The Birmingham Basketball Academy has what some might consider an audacious goal.
“What we are trying to do is to develop a basketball community in a football country,” said Walter Carvalho, who, along with his partners, runs the academy. “And slowly we are reaching each individual player and each family, and we are slowly branding our program and developing a reputation on quality and access of teaching. Our goal is to provide these students the opportunity to learn through basketball participation.”
The organization was founded by Bill Ivey in the spring of 2013 and now includes Carvalho and Robert Burdette, with all three “dedicated to working with girls and boys — from rural to suburban to urban — first grade through college,” according to their website. The academy’s activities take place year-round and range from leagues to instructions to camps.
“We are teachers first,” Ivey says about their mission. “It’s our belief that you truly can’t coach kids unless you are teaching them the fundamentals of the game.”
The academy aims for the space between sports for kids who participate in more than one. “When an athlete isn’t participating in another sport, we’d like for them to be working in one of our programs,” according to the website. “These programs include skills training, camps, clinics, leagues, tournaments – along with training for coaches of all levels.”
Birmingham Basketball Academy programs take place at several venues, from churches — Locust Fork Baptist, Mountain Chapel United Methodist and Valleydale Church — to schools. Spain Park High School hosts the FUNdamental Basketball League for fifth and sixth graders. In this league there is instruction on offensive and defensive fundamentals, individual and full-court skills training, and games to apply the learning. The price is $350 and includes two 90-minute instructional practices, eight games with certified officials and a uniform.
This past summer, the academy held team camp sessions at Indian Springs School in Shelby County, and expects to hold additional camps this winter. There is also a 4-on-4 league that teaches participants how to process information and react quicker by working on defensive intensity, movement without having the ball and playing without running a play.
A developmental league (D-League) is another program offered for children in either the seventh to eighth or ninth to tenth grades. The academy website says the developmental league is “to provide a high-caliber, competitive experience for Central Alabama middle-school players. … It is designed to increase the fundamental foundation of each player and to provide them with considerable playing experience.” For the fall/winter development league, the cost is $250, which includes a uniform, the requisite training and eight games.
Small group skills training sessions are also offered. Each one-hour session, lasting four or eight weeks, is a repetitive skills instruction. Drills focus on areas such as shooting and passing, ball handling, dribbling, footwork and perimeter skills. The price is $150.
Ivey is the founder and president of the Central Alabama Youth Foundation. In association with this organization, the academy offers Underground Basketball every Monday night from 6-8:30 p.m. at Saint Mark’s United Methodist Church in Vestavia. According to the site, this program helps players improve their basketball skills, works with individual participants to formulate an improvement plan, offers academic and personal counseling and gives assistance for players wanting to play college basketball.
For physical education instructors and other coaches, the academy plans to host coaching clinics this December focusing on drills and fundamentals, building and managing a team or program, and planning and organizing games. There also will be an option for coaches to obtain a certification as a youth, middle school/high school or international coach.
The international program, which consists of oversees camps, coaching clinics, team camps and mobile clinics, arises directly from Carvalho’s experience. Originally from Brazil, he has more than 30 years of experience coaching in five different countries, including being head coach of the Bahrainian men’s team and assistant coach for the Brazilian national team in the 1992 Olympics. Besides the international experience and expertise, he brings a network of contacts not only from his native country but also from other areas of the world where he has coached.
“My being here is providing Bill an opportunity because I am not immersed in the paradigm of basketball locally,” Carvalho said. “I see basketball with a Brazilian and international worldview. So, it is a different approach in my teaching methodology and the way I handle situations. But not only do I believe that this difference is contributing to the success and the expansion of the academy, but also I’m opening the doors of Birmingham to the international community.”
The value of having Carvalho as a part of the academy cannot be overstated, Ivey said.
“Walter is the best basketball instructor I have ever seen, whether he’s working with one kid or 10 kids,” Ivey said. “It’s quite an experience watching him coach. Walter’s story is so big because here we are trying to build a little basketball academy in a football town, and, to me, he takes us beyond that.”
Besides his work with the Central Alabama Youth Foundation, Ivey has served many other roles. He had been a high school basketball coach for over a decade, an assistant for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) men’s basketball team and the head coach of the UAB women’s basketball team. He has also been a part of basketball camps at UAB and the University of Kansas.
Burdette has 27 years of high school basketball coaching experience, and his teams have amassed more than 600 wins and four state championships. “He [Burdette] is one of the most successful high school coaches in Alabama history,” Ivey said. “He and I have been friends for about 20 years.”
The feedback has been positive from those who have been involved with the academy’s programs. “I think all the coaches are great,” said George Shunnarah, who was out to watch is son, Zach, participate in one of the developmental league sessions. “Not only do they teach the basketball skills, but they teach them right – with the right fundamentals and the right priorities in life. He plays for the junior high at Mountain Brook, and this is great to get his hand on the ball in the offseason. We’ve got some coaches here that know what they’re doing,” he said.
Joel Floyd, who has been the men’s varsity basketball coach at Pelham High School, agrees. “I think this academy is a great idea. It’s terrific to get more kids playing basketball during the football season, if they’re not playing football. And having coaches with the experience that these guys have teaching the kids has been tremendous.”
“The main goal of the Academy is to teach children how to play basketball,” Carvalho said. “But because of my story, I believe that it goes beyond that. It provides kids an opportunity to be somebody, as well as integration — social, emotional, and psychological. It makes you have a sense of belonging when you play basketball, that you are a member of team. It works on your self-esteem and your life outside of the basketball court,” he said.
“I believe in the value of sports as being an educational vehicle,” Carvalho added. “What differentiates us from similar entities is that we are teachers first. My background is in education, and we believe that you cannot coach young children if you do not teach them.”
For more information, visit http://bhambba.com.