PUBLISHED January 25, 2018 | News
The Jr. NBA youth basketball program and the NBA Cares’ Hoops For Troops initiative hosted the inaugural Jr. NBA Army Tip-Off Celebration at Abrams Physical Fitness Center Saturday.
The day began with a youth skills clinic for more than 150 of Fort Hood’s young athletes. The participants were split up into several age groups and led by local basketball coaches through various skills lessons and drills.
Former WNBA point guard and Sacramento Kings assistant coach Nancy Lieberman was joined by former NBA power forward Sam Perkins to help lead the clinic. Both Lieberman and Perkins have played on U.S. Olympic teams, Lieberman winning a silver medal with the U.S. women’s team in 1976 and Perkins winning a gold medal with the U.S. men’s team in 1984.
The Jr. NBA is a worldwide program dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of basketball and instilling core character values. It has more than 20 million youth in 71 countries around the world participating in the Jr. NBA program, according to Troy Justice, NBA senior director, International Basketball Operations.
“The Jr. NBA program is a global youth participation program for youth ages 6-14. And with that, it’s to teach basketball in a fun, creative environment and also teach life skills and values of the game,” he said. “We don’t want to just teach them basketball, we also want to talk about respect, sportsmanship, honor and character core values. Jr. NBA is more than just about basketball.”
Jalen Spence, 14, plays on the Audie Murphy Middle School 8th grade basketball team and was one of the 158 young athletes at the clinic on Saturday.
“I wanted to get better (at basketball),” he said. “I think that this is going to be helpful for me, for my future and I like doing this kind of stuff.”
His group worked on right- and left-handed layups, foot movement and passing.
“I think it’s really great,” Spence said. “It’s a really great program to help young kids and for the future, so they’re ready when they go up.”
While the young athletes worked on their basketball skills, their parents were invited to a parent seminar in another room to learn more about the Jr. NBA program and its goals.
“This is really about investing in our future, our youth,” Maj. Gen. JT Thomson, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commanding general, said about the event. “And Fort Hood partnering with the NBA to do this is very, very powerful.”
“When you get somebody like Sam Perkins and Nancy Lieberman to come down and say thank you to Army Families and to military dependents, to say thanks for what they’re doing, that’s important,” Thomson added. “That’s huge because while we look at them as idols, but they look to us for their freedom and living the American way of life, so that’s important.”
This was the first time the Jr. NBA has hosted an event like this on an Army installation on U.S. soil. The organization plans to host eight events like this on military installations this year – two for each service branch.
“It’s a privilege that they want us to really kick start this program in the right direction and you can see we’re doing just that,” Col. Hank Perry, Fort Hood garrison commander, said.
Before the event, Perry gave Lieberman and Perkins a tour of the installation.
“We had the opportunity this morning to take them out around the installation and show them what our Soldiers are doing day-in and day-out,” Perry said. “We went to the division rail ready facility, they got to see 3rd Cavalry Regiment Soldiers loading out for the National Training Center and interact with them. I got to show them our magnificent installation and got to show them the size and scale of what we have here at the Great Place.”
Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, retired Gen. Martin Dempsey is the chairman of the Jr. NBA program and the NBA organization does a variety of things to engage with the military and give back, Justice said.
“It’s very touching,” he said. “It’s an honor for us, it’s emotional for us because we understand what they do for us to protect us, so for us it’s an opportunity to see a kid smile, to give a kid a high-five, to encourage and support the Families, so for us it means a lot to give something to someone who gives us a lot more.”
Lieberman, who became the NBA’s second-ever female assistant coach when she joined the Sacramento Kings’ staff in 2015, was honored to host an event for the Army Families on Fort Hood.
“We support the military and we just want these kids, we want all the Soldiers to know that they mean a lot to us and that’s why we’re at Fort Hood,” Lieberman said. “This has been a very, very impressive day for me and Sam, just to be with generals and just to see the whole operation here. We’re very blessed.”
After the youth clinic and parent seminar, the event continued with a Hoops For Troops basketball game featuring players from the Fort Hood varsity men’s basketball team and players from various unit intramural teams across post. Lieberman and Perkins were honorary coaches for each team. Lieberman’s team won 67-55.
“I was really proud of my team, because we won,” Lieberman said. “It’s really cool to be out here with them. It was fun watching them.”