Today’s blog is written by Ray Callaghan, a Development and Communications intern at PeacePlayers and recent Pitt graduate.
With the NBA season in full swing we can now look forward to the start of college basketball this week. An exciting opening night on Friday the 13th will be highlighted by this year’s installment of the Armed Forces Classic from Okinawa, Japan. Marine Corps members stationed in Japan will be treated to a matchup between 9th ranked Gonzaga, who gets an early season test from a solid Pitt team. In 2012 ESPN partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense and each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces to build off of ESPN’s Veteran’s Week Initiative, and present a one-game basketball event to be hosted at a base of a different branch of the U.S. Armed Forces for five consecutive years. According to the ESPN events website, “The goal is to take the event, and a heaping slice of American sports from back home, to our troops.”
College basketball will see several rules changes this year primarily aimed at addressing concerns that college basketball was difficult to watch due to a lack of scoring and other pace of play issues. The changes, which most notably include a shot clock shortened from 35 to 30 seconds will hopefully create a more exciting brand of basketball for the average fan. It will be interesting to analyze how these changes affect a team like Pitt who have always brought a hard-nosed defensive style to the court under head coach Jamie Dixon.
Friday night will also mark the start of Australian born Ben Simmons’ collegiate career. Simmons, who chose LSU in a recruiting era dominated by Duke and Kentucky will soon be a household name if he can live up to even a sliver of the hype he has been receiving. Perhaps the most telling description of the 6’10’ point forward’s game came when he was referred to as “the college basketball player most likely to lead to friends texting friends mid-game to make sure they’re watching something incredible.” Many predict he will be the second Aussie to be picked number one overall in the NBA draft after Andrew Bogut became the first to accomplish that in 2005. A steady flow of talent to American schools from “down under” has emerged as basketball’s global popularity continues to trend upward. At PeacePlayers we are able to teach the game of basketball in areas of the world where kids may not have had exposure otherwise. Whether basketball provides a vehicle for children to form special bonds playing for peace in divided communities around the world, a means for troops stationed abroad to feel right at home for a few hours, or the opportunity for a rare international talent to reach superstardom at an American university, the power of sport should never be underestimated!