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Former NBA players bring basketball skills to rural China

By MAY ZHOU | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-10 08:03
Tim Ohlbrecht carries a student on his shoulder while David Jones (right) cheers him on during one of their basketball coaching sessions in Yuzhong county, Gansu province, on April 1. CHINA DAILY

For former National Basketball Association players David Jones and Tim Ohlbrecht, the greatest reward from their latest trip to China was seeing the children's faces light up, eager and ready to learn from them some basketball skills.

The athletes were invited by the Future Sifang Group and Gansu Aesthetic Education Promotion Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training coaches and children in impoverished areas through working with NBA in the United States and the Premier League in Britain. Jones, his daughter Mailee Cara Jones, and Ohlbrecht spent about a week in China, starting in late March, visiting schools and honing young students' basketball skills.

They visited primary schools from Beijing to Gansu. Wherever they went, they brought excitement to the students.

Most importantly, they signed an agreement to form the Linxia Future Sifang Spurs Basketball Club with the two host organizations, building a platform to train Chinese young students.

Jones and Ohlbrecht run a basketball training program in San Antonio, Texas. In fact, they have hosted some of the young Gansu students over the 2019 New Year.

"We put together a program for the kids to meet the Spurs in San Antonio and then for us to meet them there in their schools, it was great," said Jones, who played for the San Antonio Spurs.

"We haven the 'Shooting for Success' program in the United States. We teach boys and girls life skills, basketball skills and plan for their future. Education is always our number one goal. We demonstrate our core values every day as we go through training," said Jones.

Jones said he's very happy to provide the same things to Chinese kids. "Tim and I have really raised their level of basketball performance and understanding (in this trip). We have been very successful in the United States and we want to take that to the Chinese kids."

According to Jones, the general idea of the collaboration is for them to train four to six Chinese coaches who in turn train the Chinese young students.

"We have a lot experience. It will be great for the Chinese kids. The coaches will get a chance to be pushed to a high level and even be able to train professionals. There are about 30 years' basketball knowledge and experience between Tim and I," said Jones.

"I noticed that the kids really need us. I saw in the kids the joy and the excitement. They were listening. They really wanted to learn from us. When I was younger, I would love to have had such an opportunity, but I didn't. I am really glad we can give the opportunity to the kids to make them better," said Ohlbrecht.

Best moments

Jones first took his daughter to China when Mailee was seven years old. Now she is 21 and helps her father to coach the young students. The children's eagerness to learn were the best moments for all of them in China.

"The welcoming from the kids, especially the younger kids. They looked intrigued and excited. When they looked at me and they were excited, that's what I picked up the most from their body language. We are learning a bit the language like nihao, and they get excited and we get connected that way," said Jones.

For Ohlbrecht, this was his second time in China. He first came to China 12 years ago at the age of 18 when he was in Beijing for the Olympics, playing for Germany.

"It's very special for me to go to China again. I felt like I am Chinese already and I soaked in the Chinese culture. It is surprising for me. It made me feel really good and special, felt very welcome anywhere we went, it's like to visit friends, like we knew each other already even though we just met," he said.

Besides teaching kids basketball skills, they were treated to visit some cultural sites and sample a variety of Chinese food.

Jones posted some photos of his China visits on WeChat and wrote: "The trip, the experience, the people and the kids of China like you've never experienced before. Still trying to find the words to describe this experience. Having the opportunity to spend time in China and making it my second home is an experience of a lifetime. Thank you China see you again soon."

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