Nigerian b’ball talents are amazing — NBA legend, Williams

Posted on Nov 12 2017 - 3:10pm by admin

NBA legend, Jerome Williams, was in Nigeria and South Africa recently to spread basketball’s gospel across the continent. The ex-Chicago Bulls’ power forward talks about his experiences in Africa and the Jnr NBA project in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA in South Africa

How do you feel about coming to Africa and teaching young kids basketball courtesy of the Jnr NBA (South Africa) and Power Forward (Nigeria) programmes?

I’m always excited to be here; it’s always exciting for me to come to Africa, especially South Africa, because it is the first place I visited in Africa. I first visited Johannesburg about 12 years ago and I’m happy to come back and spend time with Africans. I’m happy to be part of the Jnr NBA in Royal Bafokeng, where I met the Queen Mother. She was very nice to me and she had the chance to explain to me what the programme (Jnr NBA) is all about and how important the event is to her kids and other kids across Africa. I was happy to be able to come out and share my experience with them. I’m happy to see a lot of basketball games being played, trophies were won and the kids were excited. I hope this initiative will continue to grab kids across Africa. I’m just glad that I can come out and celebrate this event and all the excitement it gives to the kids in the Jnr NBA.

What are the targets of the Jnr NBA programme on the African continent?

The joy of basketball is that it can bring communities together, not just communities across Africa, but all communities across the world. And in these communities, we have to keep the youth focused; they need to have the right determination and concentration and also getting them educated. Basketball is not just about sport; what I taught kids in Nigeria and South Africa is also what we try to teach kids in the US as well. Though a lot of times basketball takes over the academic side and kids forget about their academics. So, with this Jnr NBA programme, kids are able to be honoured for what they are doing academically. Basketball kids were given awards for academics in South Africa. That is what the Jnr NBA programme is trying to put together for the kids because it teaches kids the unit phase of life: dedication to your career academically, determination to get good grades in school and also to be disciplined. You have to be disciplined in your education because that is how you can study and make good grades. It’s the same thing on the basketball court. Making a rebound or playing defence takes focus and discipline in the game. So, the Jnr NBA Royal Bafokeng programme is very important to the youth. I’m here to make sure this pogramme stays back here.

You’ve been to South Africa thrice to teach kids basketball. Have you seen any significant improvement among the kids concerning the Jnr NBA programme?

The kids have grown in the love of the game. When I first got here, the kids were touching a basketball for the very first time. There was a little uneasiness because of being introduced to a new sport for the first time. Now you see them more comfortable. I saw a girl displaying so much skill on the game and I was amazed. These are skills kids pick up the more they play; the more they have fun and get involved in the game. It’s always great to see the growth of the game but it’s not just about the growth of the game, I’ve also noticed the growth of Africa, the development. I saw a lot of things since I was last here in terms of roads and highways, stores, shops and malls and jobs and opportunities. There is economic development in South Africa and I’m happy that things are looking very prosperous in Africa.

 In what other areas of the game did you notice these improvements?

What I saw in Nigeria and South Africa is the fluidness of the game amongst the kids. When I first came here and they were touching a basketball for the first time, dribbling was difficult, passing was difficult. When I say difficult, I mean it was something they had to think about. Now, I can see that they have been able to get to the next phase, which is understanding the game more and reading more of the game.

Do you think African kids can use basketball as a tool to become future leaders?

Well, here is the thing: in the NBA, African-Americans make up about 80 per cent of the league. So, 80 per cent of the (NBA) jobs are taken by the African-Americans. When I did my DNA Test, I was a mixture: 89 per cent of me comes from Nigeria, Mali, Congo, Cameroon, South Africa and other regions of Africa. So, if Africans understand that 80 per cent of the jobs in NBA, is dominated by them, then, they can also tap from it as well. I’m not saying that every African is going to grow up and work in the NBA. What I’m saying is that they have the DNA to be part of this game, and that could be being part of the media and training staff (in the NBA). There are so many jobs that people could be involved with but what they need to do is to open up the door and tap from the benefits like I did.

The NBA development initiative has been spreading across Africa, which took you to Nigeria in October for the Power Forward programme. What was your experience in Abuja? 

The Power Forward programme was a wonderful experience. It’s a great programme for kids. Similarly, education is a great part of it. I got the chance to interact with a lot of Nigerian students and athletes all across the country. But one thing I can say is that I was very surprised with the talent level. When I got into the gym with a bunch of high school kids, it was amazing; they were dunking, running the forecourt and very fluid with the game. I can see they are going to be knocking the doors very soon. Then fast-forward the tape and you look at one of our best players right now; they call him the Greek Freak, I call him the Nigerian Nightmare, Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is one of the best players in the NBA right now and he’s always getting better.  So, Nigerians understand the way Americans look at some of the players that they bring over (to the US) that are part of the NBA, they’ve gained a lot of confidence. Confidence is reconnecting yourself to who you want to be. And that is what young Africans need to do. They have to connect first with who they want to be and that way, big things can happen.

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