For 60 high school students from across Asia and the Pacific, it was the chance of a lifetime.
The teenagers, all talented basketball players, came to Canberra for four days of intense training this week, hoping to rise to the top leagues in the world.
The NBA is one of the richest and most watched competitions on the planet, and it is hosting Basketball Without Borders camps around the world this year for the first time since the pandemic began.
This year’s camp for the Asia region was held at the ACT’s Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), where the NBA has one of its global academies. The camp involved girls and boys from 15 countries.
Victorian Carlin Briggs was among them, relishing the chance to play with and against some of the best young players in the world.
The 17-year-old said having four NBA players at camp as mentors and coaches was invaluable.
“All of these guys are where I want to be in the future, so I was trying to ask a lot of questions, pick their brains,” he said.
Carlin, a man from Yorta-Yorta and Wurundjeri, said one of his main motivations was to be a role model in his community.
“It’s a big thing for me to represent my people, my culture,” he said.
“I just want to continue to pave the way for young Indigenous kids.”
Carlin already had a connection with the AIS before the camp.
Her father Tony Briggs – who created the musical The Sapphires – won an athletic scholarship as a young man.
“He always talked about it growing up, and it’s amazing to be able to follow in his footsteps and come here myself – it’s truly an honor,” Carlin said.
Australia’s top flight is on the rise
Josh Green is one of the few Australian players to break into the NBA.
The 21-year-old guard, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks, attended one of the NBA’s Without Borders camps in 2018.
He said the camp was a pivotal moment in his career.
“I went into [that] camp not really knowing what to expect – I was a younger guy, I really loved basketball and it was awesome,” he said.
“It’s brought a lot of these international kids together and played the game that we all love.”
He joined the Canberra side this year – now as a coach – along with three other NBA stars: Cleveland Cavaliers star center Jarret Allen, Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson and Chicago Bulls goalkeeper Coby White .
Green said it was surreal to mentor the next generation of talent after recently being a camper himself.
“I used to dream of being in the AIS when I was a kid, so it’s cool to be here now as a coach.”
The campers were an equal mix of men and women.
Queenslander Lulu Laditan, 17, won the Most Valuable Player award.
She said playing with athletes from so many countries presented challenges, but was an exciting experience.
“It’s been good learning to communicate in other ways when playing,” she said.
“But when we play, it’s really good to learn how other people play from different countries – like their styles, if they want to play fast or if they want to slow down.”
Several former WNBA and Women’s National Team players coached at the camp, which Lulu says left a lasting impression.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to learn so much from Australia’s top athletes who have played internationally overseas.”
Canberra Academy is already bearing fruit
Chris Ebersole, the NBA’s head of elite basketball, oversaw the establishment of the Canberra World Academy in 2017.
He said the NBA has recruited several academy graduates in recent years, which puts it well ahead of schedule to develop world-class players.
“The fact that Josh Giddey was our first pick in the NBA draft two years ago, and then this year has two, with Ben Mathurin and Dyson Daniels in this year’s lottery, it’s a sign that things are working. and hopefully a sign that things will continue to grow.”
So far, 105 Sans Frontières campers have traveled to either the NBA or its women’s affiliate, the WNBA.
But while most campers won’t, Mr Ebersole said everyone who took part improved, raising the bar for the game at international level.
“We have had over 3,800 campers over the history of this program, and many more of these players will continue to represent their national teams, return to their home countries and play in their national leagues,” said he declared.
“It’s really about the overall ecosystem of international basketball.”