When the Jr. NBA Philippines National Training Camp kicks off on Saturday, a larger-than-life player—literally and figuratively—will be the center of attention.
Willie Cauley-Stein of the Sacramento Kings will be in town to help in training the finalists for the 2018 Jr. NBA Philippines presented by Alaska. He will be joined by WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes in teaching the youngsters, aged 10-14, before trimming down the selection to eight boys and eight girls who will represent the country in the JR. NBA Alumni All-Star Game.
Willie believes that the Jr. NBA program will have a good effect on the participating kids, not only on their basketball skills, but also on their lives as a whole. “The learning aspect, their whole start, the respect, all that is so good to me because that’s bigger than hoops. You don’t just use those things for hoops. You use them for everyday life. It’s good to instill them into the mind of 10 to 14-year old,” he says.
He is no stranger to the struggles of a young kid growing up. In high school, he didn’t know outright what to pursue throughout his life. “I didn’t know if I wanna pursue hoops yet. I didn’t know if I wanted to do this, that or the other,” he says. For him, knowing what he wanted in life pushed him to be better ever since.
“One time, I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, how to use that talent that was given to me. That’s when it kinda just took off. I got more focused on things that I wanted to attain, things that was keeping me from doing it. I think that was the change that helped me get to the point where I am now,” he adds.
On Saturday, Willie has the chance to influence the Jr. NBA kids in the same way that his veteran teammates Zach Randolph and Vince Carter influenced his game. “Our vets are some of the best players of the game. We’re blessed that they’re on our team, teaching us all the stuff that they learned, going through it,” he says.
Willie has been preparing for the bigger roles ever since he stepped into the NBA. That’s why when Cousins was traded out of Sacramento, he immediately grabbed the opportunity to show his skills as the Kings’ starting center. “You know what they say, stay ready so you don’t have get ready. I was ready. So when they made the trade, next game I was ready to go in and start learning how to become that type of player that they need,” Willie says. He averaged 12.8 points, seven rebounds and 2.4 assists in 73 games (58 starts) for Sacramento.
Looking forward, he intends to add the three-point shot in his arsenal. “I’m not so much worried about the three. I think that will come as I get more comfortable shooting the ball. And I think this is the first year that I actually just shot the ball comfortably and not worried about what my teammates thought or what my coaches thought. It was just like, man, you work on this shooting, “he says.
The Jr. NBA Philippines National Training Camp will be held at the Don Bosco Technical Institute on May 19 and the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall on May 20. The camp will feature the top 75 boys and girls aged 10-14 which were selected from the regional camps.
Photos courtesy of NBA Philippines