When the NBA Academies Women's program was launched in 2018 the goal was simple: find and develop elite prospects outside of the U.S.
In a short period of time, the impact the program has made has been felt across the globe. Canada's Aaliyah Edwards and China's Han Xu, both Academy alums, and are now competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games for their respective Senior National teams. Croatia's Nika Muhl just completed her Freshman year at the University of Connecticut where she was an integral part of the team's success and Final Four appearance in the NCAA Tournament. India's Sanjana Ramesha and Mexico's Karla Martinez opened doors and created a path for future girls from their respective countries to follow by earning D1 scholarships. Many others have elevated themselves both on and off the basketball floor and they'll be many others to come.
This summer, without the ability to meet in person due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NBA Academy Women's Virtual program was launched giving 40 girls from around the world the opportunity to continue to learn and develop both on and off the court.
The eight-week program will aim to educate the selected girls about their potential paths to the NCAA - how to properly set goals, personal branding, health and nutrition, leadership and, of course, put them through various on-court training activities that will continue to improve their game.
"Our bread and butter was the in-person events," Elite Basketball Women's Operations Lead, Monica Rogers told NBA.com. "But I think for a lot the top athletes - them getting to know each other and speak to each other and interact with each other - and then with us bringing in WNBA current former players, having NBA Academy staff come in and touch on the themes that we thought were important, which are leadership, mental health, player pathway education, women's empowerment, nutrition, goal setting and personal branding. We felt like this was a time to really give them those development opportunities.
"Some of them are playing national teams, some of them are playing in local leagues, so giving them a supplemental development piece, while not taking away from what you know they're doing with their respective countries (and) teams, we thought was really vital during this time."
Rogers, like many of the Academy coaches and staff, has a wealth of knowledge to pour back into the young hoopers. Rogers spent seven seasons in the WNBA, most notably winning two championships with the Minnesota Lynx. She also played professionally in Australia, Turkey, Poland and a handful of other countries, giving her a global view of the game. Her wisdom and experience are a given, but the enthusiasm she shows in talking about giving back to the next generation truly shines through.
"Being able to play overseas, and then playing in the WNBA for so long, I know how important it is, especially as a younger player, to see and to have people invest in my development, and then to see the tangible results that I could attain," Rogers continued. "So anytime I'm able to invest in grassroots or youth development personally, I'm always about that."
The hope at the end of the Virtual Academy is that a group of girls will be selected for an in-person camp. Whether that happens or not depends on the status of the global pandemic, but the program staff hopes to stay connected with the participants and continue to track their progress heading into the next season. With the pathway in place and laid out in front of them, the hope is that the various participants find a way to use the education, training and experience to blaze their own trails.
"I think that's an obvious thing for any development program that wants to push leadership," Rogers said. "Since 2018 more than 45 NBA Academy participants have committed to D1 schools. So I think for the participants that are in the program right now, there's a clear understanding of 'hey, that could be me. I could attain those things.'
"And we've had NBA Academy alum, we've already had a WNBA player speak (to the participants), I think for them to be able to see tangible results, helps them even greater in wanting to set those kinds of goals for themselves."
You can keep up to date by following the NBA Academy on Instagram and check out some of the virtual program videos on YouTube.