Micah Rice: Basketball is global language

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor



You could travel to China, Brazil or Turkey to see the explosive growth of basketball around the globe.

Or you could look here in Clark County.

Counting the preseason, the NBA played an unprecedented 10 games in six countries beyond the U.S. and Canada this season. A record 92 foreign-born players were on NBA rosters to start the season.

Basketball has also brought the world to Joe Navarro and Ashley Corral.

Navarro is head coach of the Vancouver Volcanoes, a professional team that begins its 10th season in the spring. Until recently, he had almost no experience with Japanese culture. Just “a couple of seafood dishes,” he said.

Navarro now hops back and forth across an ocean. He spent this fall in Japan helping to establish a basketball academy in Hiroshima.

Basketball had already taken Corral places few ever experience. The Prairie High School and University of Southern California standout had already played professionally with the Guangdong Dolphins in China. Her pursuit of a pro basketball career led her to Argentina this fall.

Both found themselves in uncommon situations made easier by the common language of jump shots and crossover dribbles.

“Basketball has brought me close to people I would never have met,” Corral said. “You learn to communicate on and off the court.”

Navarro spent the fall coaching at the Hiroshima academy. It’s affiliated with an expansion franchise owned by former Volcano player Kenta Nakashima that will become a full member of the Japan’s national basketball league by 2015.

Instead of coaching former college players who dot the Volcanoes roster, Navarro teaches the fundamentals of the game to youths. It’s part of an effort to grow the sport.

What had spurred that growth in a country where baseball and soccer are the biggest sports? Navarro said it’s the small-world nature of the Internet, where Dwight Howard dunks are just a mouse-click away.

“We see Kobe Bryant jerseys on 9-year-old kids,” Navarro said. “They know all the basketball slang. It’s a pretty common language. They watch on YouTube and NBA.com.”

According to the NBA, the last three seasons have brought 16 billion page views and 9 billion video views on NBA.com/China. In the 2012 season, page views increased by more than 40 percent and videos nearly 180 percent on the site from the prior year.

The Internet is responsible for Corral’s six-week gig in Argentina. Through Facebook, she hooked up with Club Guarani Antonio Franco in Posadas, a city of 325,000 on the country’s northern border with Paraguay.

Instead of playing a league season, the Argentine teams compete in weekend mini-tournaments with the top team advancing to the next round. Corral’s team fell just short of the final four, losing to the eventual national champion.

At 19.8 points a game, Corral was the team’s second-highest scorer behind fellow American Hailey Dunham (27 points per game). Everyone else on the roster was Argentinian.

“American players are definitely more athletic,” Corral said. “For us, this is our job. For them, it’s a side job. But the game is developing there.”

Corral is back home and is an assistant coach for both Clark College and Prairie.

She still hopes to play in the WNBA, a dream she came agonizingly close to achieving during training-camp stints with the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics. Ultimately, she wants to coach.

Playing basketball in a foreign land has given her the patience and flexibility to handle whatever lies ahead.

“It’s scary being in a foreign country,” Corral said. “You just have to roll with it.”

Rolling with it is easier in a world made smaller by basketball.

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s sports editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or Twitter @col_mrice