Spotlight on Barry Hecker and the SEED Project
By Sarah Almond | email@example.com
Murray - After retiring from a 21-year-long career working in the NBA, Murray resident Barry Hecker didn’t know what his life in retirement would hold. Though he planned on pursuing his passion of teaching children how to play basketball, he had no idea his years following a lifetime of coaching professional players would hold more adventures than he could ever imagine.
Hecker first moved to Utah in 1975 after being hired as head coach for the men’s basketball team at Westminster College. The Washington D.C. native worked for two years (1984-86) as the player personnel director for the Cleveland Cavaliers before spending 16 seasons (1986-98, 2001-05) with the Los Angeles Clippers. He stayed with the Clippers as director of scouting for eight more years (1986-94) before transitioning to the team’s assistant coach position for four seasons (1994-98).
Hecker returned to the Clippers doubling as both the assistant coach and the club’s director of scouting (2001-05). During his absence from the Clippers (1999-01), Hecker served as the interim head coach, assistant coach and player personnel director for the Las Vegas Bandits, a team in the International Basketball League.
It was during his time with the Clippers that Hecker crossed paths with Amadou Gallo Fall, scouting director for the Dallas Mavericks.
Fall’s journey began in the late 1980s when a Peace Corps member in his home country of Senegal, Africa, helped him get a basketball scholarship to the University of the District of Columbia. After graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, Fall worked for the Senegalese Basketball Federation (SBF) before being hired on as the director of player personnel and vice president of international affairs for the Dallas Mavericks.
It was during his time with the SBF that Fall had the idea to launch what would be a monumental game-changer in international basketball history. After mentoring Senegalese players and working tirelessly to enhance their opportunities for a greater education, Fall founded Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal, or SEED, in 2002.
The SEED Academy in Dakar, Senegal, now hosts 40 young players, providing them with a boarding-school-like atmosphere. Here, in the small town of Thiès, about 40 miles from the city, teenage boys and girls undergo rigorous academic teaching and thorough basketball training, as well as English classes and leadership development instruction, with the hopes of receiving a full-ride scholarship to one of the United States’ top universities.
The ultimate goal of the SEED Academy is to provide young Senegalese players with abilities and opportunities to earn an exceptional education. Backed with a great education, these boys and girls will have a greater opportunity to attend college, play NCAA basketball and potentially get a shot at playing in the NBA and WNBA.
“Amadou would come back from overseas talking about this program, and we started talking and just became real good friends,” Hecker said. “He’s always had it in his mind that he wanted to help other kids get over here – just like someone helped him.”
Before being hired as the assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, Hecker joined Fall on a trip to Senegal.
“It was really neat,” Hecker said. “You know, I was working with the players and working with the coaches to show them what I think is important. I made them coaching notebooks and they were just real appreciative of everything.”
Since retiring from the NBA in 2013, Hecker kept in touch with Fall and all that was happening at the SEED Academy.
“Right now I help coach ninth-grade basketball at Murray,” Hecker said. “You know, I go fishing, I ski a little bit and try to stay busy, but helping out over there [Senegal] was just really fun.”
Unable to resist his passion for the game and his enthusiasm for finding great players, Hecker returned to Thiès on Jan. 13 for a two-week stay at the SEED Academy.
“The people in Senegal are really, really nice people,” Hecker said. “More than anything, they are so appreciative and are really grateful; to me, that is a highlight of the trip.”
Hecker plans to return to Senegal and the SEED Academy in spring 2016.
For more information on the SEED Project, check out the ESPN documentary “Elevate” and visit www.seedproject.org.