WYBT a treat for out-of-towners
KAILUA-KONA — The competition is always solid at the World Youth Basketball Tournament.
A list of NBA alumni that includes names like former No. 1 overall picks Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut, as well as NBA champions Mario Chalmers and JR Smith, is evidence of that.
But the tournament has gained a reputation for being about a whole lot more than basketball for the teams that travel thousands of miles to take to the hardwood at Kekuaokalani Gymnasium.
The annual tourney — which has both winter and summer editions — offers out-of-towners not only a glimpse at the local basketball talent, but also the island’s culture through its opening ceremonies and circle-island tour.
“These memories with all our friends will be unforgettable, for sure,” said Georgia Lavinder, a player with the Washington-based White River team playing in the girls high school division.
“I have really enjoyed learning about the culture and history of Hawaii,” added her sister, Sofia Lavinder, referencing the tour, which included stops at Akaka Falls, Volcano and some Kealakekua coffee farms, just to name a few. “But they tried to teach us how to dance hula at the opening ceremonies and it was so embarrassing.”
It’s become a tradition at the event to have visiting
players try their hand at hula. As proof, there is a video floating out there of a young Dwight Howard trying to learn the finer points of the traditional dance in 2002. It’s about as good as his free throw shooting.
On a more serious note, the trip can be a life-changer for some, like members of the Philly Spurs. According to their coach/team sponsor Antoine Gardiner, four of his five players had never even been on plane before coming to Kona. On the nearly 5,000-mile trip to get to the WYBT, they probably got more than they could handle of air-travel.
“Some of them had never been out of their urban areas around Philadelphia,” Gardiner said. “Then we get to go on this tour and see all these things. No joke — I think they took 350-plus pictures.”
The Spurs don’t have a lot of room for foul trouble, bringing just five players to the Big Isle. But the lack of a bench is because Gardiner said there is no playing around when it comes to academics. Coming to the WYBT was the payoff for those players that met the requirements.
“I’m very big on grades,” said Gardiner, a former school teacher turned real estate investor. “We have won a lot of hardware at tournaments this summer, but the message I want to try to send to the kids is if you don’t have the grades and put in the work in the classroom, it’s going to be really hard to go anywhere in this sport. The ones that are here are dead tired after the games, but they have sucked it up and are playing great basketball.”
For the White River squad, the tournament is a reward for hard work.
“We play a lot of basketball and wanted to do something nice for the girls for all they do for us during the year and the commitment that they show, even during the summer time,” Gibson said. “What better place to go than Hawaii, right? Now it’s about finding that balance of tourism and basketball.”
Both the Philly Spurs and White River squads have been doing that well. They are undefeated heading into the final day of play today and have a good shot at the tourney titles in their divisions, which goes to the team with the best record in the round robin format.
“It is a little lower key on the competition, but the people are so friendly and so nice,” said Gibson. “And it’s great for our kids to come here and experience the culture of the islands. The whole trip has been incredible.”
Gardiner had a similar takeaway.
“Everybody has been so incredibly nice — from the teams we play, to security guards and people working in the restaurants,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”
The second stint of the summer tourney runs from Aug. 2-6 in Kona.
White River’s Sofia Lavinder moves the ball up the court in the WYBT tournament on Saturday at Old Airport Park’s Kekuaokalani Gym.
White River’s Kara Marecle looks for a hole in the defense in the WYBT tournament.