South Africa’s North West province was a hive of basketball activity last Saturday as the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Royal Bafokeng Sports hosted the eighth annual Royal Bafokeng Jr. NBA Finals at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace.
The event celebrated the eighth season of the Jr. NBA League in South Africa’s North West province and was attended by NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, the WNBA’s Monique Currie from the Washington Mystics, and featured performances from an NBA Dunk Squad.
The program was launched in 2011, and has an after-school program, a scholastic basketball league and tournament for boys and girls throughout 18 schools as well as a coaches certification and development program.
Since its inception, the program has grown to 108 teams from 47 schools reaching more than 10,000 youth in the Bafokeng region. It is the NBA’s largest youth development initiative in Africa and has produced coaches and officials at national tournaments as well as players equipped with skills to be part of the national U16, U20 and senior teams and the North West provincial senior teams.
“We are extremely proud of the work that has been done here at the Royal Bafokeng Jr. NBA development program since its inception eight years ago. We are especially proud of the work done by our local coaches, and their passion for developing grassroots talent. Our number-one priority was to localize our development strategy, find people that we could train to build capacity, and this growth is what has sustained the program,” said Fall.
This year’s finals concluded an exciting season during which coach Kgolagano Rakhudu from the program was named the head coach of the Jr. NBA Africa & Middle East Boys Team. His team went on to be crowned the first Jr. NBA International Champions at the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championship in Orlando, Florida, last August.
“It was a really great experience to see a lot of young girls here in South Africa participating in the game of basketball. I was really impressed with their work ethic. I believe it is important for more girls to participate in sports especially when it comes to boosting their confidence and it helps them perform better at school,” commented Currie.
The league has experienced tremendous growth over the years and added primary school students in 2014 while continuing to grow the game of basketball in the Bafokeng region. It has also helped make basketball one of the leading sports in the Royal Bafokeng nation.
Over the past eight years many NBA and WNBA players, legends and coaches have visited the program and provided mentorship to the youth, including Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, NBA Legends Cedric Ceballos, Sam Perkins, and Ronny Turiaf; WNBA Legends Ruth Riley, Astou Ndiaye, Ticha Penicheiro and current NBA players Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, and Serge Ibaka.
Other highlights from the program include Mmakgotso Oageng’s participation in the Jr. NBA World Championship in Orlando, Florida, representing the Jr. NBA Africa & Middle East Girls Team; Leseyengo Roryisang and Morake Kopano’s participation in the first NBA Academy Africa Women’s Camp in Dakar, Senegal in May; and Ipeleng Nyatlo representing the program at the Basketball Without Borders Global Girls Camp as part of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Canada 2016.