’m a part of her life.”

Their relationship continued to grow throughout the following weeks. From that immersive trip to Washington D.C. – which included tours of the White House, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – to virtual meetings focusing on leadership, decision-making, mental wellness and civic engagement, their time together fostered a friendship.

The mentorship became reciprocal.

“I don’t think Jaloni knows that she inspires me, too,” Campbell said.

What really stood out to the young mentor is not only the way Cambridge carries herself but the way she treats others.

“Seeing the way she is with her teammates and her friends is amazing,” Campbell said. “You can tell that they look up to her. You can tell that they also want to look out for her. It’s not just ‘Jaloni, the team captain’ or ‘Jaloni, the star player’, it’s really ‘Jaloni’ – who I can trust in, who I can count on. I think that’s really inspiring.”

Mentor-mentee pairings meet regularly to stay in touch.

The relationship between the two young ladies exemplifies one of the key benefits of the mentor-mentee pairing, which has remained fundamental to the Jr. Court of Leaders’ success.

“This program is about the holistic development of young leaders, which is why we seek to identify mentors who are passionate about helping young men and women excel as leaders in their communities, regardless of the path they take in life,”  said Candice Haynes, NBA Domestic Youth Player Development Program Manager.

For Jaloni, this extends beyond the basketball court. While the two-time FIBA USA Gold medalist is receiving interest from some of the nation’s top women’s basketball programs, her career goals include entrepreneurship and design, areas Campbell, other NBA employees and the program’s guest speakers can offer insight on as she thinks about career opportunities down the road.

“We want our members to feel fully immersed in the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders and have the support of the wider NBA family,” Haynes said. “Having a mentor who is genuinely invested in their development and can help provide guidance is one of the many instrumental benefits of the program.

“Because mentors work in the business of basketball – and many of them played high school, college or professional basketball themselves – they can relate to what their mentees are experiencing as elite youth athletes in ways that not many people can,” Haynes said.

January was National Mentoring Month, but the mentor-mentee relationship doesn’t stop. It doesn’t end when the program does, either. In fact, the goal is to establish a lifelong support system and companionship.

“It’s been great to see mentors from the first Jr. NBA Court of Leaders cohort form genuine bonds and keep in contact with their mentees as they’ve moved on to college and continue to pursue their off-the-court passions,” Haynes said. “We expect that to continue with this group.”

That’s the ultimate goal for pairings like Cambridge and Campbell, whose careers continue to grow with the support of one another.

Just like they looked up to their mothers throughout their adolescence, they said that they hope their younger selves would view who they are now as role models.

“I think younger me would be surprised at where I am [and] very excited about where things have ended up,” Campbell said.

For Cambridge, she strives to inspire the youth in her life, like Campbell is doing for her. Given that she’s still only a junior in high school, she’s just getting started.