The Next Kobe: A Look Into the Junior Bobcat Basketball League

by Shanteona Keys, Sophomore Guard Women's Basketball

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - Michael Jordan learned his high rise jumper on an outdoor court in North Carolina, young Kobe Bryant studied basketball in Germany watching his father, and LeBron James destroyed his peers in Ohio beginning in middle school. Every young player starts somewhere; this is as true for 6-year-old Kobe Brailsford who is getting his start at the Junior Bobcat Basketball League (JBBL) held in the Centennial Center on the Georgia College campus.

Young Milledgeville children travel to GC’s Centennial Center every year to participate in the basketball clinic with the Georgia College women’s basketball team. The Bobcats teach them the fundamentals of basketball over the month-long league.

“Basketball,” Brailsford said when asked his favorite part of JBBL. He is a young man a few words, but his smile is contagious.

The main focus of the JBBL is to teach fundamentals of the game and also help develop an interest in basketball, all while having a good time. The JBBL introduces players between the ages of six and 12 to dribbling, passing and defensive drills.  After covering the basics, the teams compete in several games on the Centennial Center’s three courts.

“The JBBL started here at GC in the fall of 2010 and originated, for me, from (Tusculum College Head) Coach Griff Mills while I was his assistant,” said Toby Wagoner, assistant women’s basketball coach. “I thought it was a great way to reach out to the community, so Coach Mo and I decided to incorporate the JBBL into our program.”

The teams are divided into leagues to make the experience more realistic.  They are divided by age into the NBA East, NBA West and the Rookie League. Brailsford is a member of the Celtics in the Rookie League. Each player was drafted onto teams after the first week of camp. The coaches sit in a room and participate in an official draft.

Abby Slocumb is a junior psychology major at Georgia College and one of the coaches for the JBBL. She’s been a part of the JBBL since its origin three years ago. Slocumb drafted Brailsford to her team after the first Sunday of the clinic and she is Brailsford’s coach for the Boston Celtics. Slocumb was drawn to his infectious smile and charisma.

Each team is designated a color that will reflect their NBA team. The Heat wears orange, the Lakers wear purple, Hawks and Bulls wear red while Brailsford and the Celtics wear green.

Each week, the day begins on the newly-remodeled Centennial Center main court. Brailsford, his Celtics teammates and the Bobcat coaches cluster around half court to begin their warm-up stretches. The kids pull and tug their short limbs as they work through warm-ups until they are ready to start learning. The children go to six stations, including: passing, shooting, speed and agility, dribbling and defense. After they complete their work at each station, they move to team practice. The teams review their plays and prepare for battle in the form of basketball games.

The young players huddle around their Bobcat coaches for an inspirational pep-talk before the game starts. “Celtics,” the elementary school students yell in unison. The coaches equip themselves with whistles around their necks to referee and coach the games. Slocumb substitutes players into the game, makes calls on the court and guides the players through every play.

The competition gets quite intense for a youth camp. It’s not just the players that want to come away with a win, the coaches are invested in their team also. Slocumb and the other Celtics coaches celebrate the young player’s accomplishments as if they are their own. “Nice shot,” shouts Slocumb when Brailsford or his teammates take a shot—no matter the outcome.

“I really love working with the little kids the most, with them it is the little things. The fact that they made one layup might be the highlight of their day, said Slocumb. “My job is to make sure they are having fun and that they are happy, which in return makes me happy.” The Bobcats a whole enjoy working the clinic. Their goal is to teach the children and create an environment in which the young players would want to return. They also gain little-big fans along the way.

Brailsford enjoyed his time at the Centennial Complex. He got to be like his basketball idols for four weekends in a row. He plans to return to the clinic next year. This is just where his story begins. Brailsford’s namesake is NBA star Kobe Bryant, but the young man’s hard work may make Kobe Brailsford a household name as a NBA star.

The Georgia College Department of Athletics, two-time winners of the PBC Commissioner's Cup, sponsors 11 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, Bobcat Athletics prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the teams' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement. Sign up at www.twitter.com/BobcatSports and www.facebook.com/gcbobcats for up-to-the-minute reports, and visit www.GCBobcats.com for more information, and to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GC Athletics Hall of Fame.