First Impressions – Four Quarters: Benjamin Constable’s First Month With PPI-SA

It’s been four weeks since I landed in Durban, South Africa, the perfect amount of time to describe my experiences through a shameless basketball metaphor. Four quarters (or weeks) with PPI-SA International Fellow Benjamin Constable:

Benjamin Constable coaching New Orleans' youth during his first experience with PPI

Benjamin Constable coaching New Orleans’ youth during his first experience with PPI

Warm-up:

You could say I had a little more time to loosen up and stretch before starting in Durban. My first encounter with PPI was in 2007 during the World Adidas Nations Camp in New Orleans.  I looked like this (Thank goodness the bowl cut is now gone).

But PPI’s mission looked the same – use basketball to impact lives. It was extremely obvious how basketball had the power to to engage, challenge, and grow youth in New Orleans. Since then, I’ve had 7 years of following PPI’s progress, and finally have an opportunity to step onto the court for PPI.

1st Quarter:

For the most part, the first quarter was a blur, the defense was swarming (by defense I mean jet lag). Some days there were 12 hours of sleep, others none. Yet, as any good teammate realizes, the first quarter is about getting everyone involved, even the new guy on the team with defense all over him. And good gracious is Bryan Franklin a good teammate. He had everything lined up, from teaching how to say hello in Zulu, to how to update this blog, Bryan set screens to get me open left, right, and center. I saw everything from the bright beach front, to the bleak townships. It was a blurred but eye opening first week.

Benjamin Constable coaching his first day at Collingwood Primary School

Benjamin Constable coaching his first day at Collingwood Primary School

2nd Quarter:

The 2nd quarter was time for PPI to put on the full court press. There was really no other option. With the Primary School Programme (PSP) starting up in Durban, and Basketball Without Boarders (BWB) – Africa beginning in Johannesburg the same quarter, we needed to be everywhere.

Although the majority of the week was spent in the back court up in Johannesburg, a highlight was definitely the first day coaching Collingwood Primary School. It was shocking driving into the local township and seeing the hardships the majority of the students experience. But all the poverty wasn’t evident in the students – always smiling, always asking questions, and always abundantly eager to learn.

Half Time:

After a full quarter of relentlessly full court pressing, we needed to recover. And what better place to do that then in Drakensberg. “Where??” Many people are probably asking. Well, somewhere between Durban and Joeburg is Drakensberg Mountain. And, although the scenery could be described with words, this shot of Bryan Franklin really tells most of the story:

Bryan Franklin enjoying the half time break

Bryan Franklin enjoying the half time break

Not a bad place to take a half time drink break.

3rd Quarter:

With the defense backing off and a full week half court pressing in Durban ahead, there was finally time to get stuck into the programme. This quarter was my first opportunity to see one of PPI – South Africa’s biggest plays in action – the extravaganza. We had prepared for months for this event that would bring 100 players from four primary schools together, and as we walked into the Umlazi Indoor Stadium there was a wee problem – one of the two courts was completely covered with building supplies and debris – not the most basketball friendly conditions.

Before I set into a full panic attack, I turned to the rest of the PPI staff, and they appeared to be pretty unphased. Mtu, our finance and HR manager, turned to me and said “these are the things you have to learn to accept in South Africa, you just need to be ready to adjust to anything.”

And adjust we did. Somehow a schedule that involved playing 12 games in 2 hours on 2 courts, was managed with one less court. Even looking back now, I’m curious to how we pulled it off. But that’s the kind of challengers faced in a nation where social structures are fractured and basketball is a minor sport. Sometimes resources will instantly become unavailable, sometimes an entire team will not turn up to practice because they hear their coach was training players from another school, but always it seems people are ready to role with the punches. It certainly is a new way of having to approach a game.

4th Quarter:

After I had come to accept the unpredictability of South African court time, the 4th quarter came pretty easily. I just wish a game of basketball went for more than 4 quarters… Oh wait this game has 100 more quarters to go!

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