By Peter Gobis, The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Everywhere Joe Farroba drives now across the Caribbean island of Anguilla, he spots an Anguilla Basketball Camp or Bridgewater State Basketball T-shirt on some kid and a smile beams from his face.
"Over the last six years, we've had over 500 kids attend the camp; basketball has become a big thing," said Farroba, the North Attleboro resident who has been coaching the men's basketball team at Bridgewater State for nearly three decades now.
Sponsored by the Anguilla Department of Sports, the Joe Farroba Anguilla Basketball Camp has become an annual summer tradition for boys and girls ages 8-17.
"The people are very supportive, very receptive," said Farroba, returning from the seventh annual, week-long camp, where he had Oliver Ames High boys' hoop coach Don Byron among his staff of clinicians.
"There are some very good players, some very athletic kids — some of those kids can jump out of the building," Farroba said. "Because it's a British colony, these kids have become so enamored of basketball.
"Many of the kids down there graduate and then continue their educations in England. So for those kids who want to continue to play basketball, either there or in the United States, that's the way to go for them."
The camp was conceived nearly two decades ago when Farroba and his wife Linda were visiting one of his childhood friends from Provincetown, the late Mark Silva. "He had an off-season home there, so we'd go and got to meet some people there, one of which was Lou Price, the director of the JC Recreational Center in South Hill."
After a while, Farroba was preaching to Price on the value of athletics in the education and physical development for boys and girls. Farroba began his coaching career at Medfield High in 1978 then became an assistant coach at Bridgewater State in 1986 and head coach in 1992.
Before long, some of the other members of the JC Recreational staff — Ben Perez, Rollins Richardson, Ian Tucker, Clyde Hughes, Delano Mussington and Jaine Rogers — all began to think of what a wonderful camp it would be for Anguillan youth.
For the first few years, Farroba and his stateside staff — including Mike Byron, via Oliver Ames and WPI, and current BSU assistant Brian Ferris — would pay their own expenses for accommodations and food.
Farroba also enlisted the aid of several of his equipment vendors to donate basketballs and assist with the shipping of goods to the island.
"We have a good-sized staff, we like to keep the ratio at 8-to-1 for the kids," said Farroba, who conducts the daylong camp in much the same fashion as his own camp at BSU — warmup exercises and conditioning drills followed the basic skill stations of dribbling, passing and shooting.
"With the younger kids, we'll do a lot of one-on-one drills or two-on-two or three-on-three to help them get a better feel for the game," Farroba said. "With the older kids, we'll play five-on-five.
"It's very much a grassroots camp. We're teaching them the basics, the fundamentals. These kids are living the dream — everyone wants to play Division I basketball and this is a way for them to get to the (United) States.
"We tell the kids, too, that they can continue their educations and play basketball in England and go on to play in European (pro) leagues. It's a lot of fun, the kids are so appreciative."
Virtually every year, there is a 50 percent return of campers from the previous year. Some of those kids have gone on to play in the U.S., including legendary cricketer Omari Banks (Duke) and Mikiah Harrington (South Carolina), an original camper in 2012 and member of the Gamecocks' NCAA Division I national championship team.
Cardigan Connor, the Parliamentary Secretary for Sports and Tourism in Anguilla, and Katrina Davis, the Deputy Director of Sports, partake in the camp closing ceremonies.
"A few of these kids have gone on to play in Division I, II or III or junior colleges in the U.S.," Farroba said. "Even though the sports there are primarily cricket, soccer and track, you can see more kids thinking about basketball.
"Everywhere you go now around the island, you see hoops."
The bad news was that a hurricane ripped the JC Recreation Center to shreds last year, so the Anguilla Basketball Camp found a new home at a comprehensive school centrally located in The Valley.
"The facility that we have is not very large. It's like a Hockomock YMCA gym, but we're indoors for the first time," Farroba said.
The JC Recreation Center was an outdoor facility with a roof. Now too, businesses from around the island have shown their support with donations to help underwrite expenses.
"Without a doubt, I've spent a significant amount of my own money to get the camp going," Farroba said. "The hurricane set everything back a bit too, so we had to find another site for the camp. It's been a collaborative effort — the Department of Sport get us some housing, the transportation, they have restaurants donate meals for the kids and us.
"We'd pay our own way down there, pay for our meals. We'd bring down basketballs and T-shirts. But the way that I look at it, the game of basketball has given so much to me, I'm giving back to the game," Farroba said.
A 1971 graduate from Provincetown High, Farroba was a three-sport star there and went on to Boston State College to play basketball for then coach and former Boston Celtics great Jim Loscutoff.
He eventually played a fifth year of collegiate basketball at McGill University in Montreal and really began to expand his basketball community when the team took trips to Czechoslovakia, Greece and Israel.
Because Anguilla is a member of the international basketball community, the game is played by international rules. The 3-point shot line, the foul lane and the interpretation of rules are a bit different than the American version.
"Now we're doing coaching clinics and officiating clinics too, so that the people down there can continue to promote and teach the game," Farroba said. "We're bringing in a lot of the youth coaches to show them how to run practices, how to officiate games."
Farroba owes a lot of the camp's success to the Government of Anguilla, the Sports Ministry and the locals for making it happen for seven years now.
"It's been a good thing, we've made some great friendships, some lasting friendships," Farroba said.
Though he has yet to be crowned an "exalted ruler" by the Sports Ministry or been selected as "king" of the annual Anguillan Carnival, those days might be coming soon.
"I like dealing with kids at this level as much as I do dealing with the college kids," said Farroba, a four-time MASCAC Coach of the Year with 10 post-season tournament appearances. "We do this, we play, for the love the game.
"It all started with me vacationing down there. You get to know some people and the camp just took off. Now, it's funny, everywhere I go now, I see kids with our T-shirts or people come up and say, 'Coach, how's it going? How you doing?'
"Basketball has been a wonderful game for me. This camp is just another way for me to say thanks."