Baseball has the Little League World Series and soccer has its plethora of international youth tournaments.
Now count basketball as among the sports determining worldwide youth champions through its Jr. NBA World Championship tournament this summer.
And the local Santa Fe Thunder program has landed a coveted slot in the 14-under boys south regional that will be played June 15-17 in Frisco, Texas.
The team comprised of local players who will be entering their freshman seasons in the fall will go up against teams from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. It is one of eight regions across the United States, with the winners of each regional tournament ultimately joining winners from eight international competitions Aug. 7-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
“The Jr. NBA World Championship represents another significant step in our effort to get more engaged in grassroots basketball,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on the event’s website. “In addition to great competition on the court, the tournament will showcase ways to promote the values of our game and advance health and wellness of young players.”
A relatively new youth basketball organization, the Thunder is a bit different from most Amateur Athletic Union squads in that the players are thoroughly local, northern New Mexico athletes, said coach Jason R. Mossman.
The majority of his players are scheduled to attend Santa Fe High School next season, although some players will be going to Española Valley, Capital and even one, Bruce Brewer Jr., who saw quite a bit of varsity playing time with the New Mexico School for the Deaf, averaging 8.7 points and 6.0 assists as an eighth-grade starter.
Mossman, who regularly educates himself on the latest coaching techniques through USA Basketball, said that was the link that got the process for the NBA tourney started.
“They emailed about six weeks ago, asked me to consider putting in an eighth-grade boys team,” he said. “We knew it was put on by the NBA, sponsored by the NBA to help develop the kids. We knew it was a long shot but I filled out an application and I figured we’ll take a shot at it. We put our bios in and two weeks after that we were notified that we were selected to participate in the South Regional. It’s the culmination of a lot of effort of the players and the families and the coaches in the program.”
Unlike many club entities, the Thunder, which also has seventh-grade teams for both boys and girls, tries to keep costs as low as possible for its families, using communitywide fundraising efforts – such as golf tournaments – to offsets costs.
“We don’t charge families for participating in the program,” Mossman said. “A lot of clubs charge dues, but we have diverse demographics and financial incomes in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico. We do our best so that families aren’t charged for that kind of stuff. That’s why we have such a loyal group of players.”
It doesn’t hurt that the teams have seen success based on a formula of consistency and hard work, said Mossman, a retired U.S. Air National Guard veteran who saw active duty tours overseas.
Along with fellow coach Ray Vigil, he tries to educate his players about the values inherent in his service.
“Integrity, excellence in all you do and service before self,” said Mossman, who now works at the Los Alamos National Laboratories as IT division leader. “We try to instill that in the children. And the classroom comes first. When they do fall behind, I offer tutoring as much as I can. I think the kids are very eager to come in and show me their grades. They’re proud to show me all As and Bs or straight As.”
As for succeeding against bigger programs with deeper talent pools, the coach is realistic.
“We have some really hard work ahead of us,” Mossman said. “But our boys are definitely up for the challenge.”