Monthly Archives: July 2014

Kazakhstan Blog Post # 4

Drive Girl’s Camp


This week was very special for both Chris and I. We helped Drive with one of, if not the first all girls basketball camp in the country of Kazakhstan. 22 girls camp for the 5 day camp and it was an awesome experience.  We started camp on Tuesday, July 15th and went through Saturday, July 19th, 9am to 5:30pm each day. By the end of the week, we were all exhausted but both Chris and I agree it was one of the most rewarding experiences we have had as coaches.

American coaches here for the summer - Cal, Meg, Chris, & Rico

American coaches here for the summer – Cal, Meg, Chris, & Rico

Stretching in the morning

Stretching in the morning with Coach Rico


Coach Meg with some impressive ups

Coach Meg with some impressive ups

Each day of camp, we had a theme that we would discuss and emphasize with the girls: team, discipline, responsibility, sacrifice, and integrity. We used the ideas behind each word to run drills and teach the girls how to shoot, rebound, pass, and dribble. This is a signature of the Drive camps and each participant gets a notebook to take notes and reflect on things he or she has learned. We also give them time throughout the day to sit and ask questions and write in the notebooks. They love it. It is a great way to communicate with girls and teach them a little English as well. For example, we give them a phrase (in English) to recite or act out to go long with each phrase, such as “together everyone achieves more” or “giving my everything for the good of the team”.

Below is a link of the girls doing some “Coach Says” with Coach D.

“Coach Says…”

Reflection time and getting tshirts!

Reflection time and getting tshirts!

Lunch time!

Lunch time!

Some girls spoke only Russian. Some spoke only Kazakh. Some spoke both, while others spoke English as well. We had 2 American girls tool, who are here with their families whom are working in Kazakhstan. It was a small but very diverse group of young ladies. Their skill levels were impressive as well. Even those girls that may not have been very athletic or lacked basketball knowledge, put in 100% of their effort and listened to EVERYTHING we said, even if they didn’t understand.

Coach Chris with his dribble goggles

Coach Chris with his dribble goggles

Girls with their dribble goggles

Girls with their dribble goggles


Below is a link to a quick video of Chris doing some dribble drills with the dribble goggles. The girls thought they were great.

Dribbling with Coach Chris

As you can imagine, but the end of the week, we had all become very close with these girls. They wanted picture, after picture, after picture with us. Saturday was just a giant selfie party. They even got all of your “autographs”. It was great.

I wasn't many pictures

I wasn’t lying…so many pictures

The last day was really special and it was obvious that we all felt very connected. A few coaches also came to the camp with their girls and they were awesome as well. One of the teams brought all the coaches chocolate and they even brought us a cake! I got 22 hugs and if that doesn’t make your day brighter, I don’t know what does. The love and enthusiasm for us was overwhelming and very humbling.





The back of our super cool pink tshirts

The back of our super cool pink tshirts

Both Chris and I agreed on one of our favorite and touching moments of camp. There was a girl who we all nicknamed “Allen Iverson”. Malika was the shortest and the youngest girl at camp, but was a little burt of energy. She also spoke no Russian and no English. She spoke only Kazakh, which none of us speak or understand. This girl set some of the hardest screens I’ve seen for a girl her size and was just fearless on the basketball court. She was always smiling and even though she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her, she tried harder than anyone. We spent our last few minutes together giving each other words of encouragement. Basically the coaches and players can thank certain individuals or point moments when certain people did something above and beyond. So this little girl raised her hand and stood up to speak to the entire group. We all listened very intently as she spoke softly in Kazakh and one of the older girls translated for all of us. She started to cry. She had stood up to tell us that before coming to camp, she told her coach she was quitting basketball. It wasn’t fun for her anymore and she didn’t think she was any good. Her coach encouraged her to come to camp and she was glad she did because now she loved basketball and felt like she could be good at something and she wanted to thank all of us for helping her love basketball. Many of us were teary eyed. It was a great moment. Malika proves that our time here is well spent.

Malika in the bottom right

Malika in the bottom right


The girls and some of the coaches


The last week of July is our Drive open camp, which is mostly guys. We can only hope that it is as awesome as it was to work this lovely group of young ladies.


Kazakhstan Blog Post # 3

Summer Jam 

Our 3v3 tournament advertisement

Our 3v3 tournament advertisement

The highlight of Drive’s year cultivates over a four day period, from Thursday to Sunday and it involves over 300 participants. Summer Jam is Almaty’s signature 3 v 3 tournament, and we are the primary sponsor as well as organizers. Planning for this event started long before Meg and I arrived, but from Day 1 we’ve had a hand in putting it together. To save money on shipping, Damian asked Meg to bring over a bag full of T-shirts, which will be handed out to every participant in Summer Jam. Using a massive duffle bag, Meg carried 70lbs of shirts, along with all her personal belongings, across the Atlantic. With all the preparation and work that went into this event, it is needless to say that us Drivers are excited for it to get under way.

