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NBA teaches African girls the right moves on – and off – the court.

Basketball Without Borders program offers lessons on hoops and life

(Page 2 of 2)



Sitting on the sidelines of a final match between an all-star lineup of boys from some 22 African countries, she pauses to admire a perfect slam-dunk by a kid from Cameroon.

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Even for these boys, she sighs, "the percentage of them making it into the NBA, or for those girls making it in the WNBA [Women's National Basketball Association], is very slim. But just getting them to be active, gives them a lot of confidence – owning your own body and being healthy, it's critical."

Back on the women's courts – two outdoor tarmac courts at the American International School of Johannesburg – Azzi leads a clinic to teach some 80 teenage women how to do layups, how to pass, and how to assume the perfect defensive stance. Some of the girls are rusty, to be sure, but having Azzi around has a way of elevating their game.

After sharpening their ball-handling skills, under the gaze of coaches from the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs, the girls work on life-skills with a local sports-and-empowerment group called "Hoops for Hope."

Thabo Marotola, a "Hoops" counselor, interrupts a dribbling game where one team tries to take away the ball from the other. She asks the girls how they defend themselves on the court, and how they defend themselves and their bodies out on the streets.

"Your body is a temple," says Mr. Marotola. "Say no to what you don't want to do."

The girls form a huddle and shout their most assertive "no!"

Heading to a school cafeteria after the clinic, Olive Tshilomba – a 10th-grader from Marysville College in Johannesburg – says she loves basketball even more than she did before. "I never thought I'd learn so much about life from basketball," she says. "They are trying to link sports with the way we feel about ourselves, and make sure everyone has a part in life. We're worth something."

Gugu Khumalo, another 10th-grader from Marysville, says that in the old days, soccer was the only sport many South Africans played. Now, she says, basketball is getting more popular among her friends. She feels fortunate that her family and friends are supportive, and never ask her, "why would a girl by playing basketball?"

It wasn't that long ago that Jennifer Azzi faced that same question growing up in Oak Ridge, Tenn. In 1990, when she graduated from Stanford, there was no WNBA, no professional women basketball players. She and her generation had to imagine a future when women's basketball would be taken seriously, on the same level as men.

"If you can see it, you can achieve it," Azzi tells the girls at the end of the clinic. "You girls are going to be leaders. You are athletes. Embrace it."

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