Follow your dream, Ronny Turiaf tells Irish NBA hopefuls
By Daire Walsh
He lived the dream on the biggest stage of all and now NBA star Ronny Turiaf is hoping to inspire the next generation of basketball stars to fulfil their potential.
The towering Martinique native won an NBA title six years ago playing alongside LeBron James at the Miami Heat. Over 10 years, he played with some of the biggest club names in the world’s greatest league, such as the LA Lakers, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, before closing out his NBA career at the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012. Yesterday, he was passing on his knowledge at the National Basketball Arena in Dublin, where he acted as an ambassador for a Jr NBA festival that brought together young talent from the four corners of Ireland.
“The biggest thing about the Jr NBA programme, and why I’m proud to be associated with it, is because of the looks I see in the kids’ eyes. To be able to see kids smile and be happy, kids that may be a little bit shy and introverted, like I was in high school, when I was a little kid,” Turiaf explained.
“To be able to see them come alive on a basketball court, that’s what life is all about. That’s why I want to do those things and I want to share experiences with those kids.”
Catering for boys and girls aged 11-12, the Jr NBA Basketball Ireland League has seen 10 Irish clubs joining up with three local primary schools to create 30 teams, each of them representing a specific NBA franchise.
While four of these sides were marked absent, Turiaf was left suitably impressed by the atmosphere generated for the festival.
“There’s been a very good energy. The excitement of the kids is very refreshing and warm. There’s a warmth about here, it must be an Ireland thing.
“To be able to see the impact of 500 kids playing in Ireland right now. The federation behind it, with sponsors like DeCare [Dental] behind it, it really shows that they care about the youth and they care about growing the game. It’s very much fun.”
With 520 career appearances to his name, Turiaf is rightly regarded as one of the NBA’s finest international imports. Whereas France (for whom he earned 100 caps) has been well represented in North America, Tullamore-born Pat Burke is the sole Irish player to have lined out in basketball’s premier professional league.
However, despite seeing the NBA as the ultimate end goal, Gonzaga University graduate Turiaf also a strong advocate for college basketball.
“The opportunities for me is not just from the game of basketball. It’s to be able to see, from an Ireland perspective, a different side of the world. There are so many different avenues that you can actually fulfil your dream.
This is something that Basketball Ireland’s head Of development Jason Killeen can readily identify with. The Limerick man enjoyed memorable stints with US college sides Winthrop and Augusta before missing out on the 2009 NBA Draft.
The Templeogue BC centre hailed the initial stages of the Jr NBA in Ireland as an outstanding success, but feels there is further scope for improvement over the next two years.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic. We’ve had emails from teachers saying the impact that the programme has had on the kids. It has been really good for them to engage. We are lucky enough that we signed a three-year deal with the NBA. This is just year one. We’ve two more years to go after this, which is very exciting,” said Killeen.
“Today, we’ll sit down and look at what we did. Look at what we can do better for next time.
“The clubs that are involved and the schools that are involved this year won’t be involved next year or the year after. We’ll be hitting a whole new demographic and 30 new schools for the next two years.”