A meeting to congratulate the TT men's 3x3 basketball team for earning a bronze medal at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile turned into Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis learning of all the challenges being faced by local basketballers which they believe is stunting their growth.
Speaking during the Deon Lendore Foundation launch at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain on Tuesday, Cudjoe-Lewis said she got an earful from the TT basketballers and coaches about the state of TT basketball earlier in the day.
"What was supposed to be a very quick courtesy call and photo opportunity turned into us having to listen to the chaos and confusion that is taking place in the National Basketball Federation of TT," she said.
Cudjoe-Lewis said these are "grown folks who can't play anymore standing in the way."
"When you know better you must do better," she said.
On Wednesday, Newsday emailed and sent a WhatsApp message to president of the NBFTT Jason Hills for a comment, but up to press time did not get a response.
In May, local players were left disappointed that they could not compete at major events. Hills informed local basketballers that NBFTT did not register the men’s and women’s teams for the 2023 FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup and that TT’s men’s 3x3 team, which placed fourth at the 2022 AmeriCup, would not be competing at the May 6-7 FIBA 3x3 World Cup qualifiers in Israel.
Hills, who has been president since January, said the NBFTT was unable to pay the US$1,500 per team registration fee for the AmeriCup because it was unable to access the organisation’s accounts. Claire Mitchell, who was replaced by Hills, said she could not understand why the teams were not registered as enough money was in the federation's account. At that time, Cudjoe-Lewis also asked NBFTT to get their house in order.
In October at the Pan Am Games, twin brothers Ahkeem and Ahkeel Boyd, along with Chike Augustine and captain Moriba Defreitas copped bronze, TT's best-ever showing at the games in basketball.
A media release by the sport ministry on Wednesday, said, "In the face of considerable challenges, the team exhibited remarkable resilience and unity, embodying the true spirit of sportsmanship. Their collective determination to make enduring contributions to the sport and reach new heights in basketball did not go unnoticed by the minister, who commended the team for their unwavering commitment to elevating basketball to a premier sporting discipline in TT."
The local basketballers are looking beyond the court to make a difference.
"When asked about their future endeavours, the TT 3x3 members underscored their commitment to community engagement and development. Their vision extends beyond the basketball court, as they expressed a strong desire to work within their communities, serving as ambassadors for the sport and creating opportunities for aspiring basketball players. The team remains steadfast in their mission to secure recognition and ranking for basketball as a revered sporting discipline."
Pan Am coach Christopher Jackson Charles, manager/physiotherapist Wayne Samuel, head of sport development at Sport Company of TT Justin Latapy-George and SporTT sport development officer Courtnee-Mae Clifford also attended the courtesy call.
Cudjoe-Lewis said, "In my capacity as Minister of Sport and Community Development, I encourage all athletes to have the confidence to excel, and you all have truly exemplified that."
Motivated by Charles's impactful scholarship initiative, the team is poised to introduce a comprehensive developmental programme for budding basketball enthusiasts. Charles, recognising the symbiotic relationship between sports and education, has actively engaged US universities in scouting for promising local and regional talent. This proactive approach has yielded positive outcomes, with scholarships successfully secured for young basketball players like Justice Leon and Ayodeji Iwaro, amongst many others. These athletes are slated to commence their studies in January 2024 at Shorter University and Williston State College respectively. Cudjoe-Lewis urged the team to persist in championing such initiatives, underscoring the transformative potential of community-level sport development.