Getting the shirts ready!

Getting the shirts ready!


Yellow shirts for the winners

Lots of folding going on

Lots of folding going on


Thursday and Friday, 10-11 July


Drive logo painted on the court

Drive logo painted on the court

Putting up banners

Putting up banners

We arrive at Gorky Park, home of the Summer Jam tournament, at 8AM. The games for the junior girls and boys are set to start at 10AM. Gorky Park is a public park with many hundreds of vendors renting space. It looks more like an pseudo amusement park, and in fact, they have water park and some rides.

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Last year, Drive made an agreement with the park to redo the court and gained permission to add logos and advertisement on and around the court. Damian has had a hand in organizing the tournament for nearly a decade now, and as the motto goes, Summer Jam is “a 3v3 tournament for basketball players by basketball players.”


Two tents go up, tables are set, chairs are put in their place, scoreboards are taken out, extra courts are painted (actually done Tuesday), 500lb Spaulding frames are dragged out from storage and painstakingly put together, the court is power washed, and our Drive banners are hung all over. We start a bit late (as with everything that happens here!) but excitement is in the air and kids are having a blast, and that’s all we could ask for. Red Bull came to the kid’s portion of the tournament to DJ and play music for the games. We all had fun getting inside the car.

The Red Bull car

The Red Bull car

Calvin, Aidyn, and Rico

Calvin, Aidyn, and Rico

The first two days are for 3 divisions: 11-13 boys, 13-17 boys, and 13-17 girls. It’s hot out, but the nice thing about this tournament compared to the one at ADK is its not in the middle of a parking lot. There are trees everywhere and other things to do than just watch games. We have one Drive boys team entered, in the 11-13 division, but the three kids are ages 11, 10, and 9. Unforunately due to puberty and an opposing player who was arguably the Danny Almante of Summer Jam, they didn’t fair too well.

Chris filling out the brackets

Chris filling out the brackets



After the first day, I gave Chris a hair cut. Needless to say, it took about an hour to buzz his head with the first pair of clippers every made. Just kidding, but really, it took forever.




Saturday and Sunday, 12-13 July

 It’s Day 3, and after spending two straight days at park watching game after game, I readily admit that I’m beat. However, it’s time for the Men’s and Women’s divisions to start so once games got going, it was easy to find energy and excitement for the weekend ahead.

It’s probably best to leave the pictures and videos do the talking, but by the end of Sunday, our women’s team made the semifinals and our guy’s team, which consisted of Damian, Rico, Zhomart, and Chris, won the tournament! Below, please see the link if you’re interested seeing pictures and videos from the day.

Meg's 3rd place team

Meg’s 3rd place team

Chris's 1st place team

Chris’s 1st place team





Below is a link for a short clip of one of Chris’s games.

Summer Jam Game Clip

The atmosphere of the men’s championship game was very cool. The women’s championship was similar, but not as many people.




Sunday Night, 13 July

While the tournament was a blast and was a wild success, the event following Summer Jam almost trumped the four-day extravaganza. As an organization, all Drivers went to Club Karaoke. With a four-hour reservation, we spent the night in a private room with a giant screen and speakers for karaoke, along with about a dozen pizzas. I’ll let the pictures give you a visual.



Click the link below for some video of Chris flexing the golden pipes.

Karaoke Clip


Other Observations and Notes

  • Saw two motorcycles on the highway the other day, one behind the other. No big deal right? Until you realize the guy in back had a rope tied around the guy in front and was getting pulled while his bike was off. Presumably, he had some mechanical difficulties.
  • Got a free taxi ride the other day – guy instantly called his friend, and most likely the only that could speak English, so he could talk to us. Put him on speaker, when our friend Calvin yells into the phone, “MINYA ZAVUT CALVIN! (My name is Calvin!).” Our new friend’s friend responds softly and quietly, “Hi Calvin”. Maybe it was a you-had-to-be-there moment, but I’ll sum it up this way: The conversation didn’t exactly break the stereotype that Americans are loud and attention-seeking extroverts.
  • Hosting literally the first girls only camp ever in Kazakhstan this week. Revolutionary and should be a tremendous experience. We have kids coming from all over and even as far as Astana (a 20 hour bus ride). More to come on this!

IMG_1617More to come soon!

Kazakhstan Blog Post #2

We have been here in Kazakhstan now for about three weeks. Both Chris and I are feeling more comfortable getting around and although our Russian is minimal and down right terrible, we’re both jumping right in and trying our best to communicate with people. The kids at camp love when we try to speak with them in Russian. They laugh at us when we try but are always so helpful in correcting our mistakes. As June comes to an end, the Drive spring camp is ending and we have just about a week before things get crazy with daily basketball camp all day, everyday. July is going to be a crazy busy month, so it is been nice to have a little free time this week. The calm before the storm.


