Global talent gets NBA treatment at Basketball Without Borders camp

Basketball Without Borders impacting young campers (1:20)

Players from around the world came together to participate in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders camp. Athletes share how the camp has helped them grow on and off the court. (1:20)

METAIRIE, La. -- Many of the best young basketball players in the world are running the floor at the New Orleans Pelicans' training facility.

After performing a series of stretches and agility drills, the prospects break up into teams. Half are wearing navy blue tank tops; the rest have turned them inside out to reveal gray jerseys. NBA talent evaluators survey the action while current and former players deliver instructions and the customary sound of squeaking shoes fills the gym.

Sixty-seven boys and girls from 32 countries and territories are participating in the third annual Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, showcasing their talents, honing their skills and making new friends. The only continent not represented here is Antarctica.

But given the vast reach Basketball Without Borders has cultivated over the past 16 years, it wouldn't be shocking if a penguin dribbled by, spotted up and drained a 23-footer from the corner.

"I learned a lot from the people of different cultures here, from Germany, Egypt and other places around the world," said Aashay Verma, a native of India who is relatively new to the sport. "They talked about their culture, how they play basketball and how they grew up. One thing I can take back with me to where I play is the diversity of people playing here and how they have grown and what I can do to reach their level."

The NBA and FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, have staged 49 BWB events in 25 countries on six continents since 2001, and the global camp brings the best of the best together annually at NBA All-Star weekend. A total of more than 2,700 youths from 134 countries and territories have participated in BWB events over the years, and 43 alumni have gone on to be selected in the NBA draft, including active players Nicolas Batum, Dragan Bender, Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Thon Maker and Jamal Murray. Maker and five other current players -- Cheick Diallo, Wayne Ellington, Justin Holiday, Meyers Leonard and Emmanuel Mudiay -- served as coaches at the recent event.

"We really pride ourselves on the inclusion with our teams," said NBA vice president of international basketball operations Brooks Meek. "They really are supportive of the program. The coaches we use are from our teams, and the intelligence we get on selecting the kids comes from our teams."

Verma, 17, a 7-foot center originally from Patna, was discovered at an NBA Jump tryout in November 2015. Hundreds of prospects wearing orange bibs ran through drills at the regional event in Hyderabad, hoping to secure a spot in the national camp and possibly a trip to the NBA Development League tryout in New York. Verma, too young to officially participate, watched from the sidelines in street clothes.

However, Verma's size caught the attention of NBA representatives, and he was given a chance to play despite being ineligible for the D-League selection process. He was then invited to a Jr. NBA national camp in Noida, where he was provided with formal coaching for the first time and worked out with NBA players Seth Curry and Brook Lopez. When the NBA Global Academy was launched at the Australian Institute of Sport this past November, Verma relocated to Canberra to accelerate his training. He hopes to play college basketball in the United States.

"I started playing pretty late, so I feel this experience is really challenging for me," Verma said of the BWB Global Camp. "But I really enjoyed it. It really pushed me to my limits, which made me enjoy it even more. I can say that I learned a lot here."

Verma wasn't the only prospect from India at this year's global camp. Priyanka Prabhakara, 18, a 5-foot-7 shooting guard originally from the state of Kerala, was part of the girls' roster. Verma and Prabhakara are the first prospects from India to participate in the BWB Global Camp. Previously, India played host to the 2008 BWB Asia Camp in New Delhi, where current India men's national team member Vishesh Bhriguvanshi was named MVP. Satnam Singh, who in 2015 became the first player from India selected in the NBA draft, participated in the 2010 BWB Asia camp in Singapore.

Basketball Without Borders held its first camp in 2001 at Treviso, Italy, with the intention of transcending political conflict through sport in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars, and it wasn't long before the program grew to become a proving ground for 16- to 18-year-old prospects from outside the United States. BWB events are organized regionally in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Americas and Africa, and the BWB Global Camp was added to the annual schedule in 2015.

"You meet a bunch of great people," said Callum Dalton, 16, a 6-foot-9 forward/center from Brisbane, Australia. "Playing with the Canadians was weird, because they're like our enemies at [the FIBA world championships]. Now we're hanging out with them and playing with them. It's a new experience."

The BWB Global Camp brings together the top prospects from every corner of the world at NBA All-Star Weekend, and participants at the recent camp in Louisiana attended several glitzy events, including the Rising Stars Challenge, slam dunk contest and the 66th NBA All-Star Game.

"I've never been to an NBA game before, so it was cool being there," said Dalton, who wants to play college basketball and has received interest from Boise State, Florida Gulf Coast and Oregon State. "We saw Bill Russell with Shaq, Paul George and all these guys. We were freaking out."

Four boys and one girl from China attended the BWB Global Camp, including two boys currently playing at top high school programs in the United States.

Kevin Zhang, 18, is a 6-foot-8 forward from Shenyang and a junior at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. His mother, Wang Fang, won silver medals in basketball at the 1992 Olympics and 1994 world championships as a member of China's national team.

"I played with a lot of good players and learned a lot from them," Zhang said of BWB. "I think I need to get stronger and faster."

Johnny Wang, 18, is a 6-foot-9 forward from Beijing and a senior at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. His father played for the Bayi Rockets, which is the Army team in the Chinese Basketball Association. Wang recently signed a letter of intent to play at Cal State Fullerton, where he expects to have an opportunity to contribute as a freshman.

"There are a lot of good players here from around the world," he said of BWB. "The competition level is obviously very high."

BWB participants are selected by NBA and FIBA staff and the basketball federations of participating nations. Campers focus not only on basketball technique but also life skills and teamwork. They get to ask current and former NBA players and coaches for advice and receive personalized assessments.

"This camp is a fantastic opportunity for these young players to come out here and learn different drills and be exposed to the way things are in the NBA," said Troy Murphy, who played in the NBA for 12 seasons. "It's really a fantastic chance for them to come out and develop as both players and people."

R.J. Barrett, 16, of Canada, is a 6-foot-7 shooting guard. He was named boys' MVP of the three-day camp. Barrett is ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2019 by ESPN Recruiting Nation, and it would not be a surprise for him to become a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, 17, of Sweden, is a 5-foot-7 point guard. She was named the girls' MVP.

At the conclusion of the camp, NBA senior director of international operations Troy Justice, beaming like a proud father, addressed the group as a whole and applauded their sportsmanship and character.

"We recognize the effort you put forward," Justice said. "We recognize the great attitudes we saw. We also saw a lot of great team play, encouragement and support. We saw you guys high-fiving each other. The body language amongst the group was very positive. Congratulations to every one of you on a job well done."