For the third straight year, a group from the Jordan Brand Classic is travelling Internationally -- this time to Istanbul, Turkey -- for a two-day training camp with 40 of the top prospects in Europe from March 3-8. Ten players will be selected as the Most Valuable Players from the camp and they will travel to the United States in April, along with six players from other regions of the world to compete in the third annual International Game as part of the Jordan Brand Classic on Saturday, April 17th at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Follow along with our blog and daily photo gallery from staff member Kevin Foley.
March 6th (6:00 am EST / 1:00 pm Turkish time)
It's the first day of camp! There was no snow on the ground this morning, so we were all happy that the weather held off. The buses were loaded with players and staff at 8 am and we were on our way to the Darüşşafaka arena. The first session of the morning was strength and conditioning work with NIKE Sparq trainer Chris Thomas. For almost 90 minutes, the players learned ways to stretch out and to improve their core strength. The workout was very tough for a lot of the players, especially for the bigger kids who are so tall at an early age. Too often players at this age focus on the game, rather than improving their own bodies off the court.
We ate lunch at a nearby cafeteria. The food was pretty good - chicken, spaghetti, french fries and a salad. I sat with two of our NIKE country managers from Slovenia and Serbia. I always find it fascinating to learn about the global game of basketball, especially how others in sports marketing run events and develop their players. It is great to be around so many people who are passionate about continuing to grow the game and helping young players reach their dreams.
Before the second session, I had a chance to see the local Darüşşafaka Cooper Tires Turkish team practicing - including Jordan Brand Classic alum Jamareo Davidson who played at Alabama. There was also one of the local Turkish players who was our Turkish MVP from the first year of the event. It is such a nice arena so it must be an unbelievable atmosphere for games. I will be back after the afternoon Skill Development session with Ganon Baker.
March 6th (10:00 am EST / 5:00 pm Turkish time)
Ganon Baker took over in the afternoon with a very strenuous skill development workout focusing on improving dribbling and shooting. The players really got into the drills, which have become a great tool for evaluation. And Ganon spared no one, using boxing gloves, padded oars and tennis balls in two hours of intensity. The goal is to simulate the physical play that these players are going to experience in future years. The players know that there are 10 spots to earn a trip to New York City so every play is important. The rest of the day will include various shooting competitions and 5-on-5 games. At this point, the players are tired and in a lot of pain, but the desire to play well is evident. More later from Istanbul!
March 6th (6:00 pm EST / 1:00 am Turkish time)
The day finished up with some very competitive 3-on-3 games. While a couple of the players showed off some athleticism with a few dunks in the game, they really took on a fundamental look. I watch so much American basketball and you can see such a major difference in the style of play. For example, players in Europe actually rebound. The shot goes up, they box out and grab the rebound with two hands. The American game of basketball is more above-the-rim with players trying to tip-in shots or knock them away from the basket. I really enjoyed watching the games -- and it is still hard to believe that these are only 16-year-old kids.
After the session ended at 8:15 pm, we went back to the hotel, changed and went out to dinner. We always try to see some of the cooler spots, given that we spend 90% of our time in the gym during the trip. We went to a restaurant called "360" which was at the top of a building and had a panoramic view of the city. It was a little overcast, so I could only imagine how amazing the view would be on a perfect day.
Because of traffic we didn't even get to the restaurant until 10:15, then climbed up 15 flights of stairs to the rooftop. We ended up eating close to 11:30, but I had a great steak and a "jenga"-looking stack of french fries. When in a foreighn country and with a foreign menu, you can never go wrong with a steak. As people finished eating around us, the staff would come by and swoop-up the table to create a dance floor. By about 12:15 am, the music became so loud you couldn't hear the person next to you. At 12:30 am, a cirque-du-soleil character emerged on top of one of the tables twirling a hoola-hoop contraption. Everyone stood to see and ... the tables quickly disappeared faster. Good plan by the restaurant. We finished our meal, briskly walked through the below-freezing temperatures and headed back to our mini-bus for the ride back to the hotel. My head hit the pillow at 1:15 am -- 19 hours after my alarm went off this morning. We have a busy final day tomorrow with our all-star game and selection of the 10 MVPs.