Today’s blog is written by former PPI-SA Fellow, Kyler McClary
I left South Africa a little over a month ago now. I never wrote a proper “farewell” blog entry when I left like most every other fellow does when they leave their site and return home. I could have written about all the people I will miss, all the good times I had, the impact the program has had on me, or my overall take-aways from the experience. I could have also written about all my favorite memories from my two years in South Africa, but former fellow Kristin Degou wrote about all those when she left back in December and most of our time and experiences overlapped. I decided to let things simmer for a little while, get readjusted back at home, then reflect on my time in South Africa after I had been away from it for a bit.
This week is as good a week as any to reflect, as I’m back on the court coaching kids at a basketball camp in Oregon. The age group, 10-17, is very similar to the ages of the kids we worked with in South Africa, so naturally my mind has drifted back there about 1,000 times in the couple days that I’ve been here. I can’t help but to reminisce and compare. The kids here are good. They are well trained in fundamentals, with several years of organized play and proper coaching already under their belts, in addition to countless hours watching the sport on television and in person. They came decked out in all the latest basketball gear, brought cases of Gatorade and boxes of snacks to last them for the week, and even brought Xbox’s and Playstations to pass the time in their rooms at night while they should be, you know, sleeping. Yeah, this isn’t Africa. The basketball is way better here, the kids are better equipped, the structure is more organized, but this week so far has allowed me to realize all the things I miss most about basketball in Africa, PeacePlayers style. And here they are:
The kids here at camp have a variety of celebrations when the score, mostly subtle to not-so-subtle gestures and sequences that they pick up from the guys they see on TV. However, at some of our games in South Africa, a made lay-up in the 1st quarter could easily turn into half the school rushing the court, breaking out into dancing and chanting while we as the refs tried to clear everyone off the court so the game could resume. Nothing beats those celebrations.
Yesterday, I dejectedly glanced at the scoreboard as my team was trailing 80-59 with 8 minutes to go in the game, and yearned for the 6-4 battles that used to take place among some of our primary school teams that were just learning the game. In Africa, no matter how bad your team was, you were almost always within a basket or two of tying things up or taking the lead. In addition, even a basket in the last minute to cut a 12-2 deficit to a 12-4 deficit could lead to one of the aforementioned school-wide celebrations. It kept things interesting, even when the games were not the easiest to watch.
Monkeys on and around the court.
Carrington and Summerfield were notorious for this. So far at this week’s camp, I have not seen any monkeys anywhere. This makes me a little sad inside. Squirrels just don’t cut it for me anymore.
A different type of passion.
There’s no doubt that these kids at camp love basketball, but they are also here because their parents signed them up, drove them down here, and dropped them off with enough money and supplies to last them three weeks, let alone 5 days. I loved going to sessions where the kids were there because they snuck out of the house without anyone knowing and walked a mile to the court because they wanted to play, knowing full well that grandma was going to be displeased by their absence upon their return home.
I’ve improved some kids’ jumpshots this week, adjusting their elbows slightly this way or that, given them a new move or two, and refined their good but slightly flawed defensive techniques. But nothing compares to taking a kid who doesn’t know a basketball from a soccer ball one week and seeing them dribbling down the court and swishing a jump shot a few weeks later, jumping around and grinning from ear to ear as they run back on defense.
The local coaches.
The coaches here at camp do a good job, but at the end of the day it’s just another day of coaching in a nearly year-round basketball schedule. For many of our local coaches in South Africa, this is their first time getting a chance to coach a team on their own, and a friendly game between primary schools on a Friday afternoon might as well be the NBA Playoffs. The kids really feed off their energy and passion at the games, and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger as well.
Here in the States, 3-pointers are cool. They give you 3 more points than you had before you took the shot, and people applaud you for making them. The younger the kid, the more excited they get about making a 3-pointer. In South Africa, when one of our primary school players made a 3-pointer, they treated it like one of the defining moments of their lives. Picture a March Madness buzzer beater to lift a 15-seed to a shocking upset over a 2-seed and the ensuing elation. I could make a One Shining Moment montage just of South African kids hitting 3-pointers over the past two years and it would be the best thing you have ever watched. Talk about a viral video…
That’s all for now, I’ve got some American kids to go coach. I’m having a great time, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had a squad of kids from Wentworth or Umlazi to run with at this camp. I feel too far removed from them already.