It's a long journey to the dream of playing professional basketball.

From youth basketball to high school star at Germantown Academy to Villanova University, Alvin Williams made it and went on to play nearly a decade in the NBA.

So two Saturdays ago, when Williams directed a life-skills session for several hundred youth players during the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Jr. NBA World Championships at the Competitive Edge training complex in King of Prussia, he did not talk to them about the minuscule odds for anyone attempting to follow his path.

Kids need to dream, and Williams knows from experience how far one can carry you.

What Williams did emphasize, however, was to also be realistic. He wanted them to understand that, even if the path does not lead to a professional career, basketball can better your life and your chances of success in many ways.

"Even when I was a kid, people would tell me to use basketball and don't let basketball use you," said Williams, who now works as a pro personnel scout for the Sixers. "There is so much this game can do for you.

"They have to be taught those proper life skills, though. Even if they make it to become professionals, a lot of them come in without the proper skills to deal with living the life of an NBA player or an NFL player.

"You have guys who are coming into the NBA that are 18 and 19, but many haven't learned those things, and by then it's too late to teach them, and they are on their own.

"If we are going to sign players who are younger and younger, [and]  recruit them, we must teach them those things at earlier ages. It's our job and our obligation."

The NBA has not been the best parent. Without question, the Association is extremely active in community service and growing the game internationally. The jr. NBA, which is aimed at boys and girls ages 6-14, has helped grow the sport in more than 70 countries.

Still, in America, people didn't think NBA when they thought about youth basketball, which is more associated with AAU basketball, which some will argue has hurt the game as much as, or more than, it has helped it.

Alongside USA Basketball, the NBA had developed guidelines, standards and core values for youth players, coaches and fans, but it wasn't doing a good job of getting its message out there.

That was the reasoning behind the Jr. World Championship, which will bring eight regional champions from the United States and eight teams from around the world to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., in August for the championship tournament.

It was the shining light to draw kids in. Then the messages could be delivered.

A player dunks during a game at the jr. NBA World Championship Mid-Atlantic qualifier tournament in King of Prussia.
NBA Entertainment
A player dunks during a game at the jr. NBA World Championship Mid-Atlantic qualifier tournament in King of Prussia.

"You've heard [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] say the NBA needed to be more involved in youth and grass-roots basketball," said David Krichavsky, NBA vice president of youth basketball development. "What the Jr. NBA World Championships has allowed us to do is to unify and elevate all this programming with one prominent event that really reflects our values.

"We designed a tournament to reflect our core values – respect, determination and community. It's a tournament designed around player health and wellness based on our guidelines with USA Basketball. Life skills education is also a prominent part of the tournament experience.

"We really just set out to create what we think is a best-in-class model for a youth basketball event. We are pleased with the results so far."

How the World Championships develops and grows is still to be determined. Still, with today's youth players destined to be tomorrow's NBA and WNBA players, the league is determined to keep its footprint.

"We recognize the influence of the NBA brand on all kids and especially those that play our sport," Krichavsky said. "We think the Jr. NBA World Championship is giving kids in the USA and across the world the opportunity to play the right way and get oriented around our core values. We think there is a real long-term growth opportunity with it."

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