This article originally appeared from Bob Meadows on www.NBA.com.
Just moments after the buzzer sounded and they had won, members of the K/S Elite All Stars basketball team began an exuberant chant: “We’re going to Orlando!”
The New York City-based team had just won the Jr. NBA Global Championship Northeast Regional title, propelling them into the second annual Jr. NBA Global Championship. The tournament, which runs August 6-11 in at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, features the top 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls basketball players from around the world. Fox Sports will broadcast 16 games in the United States across FOX, FS1 and FS2 throughout the weeklong event, with a long list of top-tier game analysts and play-by-play talent including Vince Carter, Brian Custer, Noah Eagle, Mark Followill, Sarah Kustok, Donny Marshall and Charissa Thompson.
K/S Elite All Stars became one of 16 U.S. teams that will compete against 16 teams from eight global regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada, China, Europe & Middle East, India, Latin America and Mexico. The 32 teams, which will be split into boys’ and girls’ divisions, emerged from the more than 15,000 kids in 75 countries who competed to reach the Global Championship.
“Going to Orlando is a great experience playing teams [from] around the [world],” Christian Bliss, who finished just shy of a triple-double in K/S Elite’s victory, said in a video posted on the Jr. NBA’s Instagram page. “It’s going to mean a lot. I’m excited.”
The tournament will not only crown a champion but also reinforce the Jr. NBA’s core values of teamwork, respect, determination and community by prioritizing life skills development and player health and wellness. It will also provide the players with memorable experiences off the court.
The goal is to “elevate the youth basketball experience,” said David Krichavsky, Head of Youth Basketball Development at the NBA.
The NBA was already making a positive impact on young players through its Jr. NBA program. The program for youth ages 6-14 focuses on its core values and teaching basketball fundamentals so boys and girls learn the right way to play the game. It’s reaching 52 million boys and girls in 75 countries this year. Still, Krichavsky could see something else was needed.
“One thing the program lacked was anything that unified all those players,” he said. “Now with the Jr. NBA Global Championship, you can compete locally and regionally, and if successful, earn a spot in Orlando.”
Interest in the tournament has increased from a year ago. The Jr. NBA Global Championship reached 5,000 more youth players this year and has seen a double-digit growth in corporate sponsorships. Anchoring the growth is the guiding purpose that teaches lifelong values of the game.
“As much as the tournament is a competitive on-court experience, we value the off-court experience as well,” Krichavsky said. “We have life skills seminars, educational workshops and NBA Cares community service projects. We think there’s an opportunity to create a best-in-class model for youth tournaments when it comes to the experience for the players, coaches, parents and referees.”
The players will play games on August 6 and 7, then spend a day participating in a community service project that will leave a lasting impact in Orlando. They will also attend seminars that teach life skills and other positive values. Last year Dwyane Wade surprised the players and spent time answering their questions about life and basketball – and he’ll be back this year along with current and former NBA and WNBA players Mike Conley, Breanna Stewart, Swin Cash, Bo Outlaw and Nick Anderson, among others. The games resume on August 9 and culminate with the global championship games on August 11.
The off-court activities especially appeal to Allen Skeens, head coach of Drive5 Power Elite, which won the tournament last year by defeating the Africa & Middle East team in the Finals and advanced again this year to represent the Central Region. His team plays in tournaments throughout the year, but the Global Championship stands out.
“The NBA does everything the right way. They talk to the kids about proper nutrition, a healthy lifestyle and paying attention to your social media,” said Skeens, whose team is composed of all new players. “I also make sure that my players focus on giving back too. We do community service, so I’m glad that’s a part of this tournament as well.”
He said the players also benefit from the global aspect of the tournament. “They get to see that the game they love is truly a global game,” he said. “There’s one basketball and it doesn’t matter where you’re from.