The NBA’s international U14 basketball tournament, an event that will feature players from more than 75 countries, is underway.
Boys and girls teams from 16 regions of the world – eight from the United State and eight from other countries – are competing to earn a spot in the Jr. NBA Global Championship tournament in Orlando from Aug. 6-11.
This is the second year of the tournament. It was born out of the global reach of the NBA, which already has camps for youth around the world, said NBA Senior Vice President and Head of Youth Development David Krichavsky.
“What we lacked prior to tipping off the Jr. NBA Global Championship last year was any event that unified all the kids participating in the 75 countries,” Krichavsky said. “We saw an opportunity to create a global tournament for our top 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from around world to compete.”
In gathering teams from every populated continent of the world, kids have the chance not only to see new cultures, but for some, to leave their hometown for the first time in their lives.
“Part of what made (last year’s) experience incredibly special is the way in which we were able to bring youth from around the world together, including kids who had never left their own neighborhoods, let alone their countries,” Krichavsky said. “What we saw down in Orlando was a real exchange of cultures and ideas and languages that the kids really responded to and they took advantage of the opportunity to not just compete against kids from other parts of the world, but to learn from them.”
Allen Skeens, the head coach of the last year’s inaugural boys champion team, said his trips are about business: get onto the court, win games, get out.
But this tournament was different for his team, which hailed from the Central Region.
“We wanted to win, and we didn’t want anything to get in the way of that, but I had to make them understand that this, of all the tournaments we play in, is much bigger than the winning part.” Skeens said.
The tournament schedule is designed to maximize opportunities to spend with players from other teams and cultures.
There aren’t more than two games in one day for a team. The NBA scheduled mandatory activity time, which last year included community service in building a playground and a seminar with basketball legends including Grant Hill, Dwyane Wade and Jennifer Azzi.
In free time, kids are encouraged to hang out in lounge areas, where activities including pop-a-shot and video games are set up – and as Skeens noted: “Everybody plays 2K, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
With language and culture barriers broken down, kids got to know others in a way Skeens said felt “organic.” By the end of the week, players were going out of their way to trade jerseys, add each other on social media and Snapchat, and simply get outside the sphere often found in a travel tournament.
“We set out to create an experience that was different than your typical youth basketball tournament,” Krichavsky said. “The global championship isn’t just a best-in-class on-court experience, but also an off-court experience.”
Last year’s tournament featured some boys players who are already garnering fame including LeBron James’ son Bronny James, ALL-USA Michigan Boys Basketball Player of the Year Emoni Bates and IMG Academy standout Jarace Walker.
Krichavsky also emphasized the tournament is focused on ensuring parity among genders, including putting girls and boys alike on TV, putting girls on more showcase courts instead of primarily the outer courts and trying to even out early vs. late game schedules.
That will all come to a head in August.
In the meantime, regional qualifiers will decide who gets to attend.
The first US qualifier tipped off Friday in the Central Region, while two international tournaments took place from late April to early May and China’s began Thursday.
Here is a list of regions and dates of regional qualifiers:
Northwest: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington; June 21-23
West: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada; June 14-16
Central: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming; May 10-12
South: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas; June 7-9
Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin; May 31-June 2
Southeast: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee; June 14-16
Mid-Atlantic: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia; June 7-9
Northeast: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont; June 28-30
Canada: June 13-16
Mexico: June 7-9
Latin America: May 24-26
Africa: Team preselected by Jr. NBA programming in Africa; training camp in early August
Europe and Middle East: April 29-May 4
India: April 30-May 1
China: May 9-May 13
Asia Pacific: June 15-16