Up close and personal with NBA Africa coaches
In 2011, NBA Africa launched a partnership with the Royal Bafokeng Nation in the North West province of South Africa, aimed at developing basketball talent in the area.
Since the launch of the program in May 2011, more than 8000 children from 18 schools across the five Bafokeng regions have taken part in regular basketball coaching sessions held by the NBA Development Team of Technical Director / Head Coach Joby Wright, and Development Coaches Patrick Engelbrecht and Franck Traore, teaching the fundamentals of the game.
Over the next few weeks, we chat to the three coaches to find out more about their passion for the game and their plans for the Royal Bafokeng Sport Jr. NBA League and development program.
This week we talk to Head Coach & Technical Director, Joby Wright.
Name & Surname?
Where in the world have you lived?
I have been fortunate enough to have lived in numerous countries around the world. I have lived in the Canary Islands in Spain. I have lived in France, Italy and Finland where I spent a year in each country. I also had a short spell living in Mexico. I have found these experiences to be interesting, challenging but ultimately rewarding.
How are you finding, North West, South Africa as your ďhomeĒ for now?
It has been an adventure! Coming to South Africa and landing in Johannesburg wasnít what I expected. I didnít expect the city to be so cosmopolitan. I am finding the North West to be more remote obviously but the people have been very positive and they have responded favourably to what weíre trying to achieve, which is to establish basketball as a sport here. In terms of the coaches program that we have implemented we have identified 10 of the 50 coaches who have tremendous potential and are progressing well.
How many languages do you speak?
I can speak a little bit of French and Spanish but Iím not fluent. Having spent time in those countries I was fortunate enough to have been impacted enough to pick up some of the language and the culture. Itís important to take in different cultures where you can because you gain insight and knowledge and that helps to shape your world view.
How long have you been playing basketball?
I grew up in Savannah, Georgia which wasnít very big into basketball but I spent most of my summers growing up between NYC and Washington DC because I had relatives there. So from the age of 12 or 13 I was playing basketball through my summers and thatís where I was introduced to the sport.
What started your interest in basketball?
Growing up playing the sport, I found that when I reached high school level I was so far ahead of my peers who had focused on playing baseball and football. While I also played those sports I started excelling in basketball and when I finished high school I was fortunate enough to have received a scholarship at Indiana University.
Where did you play?
I played at the highest collegiate level with Indiana University. In 1972 I was part of the NBA draft where I was selected by the Seattle Supersonics. I then featured for the Memphis Tams, San Diego Sails and Virginia Squires in the old American Basketball Association. In between this period I spent a year in France and played for AS Berck.
What was the highest level achieved?
Obviously I played the game at a professional level in the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics. I played in the American Basketball Association which merged with the NBA in 1976.
Any awards, championships, achievements?
On the coaching front I was assistant coach at Indiana University where we won two national championships. I was also privileged enough to work as an assistant coach with the US Menís National team in 1984 with players like Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, who won the Olympic gold medal. I have also been head coach at Miami University, Ohio and head coach at Wyoming University and I was also the Head Basketball Coach and Director of Basketball Operations at Cincinnati Sports Inc. I was also involved with the Harlem Globetrotters as head coach of their competitive team. I was Athletic Director and Head Boys Basketball Coach at Indianapolis Public Schools/John Marshall Community High School. I am C.E.O./President at Joby Wright Basketball School/Wright Way Foundation. I have been lucky to have been afforded a rich and diverse experience in the game of basketball. The sport of basketball has also greatly influenced my life in that I have furthered my education where I have a Masterís Degree in Education and Counselling and a Bachelorís Degree in Physical Education. I have also combined my roles as a coach by also lecturing at the universities and schools that I was involved with.
Most memorable moment in your basketball career?
