Ten youth basketball players from the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne recently had the opportunity to represent not only their teams and their state but also the entire country, as they took on the Japanese All-Stars in an exhibition game last month.
The Y team played the All-Stars Jan. 5 at the Nets Practice Facility in East Rutherford in game sponsored by a Jr. NBA/WNBA. Although the Wayne team lost, everyone involved came out a winner, organizers said.
Simply being picked to play in the game was a huge honor for the Y and for the players, said Y staff. It was tough for the coaches to pick their team, with many eligible players and a limited number of roster spots, said John Kerr, director of youth and adult sports at the Y. "[The coaches’] criterion was not only to take the best players, but the players who were going to be able to play in a game like this and represent us, so that the Y’s best foot was put forward," he said.
The YM-YWHA of North Jersey competed against the Japanese All-Stars in an international exhibition Jan. 5 organized by the Jr. NBA/WBNA.
The Y’s team, coached by Rich Karamian and Bart Lancia, was limited to players 1′ to 14 years old. The final team was made up primarily of seventh- and eighth-graders from two of the Y’s traveling basketball teams, the Cavaliers and the Corsairs. They faced an extremely talented Japanese team, one organizer said, adding that it "could compete with any public high school in the area." The Japanese team was coming off an earlier win over the Queens Heat, a New York club team also affiliated with the Jr. NBA.
While Lancia pointed out that his team "played hard right until the very end," the players’ overall experience was about much more than the game itself.
"These kids got to do something like [playing an international opponent], as opposed to watching it on television," said Lancia. "It was a big kick for them, a thrill and an honor. It wasn’t so much about the points scored, or the wins or losses. It was more [about] being sportsmen, going out there to shake hands and get to know the other team."
The Jr. NBA, which is made up of 1,700 leagues and 750,000 players worldwide, did more than just break the ice between the teams through those games. Organizers brought all of the kids together for a game of Simon Says, as well as for basketball skills competitions including a game of H-O-R-S-E, free-throw and three-point shooting contests, and a half-court shooting contest. The day "was a learning experience, getting to meet kids from another country," said Lancia. "It was something that when I was a kid would have never happened."
Every athlete walked away with the uniform in which he played, a Jr. NBA T-shirt, a goodie bag, and a commemorative trophy, awarded in a ceremony held after the game. They all also left with the desire to do it all again next year.
"We definitely want the shot next year," said Kerr. "That was the one thing the kids said when they left: ‘We want a chance to come back.’ We put the request in, so we’ll see what happens."
In the meantime, the Y will host a Jr. NBA Skills Challenge on Feb. 10. "We’re very excited about this event, too," said Kerr. "We are one of ’50 facilities in the United States who are hosting the Jr. NBA skills competition and the only one in the area."