Former NBA player and NBA Europe Ambassador Igor Rakočević was speaking at a basketball clinic hosted by the NBA to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the YMCA.
Earlier this week, Rakočević led a skills clinic for young people at ExCeL London, teaching them the fundamentals of the game of basketball which was invented at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith.
What have you made of the young players’ talents at YMCA175?
IR: We’ve been lucky enough to have a few hours every day to interact and communicate with the young players here in London. It was awesome because the kids were unbelievable, they were very curious about basketball and we showed them many of our tricks and fundamentals and they seemed to really enjoy it!
What advice have you been passing onto the young players?
IR: The main advice we have given them is to have a plan B and to make sure they finish their degrees and do well at school. It’s very important to make sure you have other options and a good education opens up doors to the future.
How important is it for young people around the world to connect together at an event like this?
IR: it’s very important to be part of a community, especially a sport community is very healthy. Everyone likes to share experiences, interact and play with the others so I think it’s so important that there are gatherings like this especially for young people who need to learn how to interact with each other and how to improve their skills, how to gain experience by communicating with others so it’s crucial especially at a young age.
Did you have any opportunities like these growing up in Yugoslavia?
IR: Luckily I had many opportunities to connect with other children my age but they were all connected with basketball not like this [YMCA175] where you have many different aspects like art and sport. Also in Serbia every year there is a sport fair which brings all the sports together and there are thousands and thousands of kids who get involved. I was lucky enough to be a part of it every year.
How important is it for European kids to look up to the European superstars in the NBA such as Luka Doncic and Rudy Gobert?
IR: It’s good because both of the those guys are great role models. They’re educated and are good guys and the kids look up to them because they can learn basketball skills from them but they can also learn things about life. It’s important that the superstars are also educated so they can be role models not only in basketball but also life experience.
Fans in Europe can now see more NBA primetime games than ever before. How important is that in attracting new fans?
IR: It’s important for not only basketball but sport in general. The more people are aware of sport in their country the better. If the games help inspire fans to go out and join a team then that will help some kids move away from the street and from dangerous situations. Sport is the best way to develop your body and as a person as well.
What are your expectations for the 19/20 season? It it the most open ever?
IR: It’s going to be very competitive but I hope the Toronto Raptors will win the championship again.
What are your expectations for the Timberwolves this season?
IR: They have a solid team. It’s changed a lot of the last couple of years but they have good management and coaches and I’m sure they will improve as the years go on. I wish them all the best.
How do you feel about Ryan Saunders as coach of the Timberwolves?
IR: The most important thing is consistency. If the players and managers stay together for many years, then the team is building slowly but surely. They need to have confidence in each other and to stay together for as long as possible.
Earlier this month, the NBA partnered with YMCA to host basketball clinics in London for people aged 16-35 as part of YMCA175, a celebration of YMCA’s 175 year anniversary.