by Erik Woods
Jorge sits watching his favorite NBA hero on an antiquated t.v, his makeshift shanty house of plastic and plywood situated on the green hills of Rio de Janeiro is not beaming in images of Micheal Jordan or any other American stars into his 10 X 15 feet living room where he shouts “Vive Nene, Vive Nene.” Jorge says in his broken English, “who needs American stars when we have Nene Hilario of Nuggets, he is the man” It’s hard to argue with this 13 year old Jorge (pronounced Gor-gee), “No all the boys need to be like a
Mike anymore.” The world is starting to get their own home bred
stars such ultra successful NBA players Nene Hilario and
Argentinian raised Manu Ginobli of the San Antonio Spurs ,who earlier this year the latter was voted the popular person in his country over the national president in a gallop poll style survey.
Arhur Aggie was the star in the 1990 landmark documentary Hoop Dreams, in Brazil $4,000 a year is the per capita income, the ability to call 911 for help is non-existent where people settle differences with machetes in their poverty stricken favellas. Point is, the inner city government projects of Cabrini Green in Chicago look like a paradise compared to Jorge’s hill top hell.
It is widely established that a continuing trend that is that more foreign players are being selected to the NBA draft, maybe this is because they are more disciplined players with the height and talent to get the opportunities in the ever growing market of hoops. Every kid dreams of making the “L”, that illustrious 12th letter in the alphabet that stands for the NBA League, against all odds kids everywhere hope to be that one in a billon to cash in on NBA money, a flashy lifestyle, and eternal fame for your deeds.
But for every Hilario and Ginobili you will see a thousand kids come to the U.S. from overseas to play high school ball that won’t make the “L”, a free education is their lottery ticket and chance out of the third world. Most U.S. high school coaches will take foreign player with exceptional height, speed, or talent to give their team the “X factor”, that is, a kid that will allow them to beat the cross town rival and add fame to their program.
Nowadays, that is becoming more the case in America: kids are coming from overseas to live out the American dream.
For example, take Mexican born Hector Hernandez from Colorado, this 6-3 170 lb. freshman was touring with his Mexican travel team in Colorado four years ago and was offered a student visa, an education, and the chance to be a star.
Fast forward to now and we see a 6-8 235 lb. beast of a senior who was selected as Colorado’s prep player of the year and has accepted a scholarship offer from Fresno St. University for this upcoming year. Is it unfair that Hernandez received this offer over a American born player, only a bigot could think so, and plus, Hernandez obviously overcame the difficult barriers of learning English, studying to pass his SAT’s, and playing well on his Pump and Run team to be offered a scholarship.
Hernandez is spurred on to achieve because of a whole new batch of role models he sees in the form of the NBA’s Eduardo Najera of the Dallas Mavericks and highly skilled Sacramento Kings Summer Pro League star Adam Parada ,who recently graduated from the University of California Irvine recently. The young eighteen year old Hernandez looks up to those two trailblazers and hopes to play along side them for Mexico on the National, but with their success he also dreams of being their teammates in the NBA.
Unfortunately, facilities, training, and conditions in countries south of the border are not equal to the lavish gyms, competitions, and opportunities in the United States.
I found out about some of these ball players on the world’s most definitive international website dedicated to players and teams abroad called Eurobasket.com, it gets 30 million hits a month and has educated me on all things basketball overseas , there you can check out any of 198 reporters covering 243 leagues in 146 countries. Yes, this CNN quality site illustrates that the world is just crazy about it’s basketball, move over soccer, basketball is on the rise in the world.
Yes, the world has caught the love of basketball, in geographic areas such as South America, Asia, the Middle East there are leagues where the local players from their own countries can make an average of $5,000 to $10,000 a year, most of these leagues prefer to bring in a talented American player who starred in college or recently retired from the NBA, those “hot properties” can make up to $100,000-$600,000 a year in signing with a good team in Europe.
Garo Saliban, a reporter who covers Canada, Armenia, and the Middle East for Eurobasket.com insists that the site is intended to give “positive exposure” to those men everywhere who love this beautiful game of basketball across the globe, “If we can help that one young talented man get an opportunity to live his dream and get world coverage and fame why not, than we have succeeded in our mission.” He adds: “Realizing this potential that the site offers, many players do ask us to run their profiles on the site hoping to get better employment opportunities in higher paying teams, But often than not, the players will get dropped by their same teams as soon as they know the player wants to expand their horizons this way.
This is very sad.”Fans from he U.S. hope to track and idolize that one overseas success story that will capture their imagination like a Yao Ming, it’s like we expect to see someone from overseas challenge our homegrown LeBron James, Shaq, T-Mac, or anyone else from here that is at the top of the NBA food chain.
Can our local boys keep up with the world? Best to ask Dirk Nowitzski, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker, the world by sheer numbers and desire is putting more international players in the “L” every year. NBA GM’s will draft unproven foreign players just off that word “upside”, like any good manager the NBA GM’s will think outside the box and “outsource” for employees in an attempt to leapfrog over the next franchise, overseas prospects have just become more attractive than the predictable athletes we get to see play in the NCAA’s more than thirty times a year.
This brings us back to our Jorge in Rio who only owns one pair of socks, how will his life be touched by the American game, this thirteen year old dreams of playing in the NBA like Nene and suffers from “suspension of disbelief” that many youngsters in the U.S. do if he thinks the “L” is his destiny to play in. Look no further than Tony Freccero of the San Leandro, who by the way doesn’t hype kids into believing they’ll have a good chance of playing NBA ball thank goodness.
He runs the California based Triple Threat Academy to help Oakland kids and this past month the Jorges of Brazil in their “hoop dream” to be a better player and person. Freccero is a former stand out college player who recently went down to the NBA sponsored top 50 prep camp in Brazil, “When I was invited by the Detroit Piston’s lead international scout Tony Ronzone I was excited.
The opportunity to give something to these worthy kids has been a peak experience in my life.” Freccero was honest when asked just how good the talent is coming out of South America “You have some good players with height around the 7 foot range, and some of the guards were fast and competitive, but the best from this camp wouldn’t generally be considered mid level college prospects or even a high major athlete like a Dior Lowhorn from Berkeley high school, they’re were some high major potential kids that could make the cut with a Pac-10 school given their height.”
Recognition, respect, and an extra helping of sponsorship is what Freccero’s deserves, his group is called triplethreatonline.com and I highly recommend you check them out and consider utilizing them or sponsoring their efforts to help disadvantaged in the U.S. and Brazil.
Triple Threat teamed up with the top Brazillian basketball academy known as the Bolar Camp, they are the premier basketball organization in Brazil that is run by Rogerio Wernick, to see photos of the special techniques they used together to improve the life of the kids go to bolar.com.br This recent visit brought satisfaction for Freccero as he states, “Many of the kids down there just adore soccer, the national sport, when the ball was on the ground they’d just have this instinct to kick it around and we would have to train them to use their hands as much as their feet.”
Will the NBA have NBA lottery prospects out of South America or Africa anytime soon? I took a litmus test and asked three NBA GM’s recently at the Long Beach Pro Am if they thought that a 1st round or draft lottery pick from overseas out of high school was on the horizon, their overwhelming answer was, “not a chance.” They all told me that having a super talent such as Nene Hilario comes along once in a great while, the facilities, the competition, the training is just not there for this to happen nowadays on the regular for kids so young.
But watch out world, with a little better training and resources the world is going to be calling out “next” to give the American born players even more competition in the NBA drafts of the future.