Skip to main content

Hoop hopefuls: Basketball's band of bold believers

Teammates do a team hand stack during a basketball game.
It is hoped the relationships formed here will provide a support network as basketball grows across PNG.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

An Australian basketball legend with proud Pacific heritage has headed to Papua New Guinea to invest in the next generation of coaches from every corner of the nation and every level of ability.

Annie La Fleur can boast an Olympic silver medal and an illustrious professional basketball career in the United States and Australia.

Cecilia Yore didn't play a single game of competitive basketball until she was an adult, and needed to be taught all the rules and skills.

But the Australian legend and the Mount Hagen mother of six are standing side-by-side, sharing a court in Port Moresby.

Around them are current and former PNG internationals, administrators and complete newcomers to the game from the farthest reaches of this vast nation.

Three people standing behind a bag of basketballs.
The Hoops for Health coaching course has brought together aspiring coaches from all over PNG.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

This unlikely band of basketball lovers has been assembled here because they are all key players in an ambitious plan to improve the lives of Papua New Guineans and perhaps uncover the next Annie La Fleur on the way.

This is the historic first Hoops for Health Coach the Coaches course.

Skip YouTube Video

FireFox NVDA users - To access the following content, press 'M' to enter the iFrame.

Hoops for Health is a basketball development program in the Pacific. YouTube: FIBA

"I'm happy to be a part of this group," Cecilia grins, after taking it up to her younger and more-fancied rivals on the court minutes before.

"In my lifetime, I've never coached a team. I've only played. It's good to come here and learn, to become a good coach in the future."

- Cecilia Yore

She's learning from one of the best to ever play the game. Annie La Fleur is in the thick of the action, barking instructions and making cheeky remarks.

She has done the same thing in Fiji, Kiribati and Timor-Leste, but here is different. She has come home to the place of her birth.

Woman pointing on a basketball court.
Annie La Fleur coaches the coaches.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"I feel like this is my culture," she says. She moved to Australia aged nine.

"This is where I came from. I'm able to share here not only because I am from PNG but also [because] I have experienced some things in my life."

- Annie La Fleur

For someone like Cecilia, who will take her skills back to a village in Western Highlands Province, the Olympian is both inspirational and relatable.

Woman looking for someone to pass to during a basketball game.
Cecilia Yore looks for support during a training game.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"I love to be with people and get to know different people, to travel [to] different places," Cecilia says.

"I've learned how to coach small kids, up to middle age and even old people. I'm happy."

Every demographic must be engaged for basketball to grow and for the health benefits of a more active lifestyle to take effect. That's why PNG's extraordinary diversity is reflected in those selected for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and Australian Aid-supported training course.

Man looking at a sheet of paper.
Basketball Federation of PNG CEO and course leader Joel Khalu.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"We are in a really good position to use a great sport that people love to change their lives," says Basketball Federation of PNG CEO Joel Khalu.

"While that sounds like a big, broad dream, it's something we want to achieve and we are on the right path at the moment.

"It's a really good cross-section of participants. It's fantastic. That whole network has started to build itself and hopefully they'll continue to do that out there in the country."

Annie sees that as the great hope and the great challenge.

"They have to actually get out into the communities. They need to be coaching. It is the only way you are going to get better," she says.

"There are players here who are very athletic, they just need help and guidance and that's what they are going to get from the coaches."

- Annie La Fleur

Four people playing basketball.
Some coaches undertaking the course are international representatives and others have had very little experience of basketball.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

They will also get a sense of the importance of inclusion and participation, perhaps by telling the story of the day an Olympic medallist and a handful of international stars shared the court with a bunch of enthusiastic first-timers.

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

For more stories like this 'like' Australia Plus Pacific on Facebook.