This upcoming season could very well be a humbling one for 76ers guard Willie Green.
Minutes will surely be limited for the veteran, entering his eighth season, because of the team's addition of No. 2 pick Evan Turner, as well as the acquisition of shooting swingman Andres Nocioni.
But nothing will humble Green more than the trip he just completed as part of Basketball without Borders Africa, which took him to Dakar, Senegal, to help instruct the top 60 young basketball players from the continent, on and off the court.
"We just finished delivering malaria nets to houses in the community," Green said late last week in a phone conversation. "Malaria is a serious killer here of young children and mothers. So anything we can do to help . . . It's just so sad to see so many infected by something that we in America know little about."
Malaria is a mosquito-transmitted disease that infects about 300 million people worldwide, killing nearly a million annually. The insecticide-treated nets are set in place to prevent mosquitoes from biting people while they sleep, and also repel and kill the insects.
On the trip, NBA players and coaches participated in community outreach events and activities through NBA Cares, the league's social responsibility program. In partnership with the nonprofit organization Hoops 4 Hope, the players and coaches led daily life-skills seminars for the campers focusing on leadership, character development and health, with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention. Also, the group participated in the malaria-net distribution program in partnership with United Nations Foundation, USAID and the Senegal Ministry of Health; dedicated a new basketball court and held a basketball and fitness clinic for Special Olympic athletes; and opened a computer room, library and study center at the YMCA Senegal.
Though his profession has enabled him to travel the world, it was Green's first time in Africa, and it affected him to his core.
"It really makes you appreciate the style of living that we are able to have in being fortunate enough to play basketball for a living," Green said. "Waking up and playing basketball is our way of life, and it affords us a very good life. Being here [in Africa] so makes you appreciate the things we have, the things we love. It really brings you back to reality.
"Seeing the kids here, their faces and eyes light up when they see players from the NBA. Here we are, thousands of miles away from the U.S., and they are so happy to see us up close, to give us a handshake, to give us a hug. For the kids, it's a great experience for them, something they will always remember. But it's the same for us, maybe even more so. This is an experience that I, and the other players here, will certainly never forget."
Headlining the group were three NBA players from Africa - DeSagana Diop (Senegal), Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon) and Hasheem Thabeet (Tanzania), along with Dwight Howard and former Sixers Sam Dalembert and Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of Congo).
"It is of particular significance that Basketball without Borders Africa is being held here in Dakar for the first time," said Amadou Gallo Fall, vice president of development for the NBA in Africa, a Senegal native. "With the help of current and former NBA and FIBA players, coaches and partners, Basketball without Borders is a perfect vehicle to draw attention to important social issues, while allowing us to coach and mentor the top youth basketball talent from across the African continent."
Something that has not eluded Green's notice.
"Like the U.S., the social structure consists of different levels," Green said. "You have some upper- and middle-class people, but there are a ton of less fortunate people, too. But no matter their social status, the people are all the same in the respect that they are all so nice. They are all genuinely warm and caring and giving. Everyone looks out for the little kids, but everyone also watches out for each other. They all seem to have open arms for each other."
Reality will set in professionally for Green come late September when training camp opens at Saint Joseph's. What is in store for Green will be up to new coach Doug Collins.
"I think hiring Doug is great for our team," he said. "He's a very respected guy, a very knowledgeable coach, who played in Philly and knows the expectations of the fans. We expect to be better this season. We're looking up right now, with the hiring of Doug, getting the second overall pick. We're headed in the right direction."
And where does Green see himself fitting in?
"For me, it's been a different challenge almost every year, and this season will be the same," he said. "I'm flexible and have been throughout my career. I've done whatever has been asked and will do the same this season. I'm looking to be better this year than I was last year. I appreciate so much being able to play in one city for my whole career. I realize how rare that is. I will do whatever is asked of me and do it the best I can. Whether I get a lot of minutes or not, I'll give it my all, just like I always have."
On this trip, he has seen what real despair is about. Losing a few minutes on the court probably has a whole new perspective for Green now. *
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