Changing Lives in Africa Through Basketball
In August, Ultimate Hoops National Training Coordinator Tommy Davis took his annual trip to Lome, the largest city and capital of Togo, to continue sharing the game of basketball with local youth. We sat down with Davis to learn more about his trip, his campers, and how a family tragedy inspired it.
What was your inspiration for starting a basketball camp in Africa?
First and foremost, I'm a man of faith, who believes all things work together for the good of those who love Christ.
In July 2008, I lost my sister. Her boyfriend, a Gulf War veteran suffering from PTSD, shot and killed her. Suddenly, her two boys, ages 13 and 11, were without their mother.
My dad, who is my best friend and confidant, adopted the boys (their father had died several years earlier of a heart attack). In 2010, my dad passed away from complications related to diabetes, leaving my two nephews alone again. At that point, I realized that I needed to be closer to my family, and opted to end my 12-year coaching career with JSA Bordeaux in France and move back to U.S.
During this time, the US Embassy in Paris was looking for professional athletes to be sports ambassadors. They would travel to Africa and use their dedicated sport as a means to promote core values, while teaching sports fundamentals.
So, in a difficult two-year span, I lost my sister, dad, job, and ultimately, my focus. I woke up one day, very down and depressed not knowing what lay ahead. That’s when I received a phone call from the US Embassy, asking me if I would go to Africa.
After giving the opportunity great thought, I elected to go. Chad was the first country I traveled to. After spending a week there I came back with a new attitude: I realized that I didn’t have the right to be depressed or to feel sorry for myself. I witnessed poverty in its worst state, but not once did I hear anyone complain about what life had dealt them.
So, in fact, Africa healed me. Now, my motivation is to help heal Africa though basketball.
How familiar are kids in Africa with American basketball?
Thanks to the internet, the kids are crazy about the NBA. They know nothing about the NCAA or Europe. It's all about the NBA, especially LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook.
What does a typical day entail for your campers?
I have 100 campers, 50 girls, 50 boys, from ages 12 to 18. The camp starts early because of the heat. I typically have just one full court, with two baskets, so I split the kids into two groups. Half of the kids will be on the court for two-and-a-half hours while the others are in a workshop.
The mornings consist of basic fundamentals: basketball skill work and workshops on life skills. Topics range from leadership, values, learning to go to school in the United States, Planned Parenthood, how not to contract AIDS or other venereal diseases, while also learning to deal with general adversity.
In the afternoon, we review what we’ve learned in the morning, followed by a guest speaker. Then some games and contests. The day ends around 5pm due to the early sunset.
What was the biggest challenge in getting your camp started?
My schedule. I was coaching professionally and didn’t have the time to go. Now, I usually go during the summer during their school break.
How can people get involved?
The kids always need shoes, especially large sizes. Basketball apparel is another need. Old jerseys, shorts and socks.
What highlight are you most proud of?
This summer was special because I formally represented Ultimate Hoops and was able to talk about our "Never Retire" mission. Ultimate Hoops and Life Time Fitness donated camp t-shirts to each coach and camper. The participants wore them with honor and pride.
What made me the proudest was they understood the core values of "Never Retire." They also had their own unique understanding of what it means.
Some said "never retire" from learning. Others said "never retire" from helping others and doing good things. It was awesome to witness.
What life lessons could your campers teach youth basketball players in America?
Humility and appreciation. Africans are so grateful for those who reach out to them. I believe people in the U.S. take a lot for granted. The first year of my camp, out of the 100 campers, half had no basketball shoes. They actually played in the bare feet.
How has doing this camp each year personally impacted you?
This camp allows me to stay grounded and humble. Every time I step foot in Africa it’s a reminder that God is in control of my life and each day that is given should be used to help others and try to better one’s self.
More images from Davis' trip below. If you'd like to learn more about donating items, please contact us.)