Basketball Ontario Development Forum (Part 2)

PHOTO CREDIT: - With education as its foundation, 'Giants of Africa' strives to help youth in Africa use basketball as a tool to create better opportunities.

Who will win the Oscar for ‘Best Producer’ at the upcoming awards? Who won it last year?

Don’t know…? Well, you shouldn’t because there is no such category. That doesn’t mean that the producer and many other behind-the-scenes people are not integral contributors to the success of any project. They are.

Those in the industry know exactly who these people are.

And, so too do basketball executives know, quite well, the value and influence of Masai Ujiri (former Director of Global Scouting, Toronto Raptors and now General Manager of the Denver Nuggests).

Quick bio on Masai to give you a frame of reference for his topic at the Basketball Ontario Development Forum: “Emerging Countries – Challenges and Opportunities.” Masai joined the Raptors after spending four seasons with the Denver Nuggets as their director of international scouting. And, prior to the Nuggets, he served as an international scout with the Orlando Magic.

I would say that in having met with him and heard so many wonderful things about Masai, his commitment to promoting basketball in his homeland of Nigeria ranks right up at the top of his list of focuses. He serves as a director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program, started the Top 50 Big Man Camp there and also has been a national team coach in Nigeria.

Okay… enough tooting of the Ujiri-horn. I don’t have the finger strength to continue typing his contributions to the game worldwide.

(Again… I’ll bullet his comments and although they’ve all been paraphrased by me, I will precede all blatant Sefu-isms with “SB.”)

MU: General thoughts –

  • It’s important to develop the skill of the kids (athletes) as players and as people in order to have a long-term affect on the game in developing countries
    • SB: Part of what I think that he was getting at here in chatting with him, is that all of the kids in Nigeria may or may not go on to play NCAA or beyond, regardless though, they will become the future ‘gatekeepers’ (as my friend Tim Elcombe calls it) to the game. That is, they will be the next wave of coaches, officials, administrators, etc. of the game and the impact that you have on them now will have a ripple effect on how the game is developed in the many years to come.
  • For him and several others influencing the growth of the game in Nigeria, they realized that it was of extreme importance to bring coaches (e.g. NCAA, NBA, etc.) back to Nigeria to develop their coaches if they were going to see improvements long-term
  • When resources and infrastructure are limited, one must be creative and aggressive in growing the game … ‘out of the box’ thinking
    • By example, Masai was able to get a contact to donate 1000 basketballs … he did a radio promotion in Nigeria incenting people to bring him athletes, as follows: (1) for every one 7-footer that they brought him, they would receive 10 basketballs; for every two 7-footers they brought, they received 10 basketballs and 12 pairs of basketball shoes; for every three 7-footers, they would get the basketballs, the shoes and a team set of jerseys!! How’s that for aggressive thinking?! (Aside – In Nigeria there are an abundance of BIGS walking the streets Masai went on to share… not a bad problem to have.)
  • “Start slow, think big!” He talked quite a bit about utilizing simple ideas, but being aggressive.

MU: On scouting and what type of players the Raptors are looking to ID –

  • (1) Skilled players, (2) Shooters, and (3), Skilled Bigs
    • (SB: There is a theme here… skill! The days of GMs taking a risk on just athleticism is over. The NBAs Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t make it ‘affordable’ to take those types of risks as you’re locked in with a significant investment for a minimum of 3-years. Further, looking at the trending that’s taking place in the League now with teams extending deals to tried and true Euro skilled players – e.g. Garbajosa, Scola, Nocioni, Navarro, Oberto, Delfino, Hermann, etc. – we have an onus to develop the physical, mental, social/emotional, AND technical capacity of young people within our charge).
  • They (the Raptors) are not interested in just any type of player; instead, one that fits their system and style play

MU: On “tournament vs. league play” as a development model –

  • Tournament play doesn’t work (SB: He referenced examples in both Africa and Europe of the limitations of this model)
  • Why? There needs to be continuity. Games must mean something beyond a weekend. Athletes (and coaches) do not get a sense of feel in tournament play.
  • They’ve found that the league concept helps the kids focus and encourages greater development and quality of competition
    • (SB: With the series of mini-peaks that results in a tournament model, it’s easy for athletes to dismiss any given tournament as being meaningless or show indifference for preliminary games).
  • In league play, you end up with the top talent competing against each other continually (SB: It works it way downward too as comparable levels of play will compete against one another).
    • For instance, in Europe, the top two in Div. 2 at the end of the season, earn the right to jump up to Div. 1. Similarly, the bottom two teams in Div. 1, get bumped down to Div. 2.
    • In Europe, the tournament format is only used to determine the final champion.
  • He, and Maurizo Gherardini, were very adamant that the AAU system (utilized in the US) and the club system (as used in Canada … similar to the AAU-model) are not good development frameworks.

Ideas (although, from some experienced minds)… they’re still ideas. Hopefully, they trigger thought in you.


[ READ: PART 1 – Basketball Ontario Development Forum ]