Journey of a lifetime in Nicaragua

Courtesy of Candice Wiggins

Candice Wiggins helped teach basketball to Nicaraguan girls and boys of all ages, with the hope that the kids will take their passion for the game to their communities.

I recently took a weeklong trip to Nicaragua on behalf of the WNBA along with my Tulsa Shock sister Jennifer Lacy and NBA representative (and fellow Stanford Cardinal) Becky Bonner. We teamed up with the U.S. embassy with the ultimate goal of empowering the girls in the country. What started off as an excitingly anticipated journey ended up being one colossal adventure that I will never forget.

First of all, the scenery was increíble! As soon as I arrived I immediately thought about scenes from “Jurassic Park.” When we drove through the terrain it looked like something straight out of the movie. Such awe-inspiring landscape, in fact, that the only thing missing was a brachiosaurus and a herd of velociraptors. But it was the basketball that proved to be a most phenomenal experience.

Courtesy of Candice Wiggins

Candice Wiggins, center, and fellow former Stanford Cardinal Becky Bonner showed the kids how to get down and play real defense.

The first day there we were welcomed by a 17-year-old "ballista" named Abby Watters, one of the premier female basketball players in the country and, sadly, a UConn fan. The culture of the children we got to work with in Nicaragua is much like how it is in America: vivacious and full of energy. We got to slap the floor with them and show them how to play defense like a pro. I was able to translate the age-old American "BEEF" shooting acronym (which stands for "balance, eyes, elbow, follow-through") into "balancia, ojos, codo, la forma de tira" -- and the kids picked up on it just the same.

It's amazing how universal shooting can be; everyone wants to have a great shot and these kids were no different. It was so fun to interact with them and try to speak their language, and have them speak English with us as well. I asked one hipster-looking boy if he knew who Tupac [Shakur] was, and he smiled and said, "Yes," then asked me right back in broken English, "You know Lil Wayne?" Had to love that kid. I ended up signing his shirt "Viva 2pac," and all the kids laughed. Moments like that make me realize how much (like music) basketball is a universal language, having its own distinct rhythm and vibe. It's also generational, as the old school teaches the new school, and vice versa.

During the trip we also flew to a very impoverished city, Bluefields, and there we were able to work with girls and boys of all ages and encourage and inspire them to be the best they can be despite their circumstances. These kids were too legit to quit in life. From defensive drills to footwork skills, the kids focused, listened to instruction and subsequently got better. Jen even introduced a group of boys to the classic American game Knockout, and you would've thought they'd discovered gold.

Our hope is that they use this experience to promote the sport of basketball throughout Nicaragua by passionately engaging their communities. Basketball is a sport that is played with the heart, and once we reached the hearts of these children, I know a seed was planted in them permanently. It's also great when you can work with boys and girls of all ages, as the boys grow up to be more respectful of the women's game, and the girls learn to be bold and fearless on the court with the guys.