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The City Journals

Basketball Helps Students Overseas

Jul 15, 2016 08:58AM ● By Greg James

Barry Hecker stands with students at his annual trip to Senegal, Africa, as part of the SEED program. –SEED

By Greg James | [email protected]

In 1998, a graduate student from Senegal studying in the United States, Amadou Gallo Fall’ found the Sports for Education and Economic Development Project (SEED). Barry Hecker, a Salt Lake City resident, befriended Fall and began his annual trips to Africa to help support the program.

 “I met Fall when we working together with the Dallas Mavericks,” Hecker said. “The SEED program teaches kids to play basketball and helps them gain an education. It is to help the kids.”

 A total of nine players from Senegal have made it to the NBA. DeSagana Diop played for 13 years, mostly with the Cleveland Cavaliers; currently Gorgui Dieng is with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He played in all 82 games this last season and averaged 10 points per game.

 “In reality, a small percentage of kids will ever make it to the NBA, but there are a few over there that can play college,” Hecker said. “Mostly, the program is to educate these kids. I met one boy that now is high up in the government now over there.” 

According to the National Association for Sport and Recreation three in every 10,000 high school boys basketball players will ever get drafted into the NBA, or about .03 percent. Hecker encourages the players he coaches to have fun and learn the game. 

“We had what a handful of Division 1 players come from this state,” Hecker said. “I want them to be realistic. At my basketball camps, we stress footwork. If the player can control his body, he can control the ball better, but mostly I try to get the kids to enjoy it and play at least two sports. The parents sometimes are not realistic.” 

Hecker hosts basketball camps with Sandy every year. He has more than 40 years of basketball experience in high school, college and the NBA. He has coached around the world. Including his Senegal trips he has taught clinics in Italy, Turkey and served as an assistant coach with the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons in the China Basketball Association. His first experience in Utah was in 1976 when he coached Westminster.

 Hecker has organized his Sandy basketball camp for 15 years. The camp focuses on skill development like passing, shooting, dribbling and footwork.

 “I like to get the kids to use their other hand,” he said. “I think they really start to get it in our short time together.” 

He plans on returning to Senegal again in January. His annual trip has helped several players have the opportunity to play college basketball. In 2011 El Hadji Barro was part of the Salt Lake Community College men’s basketball team. He lived with Hecker and his family for some time while going to school here and eventually graduated from Fullerton State University.

 A 20-year-old girl named Oumy Gueye is currently trying to get a visitor’s Visa into the United States so she can come to Salt Lake and play AAU basketball and try to pass the GED, with the possibility of playing with Salt Lake Community College women’s team later on.

 Hecker has worked as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers. He was player personnel director with the Cavaliers in the 1984 and organized teams that battled the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. His most recent NBA job was as an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies.