Jr. NBA tournament provides a golden opportunity for girls

Jr. WNBA teams compete at The Map Sports Facility in Garden Grove, Calif. in May. on May 13, 2018 in Garden Grove, Calif. Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images/Jr. NBA.
Jr. WNBA teams compete at The Map Sports Facility in Garden Grove, Calif. in May. on May 13, 2018 in Garden Grove, Calif. Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images/Jr. NBA.

The NBA kicks off its first Jr. NBA World Championship next week in Orlando, Fla., and participating teams will include both girls and boys.

Top athletes from around the world in the 13-14 age group will compete Aug. 7-12 in a tournament that will feature the presence of basketball royalty in WNBA legends Tamika Catchings, Swin Cash and Jennifer Azzi, as well as several NBA stars. The first such global event will include 32 teams of 317 young athletes from 35 countries.

Games will be played at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, and FOX Sports will air 16 games throughout the week, totaling 20 hours of programming across FS1 and FOX.

The inaugural event will bring together the top 32 boys and girls teams (16 U.S. and 16 international) that advanced from regional competitions earlier this year.  The 16 international teams (eight boys and eight girls teams) represent Africa & Middle East, Asia Pacific, Canada, China, Europe, India, Mexico and South America.  The following 16 U.S. teams won newly created regional tournaments to advance to Orlando:

U.S. Boys Division

Central – Overland Park, Kan.

Mid-Atlantic – Upper Marlboro, Md.

Midwest – Detroit, Mich.

Northeast – Westchester, N.Y.

Northwest – Seattle, Wash.

South – Dallas, Texas

Southeast – Atlanta, Ga.

West – Los Angeles, Calif.

U.S. Girls Division

Central – Kansas City, Mo.

Mid-Atlantic – Germantown, Md.

Midwest – South Bend, Ind.

Northeast – Westchester, N.Y.

Northwest – New Castle, Wash.

South – Dallas, Texas

Southeast – Columbia, S.C.

West – Los Angeles, Calif.

*Teams are based in the cities listed, but comprised of youth from throughout the respective regions

Los Angeles Sparks All-Star forward Candace Parker became an ambassador for the program this year. She said she loves that both girls and boys are given the opportunity to play.

“I love the fact [the tournament] is all inclusive and everybody is playing at every court,” Parker said. “It’s huge to take the steps forward…for the kids to not know any difference.”

Parker, who has a nine-year-old daughter, said it is important to her that young girls are treated like every other athlete.

“I hope my daughter won’t ever have to hear someone tell her that she ‘plays like a girl,'” Parker said.

NBA officials said the tournament is a culmination of efforts to create a youth experience that impacts them both on and off the court.

“After several months of highly competitive regional competitions around the world, we are excited to bring together a field of 32 teams that not only excel on the court, but also represent the Jr. NBA’s core values of teamwork, respect, determination and community,” said Kathy Behrens, NBA President, Social Responsibility and Player Programs.  “We are looking forward to an exciting week of on- and off-court activities that will provide these young players with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“The Jr. NBA World Championship is more than a basketball competition; it’s a global stage for some of the top youth players from around the world to showcase their talent, have fun and learn from one another,” said Wade.  “I am excited to watch these young stars leave it all on the court and compete for the first Jr. NBA World Championship title.”

Five of the teams have ties to NBA and WNBA players: three-time WNBA Champion and WNBA all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi (West; Girls), four-time WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith (Midwest; Girls), three-time NBA Champion Draymond Green (Midwest; Boys), 2017-18 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons (Asia Pacific; Girls) and NBA guard Shelvin Mack (Southeast; Boys).

The Jr. NBA World Championship will feature boys and girls divisions, separated into U.S. and international brackets that begin with round-robin play and continue with single-eliminations competition. The winners of the U.S. and international brackets will play in the World Championship games on Aug. 12.

All games will be officiated by representatives from the NBA’s Referee Development Program, which provides rising professionals and former players with the skills necessary to pursue a career as a referee in the NBA, WNBA or NBA G League.

During the weeklong event, all 32 teams will participate in activities designed to reinforce the Jr. NBA’s core values and provide the players with development opportunities and memorable experiences off the court.

From Aug. 6-8, each player will participate in three life skills sessions as part of the event’s Developing the Total Athlete Series led by NBA and Kaiser Permanente health experts and supported by NBA and WNBA talent, covering the total health spectrum of mind, body and spirit in a culturally inclusive environment.  In partnership with KaBOOM!, the Jr. NBA World Championship Day of Service on Aug. 9 will feature all 32 teams giving back to the local community by collectively building a new playground for community youth at the nearby Oak Street Park.  Additionally, Gatorade will host a health and wellness session through the Gatorade Sports Science Institute which will educate participants on hydration measures and provide custom fueling recommendations for each athlete.

Background content provided by the NBA.