I think the most memorable thing I ever did was scoring a basket for the opposition. I was playing for Indiana and we were up against Michigan and I just got confused with the direction we were playing. I made up for it though; I scored the next 4 points to win the game! Iíve had many memorable moments throughout my career and I have been around the world. Spending time in Beijing China, being an American in a communist country was an eye-opener and I have also been privileged to be part of basketball programs that have made a real change in the world, where we went into previously war-torn countries and got children to put down weapons and pick up a ball and play sport. We used the medium of sport as a vehicle for change to eliminate conflict resolution and to promote peace. Moments like that stand out.
Who was your favourite player or team growing up?
When I was young I didnít have the luxury that we enjoy know with broadcasters like DSTV. I remember that every Sunday there was a big game on television and two teams stood out for me back then. One was the New York Knicks and a player named Willis Reed. The other team was the Baltimore Bullets and my favourite player there was Earl Monroe.
Youíre currently the head coach and Technical Director of the NBA Development Programme in North West, South Africa. How has the program grown since you first arrived less than a year ago?
Weíre certainly moving in the right direction and the programme is growing. We have some exciting young kids that weíre coaching. We have about 600 kids in the programme presently and weíd like to see those numbers swell to 1000. We are in the process of building more basketball courts and improving the infrastructure to give these kids access to facilities so that they can continue improving.
What has impressed you the most about the program?
If you take into consideration that these kids had never seen a basketball or had never watched basketball and take a look at where they are today, itís incredible. I have been blown away by the sheer enthusiasm and motivation that these kids have. They not just playing to play, theyíre playing to improve, to get better. Iím looking forward to what the future holds, Iíd like to see the parents becoming more involved in the programme and showing more support to their children. I also have to mention that I have been so well accepted by the people of the Royal Bafokeng Nation and that pleases me to no end. That these young people see me as a leader; that they can learn from me and come to me for guidance and direction. Itís a huge responsibility, but it doesnít overwhelm me. I am in this position and I am honoured, grateful and privileged.
Have you seen some really good talent amongst the kids in North West?
Weíve got one kid who we have very high hopes for. We believe that he could go across to the United States and play at High School level with the possibility of a University Scholarship to follow. We have about 50 kids who have formed the Platinum All Stars group. This is our select group of players. The new programme starts on the 11th of April and there are kids we havenít seen in a while who we are expecting to have improved. Iíve been pleasantly surprised by the raw talent on offer but the next project will be to get these kids playing competitive basketball and going around the country taking on basketball teams from elsewhere and seeing how they measure up and how they do in a competitive environment.
What are the toughest challenges relating to the program youíve experienced, or seen the kids experiencing?
Basketball was a non-existent factor in these kidís lives prior to this programme launching. Basketball has now given them a platform where we can educate and inspire. We want to get these kids playing sport but we also want to teach them the basic fundamentals to make them better, productive citizens who can contribute to the economy and who can provide for their families. I know we give these kids uniforms and shoes, but it isnít enough. Iím not sure how feasible this is, but I want to provide these kids with more clothing, with multiple pairs of shoes, with a basketball but more importantly with a book. We want to instil the importance of education. Thatís the legacy I want to leave behind. If I achieve that then I have delivered as a leader.
What makes you smile at the end of a really tough week managing this program?
When one of the kids comes up to me and says ďthanks coachĒ or when one of the adults from the area approaches me to say that they have heard about the good work that we have been doing and they just want to meet me or chat to me. Thatís a great feeling.
What has surprised you most about working with the kids in the North West?
The most surprising aspect has been their desire and enthusiasm for the sport. They are putting in a tremendous amount of effort to understand the game and to make a legitimate attempt at becoming good basketball players.
What has been the biggest cultural adjustment youíve had to make since moving to the North West?
I have been fortunate in that I have lived in many places around the world and I have experienced many different cultures. The biggest factor for me is that I miss my family and I miss my children.
Regarding the RBS NBA program in North West, in 2012 what are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to taking this program to the next level. We want to improve the players individually to create better basketball players and we also want to create better basketball teams who can compete and play the sport to taste victory. From a coaching perspective we want to implement effective coaching programs so that when we leave the country the sport of basketball will still be able to thrive and boom because we have produced good coaches who can take the game forward in this country.