In 2015, 17-year-old Lauri Markkanen took part in NBA all-star festivities. He was in New York with the first Basketball without Borders Global Camp as a player from Finland, taking part in drills and scrimmages with other young star teenagers.
He is back at the all-star game this year for the first time as an NBA player, and in representing his hometown Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, he also serves as a representative for Basketball Without Borders, which is returning for the first time in three years after a COVID-19-induced hiatus. Forty teenage boys from 27 different countries are taking part in drills, activities and a single-elimination tournament. They will also attend the all-star game on Sunday evening.
Chris Ebersole, the NBA’s associate vice president of international basketball operations and elite basketball, said that the all-star game will be the first NBA game that many campers have ever attended. There, they will get to see alums, including Markkanen, the first Finnish all-star, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard from Canada.
“It makes it tangible. The NBA, for many young players, internationally especially, many of them who have never had a chance to go see an NBA game … to have those tangible (results) in front of you, and to see some of the players who were in your same shoes only a few years before … it is pretty meaningful and impactful on the campers. It makes it seem a little more attainable to know that they’re not that far off from that dream,” Ebersole said.
The NBA has a network of coaches and scouts in regional offices around the world that put launch camps for top international boy and girl basketball players. As a result, many players competing this weekend have been part of previous BWB camps in their respective regions.
This camp in the United States presents an opportunity for NBA teams to get a closer look at the players competing. Ebersole said that all 30 teams have a representative at the event, scouting the potential future NBA players. While the scouts can see players’ skills, they can also observe how they interact in the new environment, with teammates and coaches they’ve never met and often with non-first-language coaching.
“NBA teams really value that opportunity to not just see them in their comfort zone and in their home setting, but how do they respond to a completely new environment and not only how do they play in those sort of circumstances but how do they react and respond?” Ebersole said.
In total, 38 BWB alumni are currently in the NBA. Twenty-three of them have participated in BWB Global.
This weekend, players will go through anthropometric and athletic testing, movement efficiency, skill development, shooting, skills competitions, and the 5-on-5 tournament culminating in a championship game. Nike, a partner of BWB, is providing apparel and shoes to the campers and coaches.
Basketball Without Borders also announced that, for the first time, a girls-only camp will be held during 2023 WNBA all-star weekend in July.
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