Basketball has always been an integral part of Jack Brownlee's life.
This past summer, the 2000 St. Edmond graduate had a life-changing experience while giving back to the game he loves.
As part of "Basketball Without Borders: South Africa," Brownlee spent 10 days teaching basketball and helping in the community of a foreign country.
Former St. Edmond Gael and Iowa Hawkeye Jack Brownlee stands with former NBA?All-Star Dikembe Mutumbo in South Africa during a Habitat for Humanity project.
Brownlee, who led St. Edmond to a state championship in 2000, was introduced to the "Basketball Without Borders" program through former Fort Dodge resident Nick Collison.
"Nick has been a very good friend of mine since we played on the same AAU team in high school,'' Brownlee said. "The reason I was able to go on this trip was because Nick recommended me to some of the camp directors.
"He was involved in 2008 and said it was a great experience. He knows how much I love basketball and how much this trip would mean to me. I owe him a lot for helping me the way he did.''
On the trip, the group spent seven days working with the "Basketball Without Borders" program and the final three days on a safari in Malawi, South Africa.
"The NBA is such a commendable organization,'' Brownlee said. "The directors had everyone's schedule catalogued throughout the week which made everything a little easier despite being so far away from anything I was used to.
"South Africa is seven hours ahead of what I'm used to living in Iowa, so at first it was hard adjusting to the time change. A lot of coffee was consumed throughout the morning and even early into the afternoon in hopes to remain upbeat and energized.''
The program was held in several provinces throughout South Africa with the majority of the time spent in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.
"BWB is the NBA's global basketball development and community outreach program that united American basketball players, coaches and GMs to promote the sport of basketball and encourage positive social change in the areas of education, health and wellness throughout Africa,'' Brownlee said. "Basically the program is a prestigious invite camp for the top 60 high school basketball players in the entire continent of Africa.
"Mixed with the camp was Habitat for Humanity where we built homes for deserving families in some of the poorer villages in South Africa. We also spent time teaching the game of basketball on a court donated by the NBA to children who have never really been exposed to the game before.''
Brownlee got to share the experience with Collison, along with NBA players Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich, Luol Deng, CJ Watson, Dikembe Mutombo and Luc Mbah a Moute.
"The program consisted of many NBA coaches, scouts, general managers, players and a few regular guys like myself,'' Brownlee said. "These guys were all remarkable people for giving up their time to give back the way they did.
"I had fun hanging with and getting to know all of them.''
Brownlee, who currently lives in West Des Moines and is the head sophomore basketball coach and varsity assistant at West Des Moines Valley, enjoyed the chance to interact with the kids in South Africa.
"I was particularly impressed with the overall politeness of the kids I worked with. Everyone was genuinely happy to have Americans coaching them,'' Brownlee said. "I coach high school basketball myself and there were times I wished some of my kids could see how coachable these kids from Africa were, especially considering the backgrounds some of these kids were coming from.
"It was difficult at times because there would be kids on teams that spoke either English, French or portuguese, so they would have to have translators to echo everything the coaches would say to them. This language barrier didn't stop them from having passion and eagerness to learn and get better.''
The St. Edmond graduate, who was named Class 2A player of the year and was a first team all-state selection before playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, said the trip to South Africa is one that changed his life.
"I have great aspirations of helping with the Basketball Without Borders every summer or as many years as they'll have me back,'' Brownlee said. "It was an unbelievable experience for me and I have the game of basketball to thank for it.
"It has provided so many good things in my life and I'm very appreciative for all of it.''