There's a lot more to the NBA offseason than just free agency. While reports and rumors continue to swirl Stateside about which team Greg Monroe will be playing for next season, the Pistons big man is participating in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Africa program. Monroe and several other NBA players are spending time in Africa this summer trying to help those less fortunate, while also holding camps and clinics to teach youngsters about basketball.
The NBA's outreach in Africa dates back to 1993 when former commissioner David Stern and a group of players, led by Dikembe Mutombo, held clinics around the continent and had a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela. Since then, the game's popularity has continued to grow on the continent. Last season, NBA games were shown in 55 African countries, and seven African players were on NBA rosters last year. The league opened its first office in Africa in the spring of 2010 and has announced it will hold its first-ever exhibition game featuring NBA players in Africa next summer, with the proceeds going to charity.
The Basketball without Borders Africa camp has hosted nearly 1,000 campers since 2003 and has produced plenty of NBA talent, including 76ers rookie Joel Embiid, who was selected No. 3 in the 2014 draft.
With the camp underway in Africa, Monroe caught up with SI.com to discuss the eye-opening experiences he's encountered on this trip.
SI.com: Tell us a little bit about the Basketball Without Borders Africa trip you're currently on. What type of work are you doing in South Africa?
Greg Monroe: We've been touring around, seeing different sights and trying to help people less privileged here. We're holding the BWB camp that features lot of young players from all over Africa. They are doing drills, basic clinic workouts and everything in between. We have a scrimmage the first day and then we let the coaches evaluate the players and pick teams from there. Eventually, we have a championship game and an All-Star game. It's a pretty great program.
SI.com: What are some of the things you've learned about the area that you didn't know before?
Monroe: Many homes are totally different here. There's a mother in every house, which usually consists of 6-8 children who were sent there. It's a lot of different circumstances, deaths in the family or abandoned [sic] … Those kids stay there in the house with their mother and those mothers take care of them as if they're their own child. It creates a great environment. Even though the circumstances aren't the best, they are in a safe place, and these kids get an actual mother. The whole village is right there and they get to play with a lot of the other kids. It's a unique situation, and I'm proud to say the NBA is out here helping, and I really respect them doing it.
SI.com: Do all of the kids want to be a basketball player like you?
Monroe: The great thing is they want to do things to help where they come from. The kids wants to help the community and become doctors or policemen. They are very aware of the violence and poverty in the area and want to help out.
SI.com: This is your first trip to Africa. What's it like being there for the first time?
Monroe: It's a very humbling experience. A lot of things we take for granted over in America people don't have access to over here. One thing that was surprising to me … I was talking basketball with one of the coaches the other day, and they mentioned that this camp is probably the first time any of these kids have ever played on a hardwood court. Or been on an airplane. In America, you can't drive 10 minutes without passing a court. There are so many things we take for granted here. This definitely reminds you.
SI.com: You're a former Georgetown Hoya like Dikembe Mutombo, who has been leading this trip. What's it like working with Dikembe?
Monroe: He's amazing. He supports and represents the whole continent, not just his native country (Democratic Republic of Congo), but all of Africa. He's the global ambassador of the NBA now, and he knows that when he comes here, his goal is to put a smile on people's faces. He's grown up here, he knows the struggles, he knows how hard it is, he can relate directly with these kids. To come here and see him give back is just really inspiring.
SI.com: How can the game of basketball impact Africa?
Monroe: It's a vehicle to reach your dreams. It also serves as somewhat of a distraction during the hard times. These kids enjoy it, and it's something positive. They could be doing something else with their time, but they choose to play the game and work at it.
SI.com: Is basketball the biggest sport in the area?
Monroe: Not even close. It's football -- or soccer here in the States.
SI.com: You're on the trip with Tobias Harris, Amir Johnson, Terrence Jones, Bismack Biyombo and Roger Mason Jr. What's it been like to get to know those guys?
Monroe: It has been great. We really didn't know each other very well before, but it's fun to spend time with them and talk to them about different things. Some of the things they see are different from what I'm seeing since we split up during the trip. It's great to be out here with your fellow NBA brothers.
SI.com: Has this trip inspired you do to do more charity work in the future?
Monroe: Definitely. My mind has been racing here. I've thought of doing things to help back home and over here. You see what it's like over here, and it opens your eyes. The NBA has done a great job of giving back, and they set a great standard.
SI.com: Obviously, the Ebola virus has been dominating headlines around the globe. What's it like being in Africa right now as this goes on?
Monroe: You know, the NBA has done a great job of keeping us very safe and making sure we take all the precautions. Everyone is definitely aware of the danger, but things have been just fine.
SI.com: You're still a restricted free agent, and it's still up in the air on what team you'll be on next year. How much has that been on your mind during this trip?
Monroe: Not very much, to be honest. It's been great to get out here, relax, clear my mind and take this new experience in. I don't listen to all of the reports and rumors -- I'm just enjoying the fresh air.
SI.com: When do you expect to sort out your contract? When you head back to the U.S., is that priority No. 1?
Monroe: I'm heading back Saturday. We're still trying to sort things out. I'm really not sure what is going to happen, I've just enjoyed my time here, and it's been nice to get away and do something positive with my time.
Fore more on NBA Cares and the Basketball without Borders camp, check out NBA.com.
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On Friday's SI Now, Sports Illustrated senior writer Lee Jenkins and NBA producer Matt Dollinger discuss the fact that Greg Monroe might not have played his hand properly and why he is not getting the offers he deserves.