Former Jayhawk Brett Ballard uses basketball to promote peace in Israel

Former Kansas Guard Brett Ballard, center, instructs young players in late July as part of the PeacePlayers International initiative in Israel. Ballard, who is an assistant coach at Wake Forest, spent a week helping at coaching clinics in the region.

Former Kansas Guard Brett Ballard, center, instructs young players in late July as part of the PeacePlayers International initiative in Israel. Ballard, who is an assistant coach at Wake Forest, spent a week helping at coaching clinics in the region.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The lives of college basketball coaches are often intense but can become downright crazy when their chosen profession takes them halfway around the globe.

That was the story for former Kansas guard Brett Ballard during the final week of July.

Ballard, a third-year assistant coach for Danny Manning at Wake Forest, recently returned from a six-day trip to Israel, where he soaked up the local culture and delivered some of the finer points of American basketball to young Israelis and their coaches.

Ballard, who played at KU from 2001-02 and also spent time working on Bill Self’s coaching staff as video coordinator and director of operations, went as part of the PeacePlayers International initiative, which lists its mission as “uniting communities in conflict through sport.”

San Antonio Spurs general manager — and friend of the Kansas basketball program — R.C. Buford has been heavily involved with the organization, and it was that connection, along with Ballard’s impact on a former Israeli athlete whom he coached while leading the Baker University hoops program, that led to Ballard packing his bags and heading overseas.

With the ongoing conflict in Israel, Ballard said the goal of the organization was to take Jewish Israeli athletes and pair them with Muslim Arab athletes on the same teams.

“Obviously it’s not easy to make that happen,” Ballard said. “But they do it to try to promote peace. It’s really pretty cool what they do.”

Ballard’s specific role during his week in the region was to speak at three different coaching clinics, one in the Palestinian territories and two more in Tel Aviv. As is the case in many other cultures, the athletes and coaches there went nuts for everything Ballard taught them about the game and how it is played, coached and even celebrated in the United States.

“Truly the most memorable thing was how the coaches, after each of the clinics, were just so appreciative of me coming over there and teaching them a little about what American basketball’s all about,” said Ballard, who noted that the locals went wild any time he referenced NBA stars Steph Curry or LeBron James. “It was very obvious that American basketball over there really can have an impact.”

While at Baker, Ballard coached Samer Jassar, of Jatt, Israel. Ballard said that experience and his time walking the streets and working in the gyms in Jassar’s native land made it clear that the game invented by James Naismith truly has become a global phenomenon. Ballard also noted that the success enjoyed by former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who lived and coached in Israel, brought an even stronger NBA connection to the area.

Outside of basketball, Ballard said touring the Old City and seeing various sites throughout Jerusalem and Palestine was unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“There were parts where you felt like you were in America,” he said. “And then other parts where you felt like you were taken back in time. ... Walking around inside the walls of the Old City was pretty phenomenal.”