On any other day, Giovanney Valdez is enough to excite youth gathered at a local basketball court in Santo Domingo. Valdez is a six-time member of the Dominican Republic national basketball team and in some circles in Santo Domingo, he is known as the Dominican Republic’s version of Michael Jordan.
Surrounding him on the asphalt basketball courts with the lanes painted green on an overcast day in Santo Domingo are 15 tall gentlemen who are capturing everyone’s attention. Not only do the approximately 150 girls and boys dressed in green t-shirts who are a part of a youth group called Tenemos derecho a Vivir en Paz (Have and live a right life in peace) walk over and swarm the giant men, but other little children from the neighborhood also gravitate toward them.
The 15 men and their coaches are a part of the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team. They are there to put on a basketball clinic, and they are also American basketball players. That is a pretty remarkable feat in the eyes of a Dominican Republic child.
There is rampant poverty in the Dominican. Therefore many Dominicans see American sports, more specifically major or minor league baseball, as a means out of that poverty. It is not unusual, and this particular week is no exception, to see major league baseball scouts from the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs visiting the Dominican Republic looking for the next Robinson Cano or Pedro Martinez.
There is even hope in making it in the world of basketball like the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford. To see players who actually have the opportunity to play in America leaves the children awestruck. It is the second day the Aggies basketball team is in the Dominican Republic. They are amazed out how much they are admired.
In fact, their presence is a big deal. Not only is Valdez there, but so is Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal, the minister of sports and physical education. Mirabal is a major figure in the Dominican Republic because he is on the country’s cabinet. “This is a big deal,” says A&T head coach Cy Alexander after realizing who Mirabal is. “This should really help our program.”
A microphone is handed to Mirabal as he welcomes A&T to the Dominican Republic. Alexander then takes the microphone and thanks his gracious host on the behalf of A&T, the chancellor and the athletics director. Very few have a clue what he is saying, so Valdez is eager to take the microphone to translate.
It’s curious to see how well the A&T basketball players will be able to teach the young people basketball skills with the language barrier. As the welcomes end, the Aggie players and coaches break off into four groups, one group for each basketball goal at the outdoor court. Associated head coach Jay Joyner takes one group, assistant Darren Corbett takes another, assistant Otis Weatherspoon has another and graduate assistant Darris Jackson has the other. Alexander walks between the two basketball courts, which are parallel to each other, smiling at the sight of his program’s goodwill.
Meanwhile, Bruce Beckford plays against what apparently is a talented young female basketball player one-on-one. She handles and shoots the ball well and she has height. Meanwhile, Alexander plays defense on a 10-year old with a mean crossover, while the other groups do skill drills like three-man weave, dribbling and pick and pop.
After an hour, the children gather with the players to take pictures. Poses begin to develop all over the courts as camera phones appear. The idea of taking a group picture then develops as a little boy breaks through the large crowds to stand next to Alexander. It is a touching tribute to what this visit meant to the children and the Aggies.
Senior guard Lamont Middleton then addresses the crowd. “We like to thank you for having us,” he starts. “Nos gustaria darle las gracias por aqui,” Valdez translates. “We had fun teaching you some of the things,” Middleton stops so Valdez can translate. “Nos lo pasamos muy bien la ensenaza de algunas de la cosas.”
“That we work on to get better…Thank you,” says Middleton, ending his statement. “Que trabajamos para mejorar…Muchas gracias.”
And then everything ends the way it always should…with the crowd screaming “Aggie Pride!”