This month we have 10 questions with Mrs. Enid Sterling-Angus, Vice President – Overseas Operations for the Jamaica Basketball Association (JaBA).
Tell us how you got involved in basketball?
I stumbled on the sport while in high school over 30 years ago. I was hanging around the stadium courts one afternoon after playing in a netball tournament there, and a friend who was a member of the Aqua Youth Swim Club invited me to join her at the Stadium pools. Later that evening we went back to the netball/basketball courts where the Aqua men’s team was playing in the Berger Paint league game, which is now called the National Basketball League (NBL), and I’ve been hooked ever since then. Ironically, I’m still not a swimmer; in fact I’m still petrified of large pools of water. And even though I no longer reside in Jamaica, I still support the organization because I believe in their objective, which ultimately is to empower our youngsters by providing academic and athletic opportunities through scholarship.
Basketball in Jamaica is one of the fastest growing sports. As you travel around the island you can see make-shift basketballs nets everywhere. What can you attribute to this growth and interest in basketball?
Without question the media plays a major role by providing access to local as well as international basketball games. By being exposed to the NBA and NCAA games through cable, the internet and satellite for example, our youngsters get a glimpse into professional and collegiate arenas where many of the best athletes to play the game perform at the highest level of the sport. The natural progression is that they’ll want to emulate their favorite players. For youngsters that lack the financial resources to purchase a back-board and nets, this is when their innate Jamaican creativity comes alive and the results are the make-shift basketball hoops mushrooming across the island as you mentioned earlier. This is where the JaBA comes in. Through its national development initiatives, the JaBA uses basketball as an instrument of change by providing the resources that enable our youngsters to not only learn to play the game of basketball, but also to develop important life skills and habits such as teamwork, self discipline, fair play, and dependability. The Educational opportunities overseas that are available to basketball student/athletes are also attracting participation in the sport at all age levels.
The JaBA has quite a few programmes to attract basketball players. Which has been most successful?
I think it is fair to say that all our programs have been shown varying levels of success over the years. For instance, our first major objective was to expand our program across the country so that it was no longer concentrated in the Kingston/St. Andrew metropolitan area, and we have done that successfully. Today the game is played in five different regions (Western, Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central), with each of the five regions having its own executive body.
We have also expanded the number of programs offered, and improved the infrastructure to support the expansion. For example:
The a mini basketball program (boys and girls) that has grown from initially eleven primary schools two years ago to sixty in three parishes;
The High School league, which was the pioneer program involving four schools, now boasting one hundred teams, and we are also looking to include a girls under-14 program in this league;
The highly popular Club Program which has grown from a single league in Kingston to nearly thirty teams island-wide;
The Division One league which servers to identify and develop the best local talent for the All-Star teams and ultimately the Jamaica Basketball National Program
The DHL Female which currently involves eight Kingston based teams, with expansion plans in place for the rural areas.
The premier league in the country is the National Basketball League (NBL), previously the Berger Paint League, which also sources the Jamaica Basketball National Program.
While the previously mentioned programs are run throughout the year, we have also instituted the annual Star Search Basketball and Life Skills Development camp that is held for only five days during the summer. It is a joint venture between the JaBA the US based Jamaica Basketball Development Inc. (JBD Inc.) and was formally launched 2001 to create yet another platform for the island’s best young basketball players to further develop and showcase their talents to invited college coaches from the USA.
Each year one hundred of the island’s most talented student/athletes ages 13 to 20 are invited to this Identification Camp(ID Camp) where overseas colleges coaches share their knowledge and scout for new talent.
Additionally, many of past scholarship recipients return to the camp to also share their experience as well as to serve as mentors to the youngsters. For example, this year’s camp will include scholarship holders Daniel Rose and Mugabe Thomas- Cedarville University; Damion Staples – Iowa State; Richard Andrews – Cal-State Bakersfield; and Samardo Samuels – St. Benedict’s High School. Young Samardo is currently ranked as one of the top prospects in the high school graduation class of 2008. The JaBA is proud to mention that over the past twelve year more than one hundred and twenty of our student/athletes have secured educational opportunities at US colleges and universities.
How has the professional league in Jamaica going?