Tuesday, June 22, 2014

For the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays we will be going to work with kids at a summer English camp. It is an all day, 1-month camp, focused on teaching the kids how to speak English. We will be running our own English camp at the end of July called English in Action. Our participation in the camp this week was an advertisement for our own camp and another way for us to connect with the community. We played games with the kids, such as kickball, freeze tag, basketball, soccer, all while encouraging them to speak English while playing. Using games and sport is a great way for us to connect with kids and teach them easy phrases that they can hold on to.

For example, we discussed the word “team” with the kids, the words definition, what it meant while playing sports, and gave them easy ways to remember the word like, “Together Every Achieves More” and “Together Every Athlete Matters”. They are all like little sponges and just are full of questions for us about America. The kids also love to teach us Russian words and phrases.


Thursday, June 24, 2014

Today at practice, a boy brought a kitten he happened to find on the street. Lots of stray cats and dogs here. The Russian for cat is “koshka”. Anyone who knows Chris knows how he feels about kittens. The little thing stole his attention for sure.

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Saturday, June 26, 2014

Today was the last day of Drive Street, the spring camp for kids that we have been doing three days a week. It was a game and competition day, so we played basketball games like dribble tag, knock out, and hot shot. Chris and I, as well as the other coaches jumped in a played too so that was a lot of fun. Basketball is not on the level that it is in the United States here in Kazakhstan but the kids that come to camp just love it and you can tell how much they just want to play. There are some gym rats here for sure. It has been pretty awesome to share in our love of this sport with kids in a place where basketball is just developing and become a tool for reaching kids and communities in a positive, fun environment. They are all so thankful to have us here and it is very humbling.

Doing ladder drills at practice

Doing ladder drills at practice

It has been cool for me as well to get a chance to play with the girls that come to camp. On average, there are about 25-30 kids that show up each day for camp and of those kids, there are usually 1-3 girls. Having been one of the only girls playing pick up with the boys when I was growing up, it’s been great for me to play and talk with these girls (they happen to speak English!) and encourage them to keep doing what they are going, as it will only make them better basketball players.


Sunday, June 29 2014

Today, Chris and four other Drive coaches were invited to play flag football at nearby school. It was about 20 minutes outside the city of Almaty. It rained on us a bit but the view was beautiful. It was nice to get out of the city and see more of Kazakhstan and see a different view of the mountains.


Chris playing flag football


Mountains and rain in the distinct



Monday, June 30

Another American joined us this weekend for the summer. Rico played basketball at the University of South Carolina Aiken and this is actually his second trip to Kazakhstan. He is a great player and coach and it’s been great to add another young person to our group. Rico, Chris, and a few other guy coaches started Drive Pro this week. This camp is a 3-week camp, 3 days a week, for guys who want personal coaching and training. It’s targeted at high school/college-age guys. It is more focused and intense than the camps for the young kids. Unfortunately, there is not a strong enough interest to have girls involved, but hopefully that will change.


Chris & Rico at Drive Pro


Chris coaching at Drive Pro



Tuesday, July 1, 2014


 We had our second to last day of English camp today. The last 20 minutes of our time with the kids are free play. We give them the choice of playing basketball or soccer. A small group of girls asked if they could play with me on one of the side hoops. They wanted to just shoot and talk with me. One of the girls who is 11 years old recently visited Texas. I asked her what she thought about the United States. She thought for a moment and then said, “Everyone is so happy there. They don’t fight and have nothing to worry about.” It surprised me and I didn’t expect her to say something like that. It made really stop and think about not only where I come from, but also the girl’s perspective. There is always something to be thankful for.

Putting kids in group at English camp

Putting kids in group at English camp


Thursday, July 2, 2014

I have been staying with a lovely family outside the city, but this week I was able to move into an apartment right in Almaty with one of the female coaches. Her name is Luda and she Drive Chief Administrator. She played basketball at the both the university and professional level in Kazakhstan and has worked with underprivileged kids in orphanages and villages throughout Almaty. We are the same age and it has been awesome to get to know her. And she speaks better English than I do, so that is very helpful!

Luda and I

Luda and I


Night time view from my room


Day time view from the kitchen



Bathroom Talk 

As most people know, I am a nurse. It takes a lot to bother me when it comes to bodily functions and as anyone who has a nurse in their lives knows, I am not afraid to talk about it. I thought I would share some differences in bathroom etiquette here in Kazakhstan. Here it goes.

This is a “squatty potty”. Not all public places have public bathroom here. In some cases, you may even have to pay not only to use the potty, but for some toilet paper. It is not always provide. Just because there may be a toilet or a squatty potty, does not mean there is toilet paper. Also, no flushing that paper! It goes in the trash.

Squatty Potty

Squatty Potty

This squatty potty is at the gym where we have had practices for the last two weeks. Some of us found out the bathroom differences the hard way. I won’t name names, but we all carry some TP in our bags now.


More to come soon!