Mountain Town Basketball

Like most of the world, soccer is the national sport in Mexico.  But there are unique situations, such as in the mountain towns that surround Oaxaca, where geography restricts the ability to support a soccer field, and other past times tend to dominate.  In Ixtlan and Pueblos Mancomunados basketball is the regional sport, and they take their hoops seriously.  Arrive in whatever town, and you will likely see a large court on display in the center plaza, second in importance to the main cathedral.
Seven years ago, I trekked to the Oaxacan pueblos of Latuvi and Lachatao, and this was my first introduction to mountain town basketball.  Both towns were equally excited about the game and the local kids would dribble the lit courts until their parents called them home for bedtime.  As an avid basketball player in my past I was eager to share a game with the locals.  I didn’t speak Spanish at the time but sport is an easy language for me.  I approached some kids on the court in Lachatao and involved myself in a shoot around.  We played some one-on-three and they were absolutely enthralled with my dribbling (I used to have some skills).  They apparently hadn’t seen many dribbling tricks before, and by the end of the game, my translating travel partner told me that the kids and their parents wanted me to stay an extra night to teach a clinic.  Delivering to the moment, I said yes without hesitation, and the villagers fed and housed my partner and I for the evening.
That evening, seven local kids showed up.  We practiced drills and played games for an hour, but at the time I didn’t realize that this was merely a warm-up for the exhibition match against the neighboring town.  Apparently, word had gotten out that there was a gringo basketball player in town, playing for Lachatao, and the adjacent village wanted to show up their Northern neighbor.  Our friend and guide, eight-year-old Neptali did the announcing for the game, and his friends took turns throwing quarter-sized bugs at our opponent’s faces when they went in for lay-ups.  I have no idea who won the match, but at its conclusion, a mother asked if I would stay and coach the kids in the upcoming Benito Juarez Cup.  Sadly, their proposed salary (housing and endless tortillas) couldn’t match what I was making at home, and I had to depart the next day.
On my travels this time around, I took the opportunity to explore two other Oaxacan mountain towns, and I was relieved to see that basketball was their mainstay as well.        , the biggest town had some serious courts, and after a game of one-on-ten with the local eight-year-olds I saw some impressively run practices.  Now, 5 months later in my travels, returning to Oaxaca and coaching a local team for a season is still on my mind.

IMG_3331

Like most of the world, soccer is the national sport in Mexico.  But there are unique situations, such as in the mountain towns that surround Oaxaca, where geography restricts the ability to support a soccer field, and other past times tend to dominate.  In Ixtlan and Pueblos Mancomunados basketball is the regional sport, and they take their hoops seriously.  Arrive in whatever town, and you will likely see a large court on display in the center plaza, second in importance to the main cathedral.

Seven years ago, I trekked to the Oaxacan pueblos of Latuvi and Lachatao, and this was my first introduction to mountain town basketball.  Both towns were equally excited about the game and the local kids would dribble the lit courts until their parents called them home for bedtime.  As an avid basketball player in my past I was eager to share a game with the locals.  I didn’t speak Spanish at the time but sport is an easy language for me.  I approached some kids on the court in Lachatao and involved myself in a shoot around.  We played some one-on-three and they were absolutely enthralled with my dribbling (I used to have some skills).  They apparently hadn’t seen many dribbling tricks before, and by the end of the game, my translating travel partner told me that the kids and their parents wanted me to stay an extra night to teach a clinic.  Delivering to the moment, I said yes without hesitation, and the villagers fed and housed my partner and I for the evening.

Warming up for practice

Warming up for practice

That evening, seven local kids showed up.  We practiced drills and played games for an hour, but at the time I didn’t realize that this was merely a warm-up for the exhibition match against the neighboring town.  Apparently, word had gotten out that there was a gringo basketball player in town, playing for Lachatao, and the adjacent village wanted to show up their Northern neighbor.  Our friend and guide, eight-year-old Neptali did the announcing for the game, and his friends took turns throwing quarter-sized bugs at our opponent’s faces when they went in for lay-ups.  I have no idea who won the match, but at its conclusion, a mother asked if I would stay and coach the kids in the upcoming Benito Juarez Cup.  Sadly, their proposed salary (housing and endless tortillas) couldn’t match what I was making at home, and I had to depart the next day.

On my travels this time around, I took the opportunity to explore two other Oaxacan mountain towns, and I was relieved to see that basketball was their mainstay as well.  Ixtlan, the biggest town, had some serious courts, and after a game of one-on-ten with the local eight-year-olds I saw some impressively run practices.  Now, 5 months later in my travels, returning to Oaxaca and coaching a local team for a season is still on my mind.

As a town of just 2500 habitants, Ixtlan has two of these outdoor basketball facilities.  You can tell where their values are!

As a town of just 2500 habitants, Ixtlan has two of these outdoor basketball facilities. You can tell where their values are!

A view of Ixtlan from above

A view of Ixtlan from above

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