4 Thunder players make trip to Africa
By JEFF LATZKE
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) For Nick Collison, taking a trip to Africa changed the world he lives in.
The Oklahoma City Thunder forward was only in Kenya for three days, but it felt like three weeks. He witnessed people who walked 30 miles just to get two drops of polio vaccine, then turned around and walked home. He mingled among 100,000 people seeking refuge from wars and famine.
He'll come back to the United States a changed person.
"To see things like that, it makes it real because you always hear about what's going on in different places of the world. To see it firsthand, for me, made it real," Collison said by phone Thursday from South Africa, where he's participating in the NBA's 10th Basketball Without Borders clinic.
"It's just an incredible trip."
Before heading to Johannesburg, Collison stopped in Nairobi then headed out to the refugee camp with UNICEF.
"I'd say it's probably a life-changing experience. It's something that will give me a different perspective on my life and just how I see the world," Collison said.
"I think the goal of bringing the NBA as a partner of UNICEF is to get guys to talk about it and just kind of get the word out to a different audience, to let people know what groups are doing and people can get involved with what's going on."
Collison is part of a hefty Thunder presence in Africa this week. Four of the seven NBA players participating in Basketball Without Borders this year are from the Oklahoma City roster. Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, joins Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Cole Aldrich as camp coaches.
Chicago's Luol Deng, Milwaukee's Luc Mbah a Moute and Brooklyn's C.J. Watson are also participating in the basketball clinic for 60 African boys and girls, and helping life skills seminars and education on HIV and AIDS.
"We're out here to not only change other people's lives but also to change ours, to give us a different perspective on other how other people live," Aldrich said. "Serge grew up in a totally different lifestyle than any of us did, and we're learning a little bit of that through this trip.
"It's been so much fun, there's a lot of things we've got to continue to do and we're just trying to spread the word of basketball and just help people that need help."
Ibaka made a stop in his hometown, Brazzaville, for about a week and offered a basketball clinic there before linking up with his teammates in Johannesburg. Ibaka is the son of two Congolese basketball players, and is trying to do his part to spread the sport further now that he's developed into one of the NBA's top defenders.
"I'm trying to do my best I can to come back there and give something and show them that I'm still thinking about them," said Ibaka, who led the league in blocks last season and finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year.
Sefolosha's father is from South Africa, and he, Ibaka and Collison all had participated in Basketball Without Borders before. Aldrich is a first-timer and took in a safari before the camp began.
"The goal is to try to improve the basketball development program for kids over here, to get more coaching, to get the national teams more involved, so that they can learn the game better," said Collison, who last participated in 2008. "I've seen a difference from four years ago. The coaching is better, the kids are more skilled, they have a better feel for the game. It's really great for the NBA to do."
While passing along some tips on life and how to play hoops, the players also learn more about themselves and the people around them. Just as importantly, they'll live out unforgettable experiences that they can share with others through the platform of professional sports.
"You kind of look eye-to-eye with people and you start to actually relate to them because they're mothers, fathers and they're trying to do what's best for their children," Collison said. "They just have so many obstacles and difficulties."
Updated August 30, 2012