By Cam Lucadou-Wells
With a swag of national titles, Red Roo Sport’s irrepressible basketballers are working hard to be considered for athletic scholarships in the United States.
The Dandenong-based club has an under 18s and under 20s team, both brimming with skillful players knuckling down to academically qualify and prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in May.
Red Roo Sports director James Kerr, who mentors these young men, believes if they were based in the US, the majority of players would stand a very good chance of playing at a collegiate level.
“They’re amazing athletes and great young men who understand how to win and the discipline that it takes.
“We would love for each player to have the opportunity to advance in life through sports.”
Mr Kerr said the barrier was higher for college recruits from Australia because of the cost to bring them over to the US.
But the prize is bright with NBA players at the upper echelons of Australian sports stars’ earnings.
Red Roo advises its players that success is a function of extreme hard work, dedication and discipline.
In December, both teams, with spectacular, high-tempo play, took out the national 2016 South Sudanese Australian Summer Slam championships to add to several titles over the past two years.
“I’d say (the Summer Slam) could be one of the best tournaments in the country. It’s amazing to watch,” Mr Kerr said.
Red Roo players, like Jo Jo Deng, Kueth Jock, Buom Kuoth Gatluak, Oyiti Amum, Michael Jok and Golong Golong, catch trains and buses from across Melbourne’s south-east – as far away as Traralgon and Pakenham – to be in the program.
They share a clear-eyed, gritty determination to make the college grade.
Jo Jo speaks of the importance of not just a sporting career but furthering his education.
“It’s like a family here,” Jo Jo says.
“James is like a father figure. He encourages us to stay healthy, teaches us discipline on and off the court and to be patient – things don’t come straight away.
“He’s been there for all of us.”
Without sponsors or government funds, Red Roo Sports absorbs all costs for its National Championship teams.
Training is based at the 24/7 Hoops courts in Dandenong South, which offers Red Roo players round-the-clock access.
“If we didn’t have these courts, we would not have a place to practice,” Mr Kerr said.
Red Roo aspires to expand to an under 16s boys’, open mens’ and a womens’ team for an increasing list of eager would-be players.
“We are trying to provide the correct pathway in what is considered a maze of difficult life decision making choices,” Mr Kerr says.
“We’ve given them a little bit of hope.”