From humble beginnings in 1891, when a teacher invented the game using peach baskets for hoops, the popularity of basketball has skyrocketed. With an estimated fanbase of 400 million, it’s one of the world’s most popular and widely viewed sports, drawing people in with fast-paced, explosive action and high scoring, unpredictable matches.
As a wave of passion for the game drifts east from China and India, Oman is the set to become the first country in the Middle East to open The National Basketball Academy, an international offshoot of the hugely successful organisation that originated in the United States.
What started out as a training operation for youth basketball players in Cleveland, Ohio, soon took off, becoming the official provider of youth development programmes for 12 NBA teams. In fact, the academy’s popularity was such that operations actually had to be scaled back to maintain manageability and ensure quality control.
And now, that same academy is coming to the Sultanate to raise the profile and quality of the sport here.
“The idea is basically to deliver basketball opportunities for every kid, from four years old to 20. We want to foster their dreams and build a solid base of skill development,” says Jack Lutzeier, one of The National Basketball Academy’s owners, who has coached in 17 different countries.
“Our goal is not to manage players to get to the highest level, it is to make sure that every kid who wants to play ball knows how to play the right way and has the chance to play.”
Together with the help of the head coach of the Oman branch, Jerel Blocker, who has played professional basketball in Romania, Puerto Rico, Germany and Kuwait, Jack recently delivered five days of basketball camps to the youth of Muscat who were itching to play some ball.
More than 650 young people, ranging in age from four to 20, took part in 30 clinics, showing that the hunger for the sport is strong in Oman.
“The first thing I look for when I’m coaching is whether the kids are enjoying themselves,” says Jack. “Every kid, no matter whether it was a physical fitness or tactical drill, was loving it. They were smiling, they were learning and they were engaged. As a coach, you can teach anyone who is like that.
“‘Potential’ is a good word for Oman. There is definitely a yearning for the game here. In all honesty, I think it is going to be the next big sport.”
The academy is set to offer a 12-week programme of training through a class-based schedule with sessions designed to enhance the skills of each player in areas such as ball handling, shooting, passing, defence, footwork, physical fitness and communication in a fun and safe environment.
Depending on the reaction to the coaching sessions, Jack has big plans for The National Basketball Academy, Oman, with the dream of moving beyond training development into club leagues with teams that will travel and compete throughout the region. There will also be the opportunity for players who show a high level of ability and commitment to travel overseas and play basketball at partner academies in the US during the long and hot Omani summers.
If the initial response is anything to go by, it looks like head coach Jerel could be in for a busy first year as the academy tests Muscat’s appetite for basketball. Nevertheless, he is enthusiastic about what’s to come. “I feel good about the next year, I think it’s going to be great. It’s a good opportunity for all the players joining our group and also myself,” he says.
“To me, everything about basketball is fun. Every aspect of the game is exciting and I want to pass on that passion to the kids.”
If your children are interested in becoming part of The National Basketball Academy, Oman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 2457 2700 / 2457 2711 for more information.