NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp may have unearthed next Josh Giddey or Dyson Daniels

Mills. Ingles. Dellavedova. Cambage. Jackson. They all spent time at the AIS in Canberra and last week it was home to 64 bright basketball talents in the hopes of unearthing a new prodigy, writes ADAM PEACOCK.

Under the high roof housing Australia’s five main basketball courts, there’s nothing but positive vibes.

Scattergun encouragement echoes off the floor, off the walls, and from the backboards.

Something good happens, it is celebrated. Something bad happens, players and coaches pick each other up.

Sixty-four of the best kids to bounce a ball have gathered from all over Asia. It’s 32 girls and 32 boys. From India. Kazakhstan. China. Korea. Cambodia. Vietnam.

And Australia. Two Aussie boys are easy to spot.

Rocco Zikarksy, 16, is 218cm tall. He used to swim. Brilliantly and quickly, as a national age champion. But he got bored with that. Basketball forced Rocco to think big, which suited him.

Roman Siulepa, also 16, throws his two-metre frame around the court with enough energy to power a city. Here’s the energy crisis solution: Bottle Roman’s desire. The world will never go dark.

NBA scouts watch. NBA assistant coaches and current NBA stars coach.

Games are played, and a tournament is staged. There are no losers.

The big ol’ world of professional sports is a cynical place, with negativity easy to find.

Not this week, under the big roof in the hall of hoop dreams.

*****

The hall is actually the day-to-day home of where Australia’s best basketball prospects develop. Alumni is a who’s who in Australia of the sport. Mills. Bogut. Ingles. Dellavedova. Cambage. Jackson.

Of late, top NBA draft picks Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels spent a year in Canberra honing their craft. They lived here, and gradually soaked up the required knowledge.

This week was a crash course in taking steps to be great, and the doors in Canberra were flung open to the best 16 and 17-year-olds across the Asia-Pacific for a four-day elite camp called Basketball Without Borders (BWB), an initiative run by both the NBA and FIBA, the sport’s worldwide governing body.

There is one aim. Give the best kids in a region a little taste of an elite international environment. These camps have been running for 20 years, and according to Chris Ebersole, who runs the NBA’s International Basketball program, play an important role in developing players.

“With the BWB camps and other stages of the development pyramid we’ve set up with FIBA, the aim is to allow a player, no matter where they are from, have the chance to get involved and go as far as possible.”

FIBA and the NBA in bed together is an intriguing organisational mesh.

The NBA is big business. FIBA governs the sport globally and runs international tournaments. The two are very much on the same page. Remarkable, in a way, because imagine the same in football; English Premier League clubs and FIFA coexisting for the same development goals and philosophy to produce players for the good of the game. More chance of Ronaldo dunking on LeBron.

“Does the NBA and WNBA benefit? Absolutely,” Ebersole says.

“But the benefit to those countries, in strengthening basketball, is really apparent.

“We’ve had 105 players reach the NBA from these Basketball Without Borders camps, but on top of those players, 30 times more end up representing national teams, or at some level or playing in local leagues.”

In the past 20 years, 65 BWB camps have been held, with participants from 133 countries across four regional hubs – Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

Back in 2018, a skinny kid from Melbourne attended one of the camps in India.

“There was no way then we thought Josh Giddey would end up standing out,” Ebersole says.

“But the camp gave him a chance to measure himself against others, and get better.”

*****

This week’s Canberra camp was four days of pure basketball. Two hours of drills, and technical detail followed by two hours of games per day.

All the instruction came from professors old and young.

P.J. Carlesimo, who was on the bench with the Dream Team in 1992 as an assistant coach, amid a career coaching in college and the NBA, roamed the courts, sprinkling specks of knowledge from 60 years in the sport.

Four current NBA players; Coby White (Chicago Bulls), Cam Johnson (Phoenix Suns), Jarrett Allen (Cleveland Cavs), and Aussie Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks) provided the star power.

“As soon as I got asked, it was a no-brainer (to be involved),” Green tells CODE Sports.

“Everything about it is fun, and in a really competitive environment.”

Green and the other three current stars quickly got on a level with the kids, who wanted it all, and were eager to get it.

Current coaches join the NBA stars as mentors, including Annie La Fleur, a former livewire Opals guard, who works full time in development across Oceania for FIBA.

It was La Fleur’s first invite to coach at a BWB camp, and the joy for her was coaching players who got on the same page, regardless of where they were from.

“Had a girl from Kazakhstan who spoke a little English, and one from Japan who didn’t speak any. But they soon realised where their teammate was,” she says.

“Everyone kept their head up, finding the shooters, working their butt off on defence, we had the buy-in from all of them. My team ended up winning by working together, regardless of language.”

Damian Cotter also picked up a clipboard for the week. Cotter has risen through the ranks to now sit on the bench of the Chicago Bulls as an assistant coach.

Cotter grew up in Melbourne’s east, in Ferntree Gully, drawn in by the majesty of Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

“Being a part of the Bulls organisation, living in Chicago, I pinch myself every day,” Cotter smiles.

