By Phil Jensen
It’s a small world when basketball is concerned.
That’s what Tony Freccero has learned. Freccero, an assistant coach for the Bishop O’Dowd High School boys team, held a two-day clinic for Brazilian boys earlier this summer in Rio de Janeiro.
“I know it sounds like a cliche, but basketball is its own language,” the 26-year-old Freccero said. “I learned that you don’t need to talk to teach basketball.”
On a previous trip to Brazil to see his then-girlfriend, Freccero met Rogerio Werneck, who has a basketball school in Rio de Janeiro. Freccero started working with Brazilian youths in 2003 and decided to hold a clinic this year.
“I don’t want to stereotype Brazilians, but they have a zest for life. Even the poorest people are happy,” Freccero said.
Freccero certainly saw poverty on his trip.
“There were kids there with no shoes on. They were doing drills with no shoes on,” Freccero said. “(But) the level of enthusiasm was off the charts.”
Freccero focused on simple drills for the youths, who were mostly between 15 and 19 years old.
“I really focused on technique to help your jumping and drills to help your ball-handling, stuff they can do at home without a basketball. I wanted to give them new things to try and new things to develop their game,” Freccero said. “The skill level was different than what I was used to. Some kids were just learning basketball. Some kids were using it just to get off the streets, as more of a social thing.”
Freccero also taught at an NBA camp during his 12-day stay in Brazil. The top 50 youth players from South America and the Caribbean were at the camp, Freccero said. NBA players Dikembe Mutombo, Eduardo Najera, Nene and Leandro Barbosa were among the people who shared their knowledge with the campers, Freccero said. He was invited to the camp by Bishop O’Dowd graduate Tony Ronzone, who is now an international scout for the Detroit Pistons.
“The kids are flown in from all over South America. It was a great experience for the kids,” Freccero said.
Still, basketball has a ways to go before it overtakes the popularity of soccer in Brazil.
“I didn’t see any pickup basketball games (in Brazil). If you want a pickup soccer game, you can play until six in the morning,” Freccero said. “They do have hoops, but under each one is (a soccer net).”
His experience in Brazil opened some doors in the United States. The Mexican government paid for 66 players and 20 coaches to come to the Drew Gooden camp two weeks ago in Albany, a camp Freccero ran, he said. Freccero will be flying to Culiacan City, Mexico, on Sept. 15 for a camp.
Freccero, who is the owner of Triple Threat Academy in Oakland, is excited about the spread of basketball across the globe.
“It’s getting big and it’s not just Brazil, it’s worldwide,” he said. “My prediction is that in the next 10 years basketball will be the most popular sport in the world.”