LAU Jr. NBA Makes a Strong Comeback
The third edition of the Jr. NBA draft draws hundreds of eager young players and well-known Lebanese basketball personalities.
More than 350 young basketball players between the ages of 13 and 15 from 30 Lebanese athletic academies packed into Irwin Hall, Beirut campus, on July 29 for the long-anticipated third edition of LAU’s Jr. NBA League draft event.
Making a strong comeback after a halt due to the pandemic, the event, emceed by sports commentator Anthony Majdalani, hosted alumnus and player on the Lebanese National Basketball team Jad Khalil (BS ’21) and General Secretary of the Lebanese Basketball Federation Charbel Rizk, who encouraged and inspired the young hopefuls to stay positive and take any setbacks in their stride.
In partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA), LAU was the first to bring the world-class Jr. NBA to the country in 2018, the NBA’s global youth basketball program for boys and girls that aims to instill core values of the game in young players and help them take their talent to the next level.
During the draft event, young players from each of the 30 local academies are matched with an NBA team, after which they face off in a basketball tournament – playing a series of games in a regular season to qualify for the finals – under the names and brands of the official NBA teams. The tournament was completed two years in a row before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Speaking about how the game had shaped him into the person he is today, Khalil emphasized the values that a person gains from being a basketball player. “Sports plants in you values that you may not realize now,” he said. “But, down the road, you will see how basketball, and sports in general, prepare you for everything in life.”
He urged the young players to persevere, assuring them that negativity is short-lived. “Visualizing wearing this jersey, and living this dream, will hopefully plant in you a dream and will keep you working to make sure it comes true,” he said.
LAU President Michel E. Mawad underlined the significance behind building a spirit of sportsmanship as that of building a spirit of effort. “Not necessarily of winning, but the spirit of effort of doing your best to win; and that’s life,” he said. “All you have to do is try and I want you to try your best. We need people like you in Lebanon, people who try to do the best for their country, for themselves, their societies, their environment, their families and their fellow citizens.”
It is every basketball player’s dream to play in the NBA, and for LAU Director of Athletics on Byblos campus Joe Moujaes, it was a reason to have a Jr. NBA program in Lebanon. “It was a dream for me to play in the NBA when I was young, and I couldn’t do it,” he said, “But I want one of you to do it and that’s why I brought NBA to Lebanon.”
In light of the difficulties that Lebanon is experiencing, Rizk reminded the young audience that if the country is falling apart, they must all stand by it. “It doesn’t have to give us anything, but it is for us to give to it,” he said. “We win with honor; we lose with pride!” He expressed his gratitude to LAU “for believing in basketball and the youth, and for believing in sports and Lebanon.”
Some of this year’s participants had also experienced Jr. NBA during its first editions pre-COVID-19. Bahaa Itani, who currently plays with Riyadi Beirut club said that “it was one of the greatest experiences and one of the best tournaments I’ve played.”
For Kyle Moujaes, now with the Brainers Hawks club, participating in the Jr. NBA “taught me a lot, and helped me grow as a player.” His goal for this year’s Jr. NBA was merely “to have fun and win.”
By bringing back some hope to these young boys and girls, this year’s Jr. NBA should also be a beneficial experience and allow them to grow in their athletic careers and as individuals as well.