Ball is life
Basketball culture is rampant in Hong Kong, as the sport seems to get more and more popular, year after year. It’s difficult to go far without finding a crowded court, a poster of a famous NBA player, or a shop stocked with basketball merchandise; shoes, kits, balls, hats; the list goes on.
For many people in Hong Kong, especially young people, basketball is more than just a game or form of exercise. It is part of a lifestyle in which you are constantly looking to improve and express yourself as an individual, but for the good of a team. This is especially the case for student-athletes, who understand the responsibility and prestige that comes with representing their school on the basketball court. As of now, there are over 300 school-run basketball programmes in the city.
Of all these programmes, few have been as successful as the Hong Kong International School (HKIS) Dragons, who have won the International Schools Sports Federation Hong Kong (ISSFHK) cup for eight of the past ten years. “HKIS has a proud tradition of basketball excellence that has continued for almost 50 years,” says Jeremy Evans, HKIS boys’ basketball coach since 2007. “Several former players have gone on to play at the US collegiate level, and a few of them are even playing in the Hong Kong A1 semi-pro league,” he notes. “Players understand that it is an honour to wear the Dragons uniform.”
In addition to competing locally, the team also has the chance to travel and compete in international tournaments throughout the year. For instance, this year the HKIS girls won the Asia Pacific Activities Conference (APAC) tournament, which is comprised of 12 teams from countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam. Evans describes these trips as “wonderful opportunities to build friendships and represent our school in highly competitive tournaments.” HKIS also hosts its own international tournament each year.
Students go to school to learn above all else, and although most of that learning is academic, there are valuable lessons found in basketball and sports that cannot be taught in the classroom. “Players learn how to deal with success and rebound from failure,” says Evans, who believes that close, competitive games help players build character.
“The boys’ team especially has had some thrilling games with local D1 [school] powerhouses DBS (Diocesan Boys’ School) and CCC Kwei Wah Shan College,” recalls Evans. “Whether playing our local or international rivals, we respect our opponents and relish the competition. The games are physical and often contentious, and allow our players to develop toughness, resilience, teamwork and sportsmanship in the face of adversity,” he adds.
Teamwork is always a prevailing theme when it comes to the game of basketball, and Evans says the most important message he tries to deliver to his players during practice and training is to put the team first. “Once players decide to put ‘we’ above ‘me’, they put in maximum effort; and they prepare themselves mentally and physically,” he says. “They should be willing to put team success over their own personal preferences regarding role on the squad and playing time.”
On a team with as much talent as HKIS, it can sometimes be difficult managing egos and minutes, as there are often multiple players worthy of playing time. As a coach, Evans knows that the key to handling these issues is to foster an environment of selflessness, and to recruit players with a team-first mentality, not just individual talent and ability. “A true team player will be tough, unselfish, hardworking and dedicated,” he explains.
Another team with a proud basketball tradition is Sha-Tin College (STC), an ESF school. Patrick Campbell, coach of the STC boys’ team, calls basketball culture in the school “an ongoing project”. Campbell, like Evans, wishes to create an environment where players put team success ahead of individual glory. “The culture I hope to foster is that it isn’t about winning or losing games,” he says, “but about each person doing their part to become a great team.”
Different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and the same thing can be said for basketball players. Some will be tall, others fast. Some will be great shooters, others great dribblers, passers and defenders. Basketball and sports not only teach people how to find their strengths, but to get the most out of them while minimizing weaknesses, and to do so for the betterment of the team.
“The most important message I try to give players during practice is to know your job, do it to your utmost, and trust others to do likewise,” says Campbell. “Trust that you can ascend your team to great heights, and can do great things as you become part of something special.”
With the help of a great coaching staff in fostering a selfless, positive team atmosphere, the experiences gained on the basketball court become unforgettable; and the bonds and friendships with teammates, ever-lasting. “Putting on that team jersey and getting on the court to represent yourself, your team and your school means something special,” says Campbell.
Evans believes the lessons and character traits that lie with the sport are timeless, and applicable to many other facets of life. “The values and principles we seek to instil in our players extend far beyond the court, and will serve them well the rest of their lives,” he says.