His boss at the Bulls got him a gig at his first BWB camp.

“You learn so much from these players, from diverse backgrounds,” Cotter says.

“Just try to add to their talent, plus give them a drop of confidence, and you notice real growth, even in a few days.”

Cotter is hanging on to his Australian accent, but the state of Australian basketball always holds a place in his heart.

Cotter knows this era is a special one for the sport in this country.

“We’re producing NBA players and players like Rocco and Roman know they’ve got a pathway. It’s really exciting for Australian basketball.”

*****

Rocco and Roman are just at the start of their elite development stage. The next two years are crucial, and they’ll spend most of it in Canberra as part of the NBA Global Academy which runs year-round.

The four days this week spent on the same court with others flying in for all parts of Asia was a happy bonus, in which both thrived.

While both only 16-year-olds, Rocco and Roman had career choices to make recently.

Firstly Rocco. There aren’t too many 7-foot swimmers, but he was a national age champion, thanks to genetics.

Rocco’s father, Bjorn Zikarsky, won a bronze medal for Germany at the 1996 Olympics in the 4×100 relay and mum Kylie was a Nutri-Grain ironwoman.

But even though as late as last year Rocco was winning national swimming titles – breaking 24 seconds for the 50 free – basketball took priority over staring at a black line.

“In swimming there’s three or four things you need to focus on,” Rocco says.

“There’s so much more creativity in basketball, much more to explore.”

His height – he soared past 200 centimetres just as he started high school – typecast him with early basketball coaches.

“They mostly put me in the paint and said Rocco, put your hands up and catch the ball and finish one or two feet from the basket.”

Rocco had more to give, and as he progressed through the Queensland junior ranks, Basketball Australia’s recruiters couldn’t help but notice, and he scored an invite to live at the AIS in Canberra with the NBA Global Academy.

The invite to the BWB camp was a nice little bonus, especially when he saw Jarrett Allen, the Cavs big man, was involved.

“Jarrett Allen has been a big inspiration of mine, the way he plays and works,” Rocco says.

“With tips from him, and talking to all the guys, it’s changed the way I think about scoring, defending.

“How the big man, being modernised, it’s all stuff I need to work out to get to the level (Jarrett) is at.”

It didn’t take Allen long to take a shine to Rocco at the camp.

“I love Rocco,” Allen smiles.

“He’s still coming into his own body, but you see all the fundamentals are there. I’m not as tall as him, but I‘ve been in the same position, growing into my own body and not even aware of my own potential.

“The sky’s the limit for him, and I hope to play against him one day.”

When told of this, Rocco is stunned.

“Oh really,” he says, barely able to find the words.

“From one of my idols. That’s crazy!”

*****

Everyone at the camp notices Roman Siulepa. The Brisbane boy is a fast-twitch, fast-talking 16-year-old who grew up running amok on a rugby union field.

“Probably thought I’d be in a footy academy right now, but my parents chucked me into basketball when I was 12, and fell in love with it,” Roman says.

He thought basketball was loving him back until under 14s, when his mum Rachel noticed young Roman needed a wake-up call.

“I had a bad season in under 14s, had the wrong attitude, and Mum said she was going to pull me out,” Roman says.

“Was just being that negative teammate that no one likes, getting on everyone else for doing the wrong thing and making the picture that you’re perfect.

“Mum knew that wasn’t the right attitude.”

Roman did what any good teenage boy would do. He listened to mum. Straightened up, and became the type of player everyone needs as a teammate.

Like Rocco he progressed from Queensland’s system, to Canberra’s NBA Global Academy, and selection for the BWB camp.

“The coaches have talked about intensity, in playing and training, gotta keep that energy,” Roman enthuses.

He does. For four-straight days. Roman turns the court into his empire, hustling on defence like the outbreak of conflict depends on him stopping a bucket, before tearing up the court to make something happen offensively.

At the end of the camp, a male and female MVP was chosen.

One of Annie Le Fleur’s players, Australian Lulu Laditan, won the girls’ MVP.

Roman Siulepa was judged boys’ MVP.

The other 63 players, coaches and anyone else under the big roof of hoop dreams erupted in cheers.

One day Roman wants to make the NBA, but before that, play for his hometown Brisbane Bullets, and make mum really proud.

Taking little steps toward that dream, Roman strode up to collect his award, a big smile on his face and the camp ended as it started. Positive vibes only.

Adam Peacock

Starting as a cadet, Adam spent nearly a decade at the Seven Network, before a 15 year stint at Fox Sports covering football, tennis, cricket, Olympics and jousting. Fave teams are the Socceroos, Matildas, Newcastle Utd, Manly, while hobbies include watching sport, eating food, sleeping and waking up to do the same.

https://www.codesports.com.au/basketball/finding-the-nbas-next-star-in-the-hall-of-hoop-dreams-at-the-basketball-without-borders-camp/news-story/53a79948fa6fb9372e055af9dd3f24e4?nk=8b63fed08befb380f757471465e1a571-1660422614 NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp may have unearthed next Josh Giddey or Dyson Daniels

Nate Jones

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