For Haiti’s NBA dream­ers, some­one to look up to

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

PORT-AU-PRINCE: At the edge of the court, in a steamy Port-au-Prince gym, dozens of young play­ers crowd the stand­out sil­hou­ette of Skal Labissiere. Their home­town hero is now liv­ing their NBA dreams.

This tow­er­ing 21-year-old Haitian sur­vived a ma­jor earth­quake to then leave for the United States, and played in col­lege be­fore go­ing pro in style. He played this sea­son with the Sacra­mento Kings.

The young men who have turned out at the gym in the cap­i­tal of poor­est na­tion of the Amer­i­cas can hardly imag­ine a Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion ca­reer-or mak­ing more than one mil­lion dol­lars a year. But thanks to Labissiere, they are getting en­cour­age­ment and hope. If they work hard enough, as he urges them, they could end up play­ing with him and NBA stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden.

“It’s a bless­ing and a real pleasure to come back and share my ex­pe­ri­ence with the young peo­ple here,” Labissiere said with a smile. “Seven years ago, I never thought I would be where I am to­day,” he adds, thought­fully star­ing down from his 2.11 me­ters (six feet 11 inches).

Labissiere’s home col­lapsed dur­ing Haiti’s dev­as­tat­ing January 12, 2010 earth­quake, trap­ping him, his mother and brother in the rub­ble. Labissiere’s legs were in­jured, and it would take weeks be­fore he could walk again. At this point Pierre Valmera, a for­mer Haitian in­ter­na­tional bas­ket­ball player who had al­ready spot­ted the boy’s po­ten­tial as a hoops star, in­ter­vened to help get Skal to the United States de­spite his in­juries.

Valmera is the co-founder of POWER­for­ward In­ter­na­tional, a Bos­ton­based non­profit group that helps young Haitians gain a pri­vate-school ed­u­ca­tion in the United States on a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship.

“A lot of doors have been opened thanks to peo­ple like Skal who have made it to NBA level, and who have got re­cruiters to keep an eye on Haiti,” said a hope­ful Michael Alphonse, one of the gym play­ers.

Mea­sur­ing 2.06 me­ters high and a re­cent high school grad­u­ate, 18 yearold Alphonse dreams of hold­ing the Haitian flag in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. “This is fi­nally go­ing to take away the old im­age of poverty that the world has of our coun­try,” said Alphonse, who with nine other young play­ers will travel to Texas for a week of train­ing in Au­gust.

For the Haitian Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion, the help and contacts mo­bi­lized by the na­tional stars are in­valu­able. “For sure, life is a chess match. It’s tough. Young peo­ple al­ready know that by liv­ing here. So if we can show them ex­am­ples of suc­cess, show them that there is hope, it will help them fight hard. And that, it will def­i­nitely change the men­tal­i­ties here,” said Fed­er­a­tion di­rec­tor Pa­trick Wash­ing­ton. “If we take care of th­ese young peo­ple to­day, they will take care of the coun­try later,” he added. —AFP

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