Youth teams take it to the next level
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Youth teams take it to the next level

A teen basketball team from Wayne’s YM-YWHA of North Jersey will face off next month against a Japanese all-star team as part an international youth program through the National Basketball Association.

The Jr. NBA/WNBA program is made up of about 1,700 leagues and 750,000 players from around the world. It partners with organizations like YMCAs and JCCs to support existing youth basketball programs, said Eric DiMiceli, department assistant at the NBA. This is the second year the Wayne Y has participated in the program and its first playing in January’s exhibition game against the Japanese All Stars, a team of 1′ boys between 1′ and 14 years old from the Jr. NBA Japan program. They will play two games on Saturday, Jan. 5, first against a team selected from New York, and then later in the day they will play the team from Wayne. The match-ups will take place at the Nets training arena in East Rutherford.


Danny Brown with the N.J. Gym Ratz, the team he led to a national championship last year through the Amateur Athletic Union and the Hoop Zone League. Six of the girls will play in the new Hoop Starz JCC league that Brown created.

"It’s a great honor to be one of only two teams chosen to play the Japanese All Stars," said John Kerr, youth and adult sports director at the Y.

League directors from throughout New Jersey and New York selected the two teams for the exhibition game. Last year, two New York teams competed against the Japanese team but this year Japan wanted a team from each state.

"It’s a great experience for the kids from New Jersey to play against a team from Japan that does not speak any English," Dimiceli said, "and have to communicate through the language barrier, and learn about another kid who is on the same level as you and learn about their culture."

"We’re all thrilled," Kerr said. "The sad part is we have to pick 10 kids out of a total of ” and that’s a problem because you never want to disappoint anybody."

The Y’s athletics allow every child to participate, Kerr said.

"We try to remain as competitive as possible but we’re the alternative for the ultra-competitive programs that cut and disappoint kids," he said. "So all children get a chance to wear uniforms and get their names announced."

In February, the Y will also be one of ’50 centers to host competitions for the Jr. NBA Skills Challenge, which tests skills such as agility and 3-point shooting. Winners will continue on to regional and state competitions, and then the finals in Orlando during the NBA’s all-star weekend.

More than 100 children in fifth through 1’th grade participate in the Y’s traveling basketball program. In addition to the NBA program, young athletes at the Y will soon have the opportunity to face off against kids from surrounding JCCs and Ys in New Jersey and New York as part of the new Hoop Starz JCC Travel League.

Danny Brown, who formerly owned the Hoop Zone, an indoor basketball facility in Englewood, wanted young athletes at the JCC to have the opportunity to travel and play myriad opponents. After recently selling Hoop Zone, he created the Hoop Starz league through the JCC, which is based on a partnership between the Kaplen JCC, the Wayne Y, the JCC of Paramus, Metrowest, the 9’nd Street Y, the JCC of Monmouth, and the JCC of Rockland County to provide a travel league for the children.

The Kaplen JCC will have eight teams with between 80 and 90 kids from third grade through high school. Each center will have between six and eight teams participating.

"The goal of the whole thing is to meet players from different areas and develop friendships and relationships with different kids competing through sports," Brown said.

The league’s first game had been scheduled for next week but the centers are still holding tryouts so it has been postponed until Jan. 5. Reaction to the league has been "unbelievable," Brown said. "Everybody wants to get in."

The league is almost full for the inaugural season, Brown said, but a second league will be offered in the spring.

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