Basketball Queensland’s State Performance Manager (South), Mel Downer, was selected with six other Australian athletes to attend the 2017 NBA Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in the New Orleans, USA. The Basketball Without Borders Camp is a huge honour, giving 67 of the best high school aged prospects from 32 countries around the world an opportunity to learn directly from NBA and FIBA players, legends and coaches. Mel has shared her experience at the Basketball Without Borders Camp:
I was extremely fortunate to be invited to coach at the 2017 NBA Basketball Without Borders Global Camp held in New Orleans in conjunction with the NBA All Star Weekend. Six Australian players were also invited – two being fellow Queenslanders Sam Froling & Callum Dalton.
It was an amazing experience being able to work with some of the best junior athletes from across the globe, with athletes coming from Canada, British Virgin Islands, Barbados, India, England, China, Serbia, Mali, Finland to name a few. This of course presented challenges with language barriers, however it was apparent that the language of basketball was universal.
Each day of the camp consisted of positional skill development sessions in the morning, finishing off with inter squad games in the afternoon. The athletes were also exposed to current and retired NBA/WNBA players on life as an elite athlete and life after basketball, providing valuable lessons on the personal sacrifices they had to make to get to the top of their game, the challenges they faced living in foreign countries away from their support networks, how they survived in a foreign country where they didn’t know the language and how they prepared for a career once basketball was no longer a viable income source. It was a refreshing insight into the behind the scenes struggles that most athletes face during the hard-early years of trying to make a living out of sport, before they sign the lucrative million-dollar contract, that is often not portrayed in the media, with the glitz and glamour of the celebrity lifestyle instead being favoured.
Attending the camp gave me an insight on how Australian juniors compare to the rest of the world. It was very clear that the Australian athletes were some of the most fundamentally sound at the camp, and they also had a high understanding of the “international” style of play, most similar to the European style of play. This was very reassuring to see that as a nation we are preparing our athletes with the foundation of fundamentals to put them in a position to succeed. What was also evident however, was that the American and Canadian athletes were better “hoopers” and had the ability and confidence to create and score out of structure. A very different style of play to us, however very effective in its own right and reinforced to me the need to always incorporate competitive drills that give athletes free reign and encourage them to make decisions and just “hoop” without constraints whilst also maintaining our high level of fundamentals and basketball IQ.
Another part of the camp was to expose athletes to WNBA, NBA, NBA D League and College scouts. The recruiting process is commonplace for American and Canadian athletes, they are conditioned from a young age to converse with scouts and coaches and promote themselves to gain an athletic scholarship at a US College. However, this is unfamiliar territory to Australian athletes and can come across as being arrogant. If Australian athletes have a desire to attend an American college as part of their basketball journey, they need to fully embrace the recruiting process to be successful and stand out from the crowd.
Whilst being around so many past and present NBA/WNBA players and coaches, and coaches from all over the world was unbelievable, and the NBA ALL Star game was incredible, the absolute highlight of the trip for me was attending the University of Connecticut v Tulane Women’s college basketball game, where UConn, coached by the great Geno Auriemma, won their 101st consecutive win. In a game that was supposed to be a whitewash, Tulane gave UConn a run for their money and only went down by three points. With NBA All Star Weekend on, as well as Mardi Gras, New Orleans certainly turned it on for their Tulane women and the Devlin Fieldhouse gym was the place to be!
Attending the 2017 NBA Basketball Without Borders Global Camp was an experience of a lifetime that I am grateful to have been a part of. I was able to talk with and learn from some of the best in the business, and be exposed to different styles of play and coaching techniques, however there’s no place like home!