Basketball’s inclusive philosophy can help guide youngsters from all backgrounds through the continuing stresses on their mental health and physical well-being, according to Leicester Riders forward Mo Walker.
As the Riders prepare for their upcoming Basketball Champions League qualifier ties in North Macedonia, the club’s charitable foundation continues work to engage the local community, providing support for social change.
After helping the Riders to domestic success last season in the British Basketball League Championship and play-offs, as well as the BBL Cup, Canadian-born Walker is determined to also make a difference off the court.
Walker is collaborating with the Riders Foundation team to write and develop a mentoring programme to take into schools and community groups, working alongside Leicester City Police to engage and support young people.
“It is just about giving back,” said the 6ft 10ins power forward, who graduated from the University of Minnesota then had spells playing around Europe in Latvia, Italy and France as well as with the Worcester Wolves.
“I have been through a lot in my career, with a lot of ups and downs, have gained a lot of not only basketball experience, but of life as well.
“I just want to share that, to pass that to the youth and maybe help them overcome some things a lot easier than what I had to go through.
“A lot of kids don’t really get the opportunity to see someone like me up close and personal, so to have that interaction, for them to see someone successful in front of them, adds hope for them and makes them believe they can be successful also.”
Walker, 30, added: “It is about giving them teaching points they can learn off and take with them going forward – like with nutrition, how to take care of their bodies, mental health is another big one, dealing with stress and ways to overcome that.
“With things like social media, that can add a lot more stress for kids – they are looking at it all day and are maybe doubting themselves, there is a lot of cyber-bulling going on. It is just an added challenge for kids nowadays.
“Also, it is about dealing with different people and personalities, because you do not always get on with everyone you go to school with or work with. It is just about getting ways to avoid any negative interactions.
“To have a person from the Riders, which is a great club, step out and do the school visits in itself is going to attract more kids to be interested in the sport and maybe start playing the sport, so ultimately be more active and healthy.”
The Riders face Romania outfit CSO Voluntari in their opening fixture on Wednesday in Skopje, which hosts one of the four qualification round tournaments. The eventual winners of each event will join 28 other teams for the regular season of the prestigious FIBA competition.
“We are going to be playing some tough teams and it is going to be a new environment for pretty much all of us,” Walker said.
“It will be a learning experience and hopefully we can be successful. The roster is shaping up pretty good. We have had time together (in pre-season), so the chemistry is already there.”