There isn’t a professional League in Jamaica since players are not paid a salary. But we do have sponsored leagues including the NBL that is co-sponsored by KFC and bmobile (Cable and Wireless), and DHL sponsored Women’s League. As previously noted, all our league are doing well.
Do you have any plans for an All-star game?
There is an annual All-Star game that is held during the March – April timeframe, and this year I was fortunate to be in Jamaica during the bmobile/KFC sponsored “All-Star Weekend Extravaganza” at the National Stadium Outdoor Courts. The event was packed with many activities including the Slam Dunk Competition, Three-point Shootout and the climax, the NBL All-Star Game and a lot of athleticism from our youngsters.
What professional league do you most admire?
Is this question pertaining to foreign league or the ones in Jamaica? If in Jamaica: It is difficult to compare league in order make a fair judgment since I do reside in the US and have not had the opportunity to see all the leagues in action. Therefore to offer an opinion would be unfair to all involved.
Where do you see the league(s)in 5 years?
There are similar leagues in many of the other Caribbean countries. And what we would like to do is to establish annual regional tournaments. Right now this is only at the conceptual stage, but it is certainly doable.
Do you work with any of the leagues in the US and Europe to showcase the Jamaican players?
Right now our closest relationships are with college coaches who have provided our youngsters with scholarship opportunities. But we are currently making step to expand our relationships into other leagues as well. Michael Kennedy who is a Vice President residing in Canada, was just named as coach of the San Diego Wildcats, an American Basketball Association (ABA) in California. We certainly hope the ABA is one option that players that need to further develop their game will consider as the league provides opportunities for more exposure.
There are a number of players from Jamaica that are playing in colleges in overseas. I know that the JaBA monitor many of these athletes. Who do you think has the potential to make it to the NBA/WNBA in the next 2 years?
We’ve had a number of players with WNBA/NBA talent, and who have played on pre-season NBA squads. In fact Ajani Williams who is currently in Jamaica preparing for the CBC tournament is one such player. He came rather close to making the Atlanta Hawks last season. Other players that should be mentioned are Kevin Young who graduated from University of Missouri, and All-American Mugabe Thomas who is also a recent graduate and has attended a few NBA training camps. Both players are also preparing for the CBC in Jamaica. From the female perspective we have All-American Erika Messam, University of Hartford graduate. She is a strong WNBA prospect, but we need to see what transpires over the summer.
Are there any Jamaican players in the NBA today? Who are they?
Right now Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls is the only CONFIRMED player of Jamaican heritage in the NBA of which I am aware; and he was born in England of Jamaican parents. There are rumors of others, but we’ve not confirm any of those.
Are any Jamaican players in the European and Middle East Leagues? Which players you think will breakthrough to the NBA?
There are quite a few Jamaican born players, as well as players who are of Jamaican heritage in the European and Middle Eastern Leagues, however we are not in contact of many of them. Players in those leagues that are members of the Jamaican national program are: Brian Lewin – Bahrain; and Omar Barlett and Chaz Carr – Poland.
CAN they make it to the NBA?
My personal opinion is that they can. And my opinion is based on the level of their game. You are welcome to witness it yourself by attending the CBC in Kingston.
WILL they make it to the NBA?
Well, none have expressed interest in joining the NBA at this time although playing ball at that level is usually every ball player’s dream. Therefore that is a difficult question for me to answer. What I do know is that all have done well on their respective team this past season, and Coach Julian Dunkley is extremely pleased with their game in CBC training camp at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.
Who is your favorite in the NBA player?
My all-time favourite is Charles Barkley, who was one of the sport’s most prolific player. He was a tenacious athlete who left everything on the court, and the consummate TEAM player. And although he has solid stats in assist and scoring, his tenacity at rebounding speaks volume about his sense of discipline and commitment to hard work. But I also like him for being outspoken and forthright. Of the current players, I enjoy watching Ben Gordon. I know I am a bit biased as he is Jamaican, but I love his games as a player as well. He is the first rookie in the history of the game to earn the NBA’s sixth Man Award, and named was Rookie of the Month three times last season. Not bad a bad way to begin one’s professional career.