Many of you know that I am a basketball coach for 5th grade boys and if so, you also know that I consider coaching the best job I've ever had! I don't make much money (read: nothing), but I am rich in high fives, fist bumps, hugs and I hear at least 8x a practice, "hey, Coach Di...". I love it.
I started coaching in 2000 and have coached girls and boys through the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and various town and AAU leagues.
Coaching and the kids are a big part of my life. My husband and I are Auntie and Uncle to many kids and being a Coach is an extension of that. I am quite passionate and have been known to get some stern warnings from the refs that I happen to disagree with... ;-)
I'm not sure why though...
Some may confuse passion for negativity and I get that -- they can be related, but for me it is straight passion--not to win necessarily, but to see my kids excel and improve. Most of them won't go on to play high school basketball, let alone college or NBA, but what I hope I am teaching them is how to work with a team, how to handle being challenged and how to be better.
Imagine my surprise while my husband and I and our friends Doug and Gretchen were in Colombia, South America over the holidays, and I saw basketball court after basketball court. I thought South America was known for futbol (soccer) and baseball!? We stayed on a small island (Providencia) off a slightly larger island (San Andres) off of mainland Colombia. Providencia, closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, is very different from mainland Colombia; the island "natives" don't identify with Colombia or Nicaragua, they are just "themselves" as they say. English is the island's first language--albeit a bit pigeonish-- (Spanish is the first language on San Andres and mainland Colombia) so I was able to ask many questions and converse with the locals about basketball (and many other things) without having to summon my half remembered memories from high-school Spanish (Look at me now Sra. Arnold!!)
me posing in a giant basketball gym we stumbled on in Providencia.
One afternoon at a rasta bar, one of many stops on our "around-the-island boat" tour we hired for the day, we met Chase---a super tall guy that I soon found out was only 13! After my husband mentioned to Chase I was a basketball coach, the only conversations I had the rest of the day were focused on basketball; this kid had my ear all afternoon! The passion he had for basketball, for his training, the gym he belongs to and the money his parents pay for him to play and travel intrigued me, because again---I thought soccer and baseball were the thing down here.
Chase. Could this kid pass for 5th grade?
After meeting Chase--and providing him my email address so he could ask me about drills, etc., (although I have yet to hear from him) I did some research on basketball and Colombia.
Apparently, Colombia is a country of basketball promise (and hopes). While it is still second to soccer and possibly tied with cycling (huh?), it is a fast growing sport and according to Chase, it's a dream for all Colombia basketball players to get to the NBA. Not a shocking revelation.
Latin America does have a basketball presence in the NBA and in Europe, but Colombia is still striving to become a higher tier basketball force within Latin America amongst the ranks of Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic.
Also interesting, according to an article I read and in line with one of the practices I saw at a local school during one of our walks around town, gender also influences the Colombian basketball culture: "Colombia, a socially progressive culture, offers women many options for sports in which basketball is quite popular and Colombia has produced at least two WNBA draft picks."
Many families, mainly affluent, but not always, send their children to the mainland and if they are lucky, to the US to stay with a relative or on a school visa to finish out high-school in the hopes of getting recognized by a US college. This was the case with Camila Tapias who moved from Bogota to Florida in 2013 for her senior year of high-school and the next April she signed a letter of intent to play for George Washington University. Tapias had somewhat of a head start though; her mother Yenny Pinilla currently coaches and played for the Colombian National Team, and her father, José Tapias, was one of the best players in Colombian basketball history and currently coaches Piratas Bogotá, one of the top professional basketball teams in Colombia. source: GW sports.
Another court. Basketball may be big, but at this school, the hoops are mounted on the soccer goals.
Columbia has a national team, their equivalent of the NBA, and has produced players that have gone onto success in college in the US (Indiana University counts Colombian native Hanner Mosquera-Perea as one of their power forwards and Texas A&M University has two Colombia natives playing on their mens team: Juan Aparicio and Tonny Trocha-Morelos) and in other National Basketball leagues around the world. Columbia though, is waiting for the day they reach the NBA.
When I mentioned to Chase that most NBA players first attend college to play and then they may be drafted into the NBA; he knew all about that. He said, "I am working with a trainer and next year I am moving to Bogota to go to school and train (on a basketball scholarship)." I verified this with his father, who we also met, because I was still amazed that basketball has such a presence in Columbia. "Basketball is everything to Chase," said his dad. "He knows if he works hard he can accomplish anything."
And as a coach, I completely agree with Chase's dad...
Now -- how do I talk Chase's family into moving here so he can play for my team!?
My current team: the Mavericks