How a new basketball court brought hope and joy to a Zimbabwe town


It’s a perfect day in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Chamabondo Primary School is buzzing with excitement.

It’s August 2019, and with the help of Africa Outreach USA’s (AOUSA) Jack Ramsay Development Grassroots Basketball Initiative, the town is dedicating the court and celebrating its completion. And they should celebrate — they built this court themselves; the parents, teachers, coaches and players all helped.

They took a dirt field behind the school, dug a foundation and laid the bricks. They filled the foundation with river sand and rubble. They mixed, poured and smoothed the cement surface. The lines were painted and the baskets were finally put in place.

Soon, the basketball clinic begins, and the players and coaches work very hard. Everyone is learning something. There are smiles, a few laughs, a lot of sweat and a lot of fun.

Things get really exciting when they break for lunch and the band fires up. The music is terrific, and the dancing is spectacular. Kids get to show off their dance moves. These are traditional African dances. They are beyond impressive. When the band stops, a deejay pumps music through a sound system, more kids hit the court for freestyle dances challenges. Everyone is riveted.

Hall of Fame basketball coach Dr. Jack Ramsay (right) helped launch AOUSA, a foundation that supports underserved communities. Dr. Jack died in 2014, but the program continues, delivering donated basketball gear and building basketball courts in Africa. AOUSA is a small volunteer foundation with big plans.

There are more than 100 projects in the works in Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Malawi. And in mid-January, AOUSA launched its very first court-building project at a school in Uga, Nigeria. AOUSA volunteers, including Dr. Jack’s son, Chris Ramsay, and other program sponsors travel to Victoria Falls and many other locations around the continent to teach basketball fundamentals to coaches and players.

Basketballs are a precious commodity in rural Zimbabwe, and on this day, they are in short supply. There are nearly 100 players and coaches here. But there are just five balls for the clinic. So they work on defense … a lot of defense.

Guarding the shooter … guarding the ball handler … guarding the player without the ball … how to shuffle feet … what to do with arms and hands.

The coaches do their best working with a 20-to-1 player-to-basketball ratio. They break into small groups and run through dribbling drills. Fingertip control, pound the ball, eyes up, use the off-arm to ward off the defender. Passing and shooting drills follow.

“My dad, Dr. Jack Ramsay, always stressed fundamentals, even with the best players in the world,” said Chris Ramsay, a recently retired ESPN NBA editor. “We follow his template with our campers today … over-emphasizing proper fundamentals in each of the drills.”

Dr. Jack coached four different teams in the NBA from 1968 to 1988, winning an NBA championship in 1977 with the Portland Trail Blazers. When Dr. Jack was done coaching, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern asked him to help spread the gospel of basketball and share the game with countries around the world. The court at Chamabondo and dozens of others like it, are part of Dr. Jack’s international legacy.

Everyone here seems to know Prince Kombora (above). He’s a little kid with a big heart and an even bigger smile. He has basketball talent. Volunteers are shocked to learn he is in seventh grade at Chinotimba Primary School across town. He looks like a much younger kid. But he is tough.

He makes the all-star team and plays in the game with much bigger kids. He is driving through traffic and diving for loose balls. At one point he is at the bottom of a pile of players. When a bigger kid pulls the ball out of the pile, Prince is lifted along with it, still hanging on. Indiana residents Ken Julian and Eric Allen sponsored this court through a partnership between AOUSA and the Global Game Changers Foundation. Their foundation seeds projects like this one and others around the world. They are generous and visionary.

Isaac Sibanda (No. 21 in the photo, at the top of the key) is clearly the best player on the court. He is dominating the competition — scoring, passing, rebounding and blocking shots. He will win MVP honors at the clinic. But he isn’t wearing shoes while playing. Isaac has sneakers, but he uses them judiciously. He is saving the soles of those shoes for days when he really needs them.

This is a choice that Isaac (above with Chris Ramsay) has to make, because he is not sure he will get another pair of sneakers when the ones he has wear out. After the all-star game, Isaac receives a gently used pair of Nike high tops donated by a high school player from America.

On the morning of the Chamabondo dedication, Sister Clareta (second from left) from St. Francis School in Bulilimamangwe, Zimbabawe, put her players on a train for the 300-mile trip to Victoria Falls. She and the players arrive late, but they are ready to play. They are a scrappy bunch and do well in the drills and games. Teams have come from all over to take part in the Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Camp and test their skills against other teams in the region.

Nash Majoni (left with hat) coaches the girls’ team at Kriste Mambo High School and is an AOUSA volunteer in Zimbabwe. Majoni’s school does not have a basketball court. This is not unusual in Africa. Only a small percentage of schools have any kind of basketball facilities. But Majoni is pleased with how his season went. “Our season was very good. We won a tournament this year,” he says.

They are winners, but they still have many challenges to overcome.

“We don’t have a court, so we go into a field behind the school and practice dribbling in the field. Then we practice passing. And then we shoot the ball to the line.”

Majoni draws a line in the dirt. Players shoot the ball in the air, and if the ball lands on the line, that counts as a made field goal. Once a week, he and his team will walk five miles to practice at a school that has a court. The effort it takes to run a basketball program in Zimbabwe and the commitment of the coaches and players is remarkable.

Each team at the clinic receives a set of uniforms donated by basketball programs in Connecticut. Farmington High School, Farmington Rec, Miss Porter’s School, Westminster School, Glastonbury Basketball, EO Smith, Canton High and ATTACK Basketball all donated uniforms. There is an even larger shipment of donated gear awaiting clearance at FedEx in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, located some 700 kilometers away.

Hundreds of sneakers, dozens of basketballs, uniforms and referee shirts. The plan was to distribute the equipment as the volunteers traveled, but additional paperwork was needed for the donations to clear customs. This is an ongoing challenge AOUSA hopes to better navigate in the future.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, recently wrote in a letter to NBA players: “Building and refurbishing courts are some of the many and most meaningful ways we use basketball to empower young people around the world. As you well know, a basketball court is a special place to play and be active and learn the lifelong values of sports, including hard work, teamwork and respect.”

The mission for AOUSA is the same.

The sun has set and with no exterior lighting, it is pitch black. The celebration at Chamabondo has ended. Volunteers pile into a van to drive back to the hotel, tired and hungry. However, the battery is dead and the van won’t start. The volunteers sit in the dark and have a good laugh.

Ramsay thinks about his dad. Dr. Jack retired after 20 years of coaching in the NBA. Stern then sent him around the world to help develop the game of basketball. He ran camps and coaching clinics in just about every corner of the globe, but, ironically, he never made it to Africa.

Chris says: “I feel like [my dad] was with us today, running drills with the kids and the coaches on this brand new court in Victoria Falls.”

Basketball Hall of Famer and former ESPN analyst Dr. Jack Ramsay began the Africa Outreach USA Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Development Initiative in 2012. His son, Chris Ramsay, was a longtime deputy editor at ESPN before retiring this year.

Source : ESPN