CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. >> Basketball has always been a part of Yacouba Sangare’s life, along with his wife, Tracy, and he has made it a mission to give back through basketball to his native Niger.
After another Shenendehowa varsity basketball season closed, his focus turned once again to his charity, Hoops4Kids and this year’s 3-v-3 youth tournament at Koda Middle School.
The funds from the weekend event will once again fund the annual camp in Niger for boys and girls, a week of sports and lessons that are important to Sangare and his family.
“I got a scholarship to come to the U.S. to a basketball camp at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania,” Yacouba “Yac” Sangare said. “I saw how basketball was organized at the youngest level in the U.S. I went back and started hoop4kids.
“Since then we’ve been running it, trying to raise money and whenever we get funding we travel to Africa and run the camp for kids who really can’t afford going to a camp.”
Saturday’s event lacked a lot of the smooth passing, set plays and zone defenses highlighted throughout the recently concluded high school basketball season, but last-second buzzer beaters and unexpected overtimes were the norm.
It may not have been like any of the skills shown in past Hoops4Kids clinics, but the 3-versus-3 event invites more non-starters than starters.
“I’ve noticed that they like to play with kids who some of their friends who are not on teams or they can come up with names are so creative,” Sangare said. “Some kids are people that we know and the families know the organization and they said to the kids ‘Hey, we know it’s a worthy organization, we want you go and participate.’”
For some of the more seasoned fourth- through 10th-grade stars, the 3-v-3 event was sandwiched as part of their own basketball Saturday.
“Some kids they came from AAU games and some kids are going to AAU games after this,” Sangare said. “A lot of kids also like it because you play and you stay on the site, you don’t leave.”
Sangare also hosts annual Hoops4kids leagues throughout the year, but the 3-v-3 tournament had a solid turnout because of the simple format.
“Ourselves at Shen or if you watch the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, everybody wants to play that game where you don’t stand around,” Sangare said. “You pass the ball, you move, you pass the ball and you move. That’s the whole purpose of 3-on-3, when you don’t have the ball what else are you going to do?”
Everybody on Saturday was looking for the pass and getting off their next shot, with a body or not on them, driving the lane or from the perimeter, it was about getting the next shot off.
With the money raised through the Hoops4kids program last year 120 kids were invited to the camp in Niger that Yacouba and his daughter, Shenendehowa grad, Samira, ran.
This year he hopes to have 80 kids attend, again 40 girls and 40 boys.
“A lot of them have been exposed to basketball, but they may not have the means,” Yacouba Sangare said. “They may not have camps all the time, they may not have basketballs, they may not have proper training.
“It’s not as popular as soccer, but the kids belong to basketball centers, like AAU here. They have a little bit of experience through those basketball centers.”
While much of the week is about skills and drills, being located in Western Niger and a developing country, much of the day is different than a typical U.S. basketball camp.
“In a lot of African countries you have a lot of conflicts, you have civil wars, so we always bring people from the community to talk to people from different ethnic groups,” Sangare said. “We always try to have a health component.
“We might talk about malaria; we might talk about AIDS, preventative stuff and some conflict resolution. We do basketball in the morning and then in the afternoon the kids come back and they will do something that doesn’t have anything to do with basketball.”
While the thoughts of the challenges facing these children each day may appear bleak, the week is about smiles and for some, even about hopes and dreams as Adam Gouro found out.
“I was 14-years-old and I was playing in a center, for mission camp, for my coach, Coach Carter, and when Yac first got to Niger he met me,” Adam Gouro said. “I was pretty tall, 6-4, 6-5, so I was pretty tall and he asked me a few questions, what grade are you, what is your position, how do you play?
“He invited me to his camp and he brought another basketball player, so I came to his camp. I think I did well. He decided to invite me next year to Koubek Camp here at the U.S.”
That was Gouro’s first trip to the United States, but it would not be his last as the now 6-foot 8-inch center is attending Redemption Christian Academy for a post-grad year in Troy.
This weekend he was enjoying his time, watching the tournament that made so much possible for him just a few years ago.
“This is a great scene,” Gouro said. “Where I’m from you really don’t see parents coming to watch the son, the kids play basketball.
“So that is new and I think that is a great thing because this pushes you to work more and learn more. That’s a great thing.”
His season will move onto the City Rocks 17s AAU squad where he will play alongside the other Sangare basketball standout, current Shenendehowa junior T.J. Sangare as he assesses his college options.
His dreams include playing Division I college basketball, but his plans include giving back just as Yacouba and his family has.
“After college I will probably go back home because I want to help kids and show how my life was here and bring back things from my experience,” Adam Gouro said.
For more about Yacouba Sangare and his charity, visit www.hoops4kids.org