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'To be not only better athletes but better people': Chairman Dempsey Reflects on Impact of USA Basketball

  • Author:
    Owen Kaelble, IUPUI
  • Date:
    Oct 18, 2022

Retired General Martin E. Dempsey, who was named USA Basketball chairman in 2016, spoke with reporters at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney before the USA’s quarterfinal matchup with Serbia. He touched on a wide range of topics including maintaining USA Basketball’s competitive edge to focusing on player safety to continuing to develop youth initiatives.

“You know, we’ve won seven consecutive (women’s) Olympic gold medals,” said Dempsey. “I mean, it’s almost scary. It’s scary for me as the chairman because I don’t want to be that person who (has to say) ‘Oh my God, we just lost the game.’”

So far under his leadership, Dempsey has not had to worry about that potential misfortune. Not only has the women’s team won seven straight gold medals at the Olympics, it has also now won four straight gold medals at the FIBA Women’s World Cup and have not lost a single game since 2006.

On the men’s side, the USA has won four straight Olympic titles and is currently in the process of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Men’s World Cup.

A successful competitive summer saw the USA Basketball 5-on-5 junior national teams win four gold medals and the 3x3 national teams competed all over the world, earning points, gaining experience and winning tournaments.         

While winning gold medals on the court is an integral part of USA Basketball, it is not the most important part of the process to Dempsey. The athletes on the court have a challenging schedule that includes having to balance their roles as a member of USA Basketball with their jobs, schooling, families and health and well-being. As chairman, helping the athletes with that challenge is his main priority.

“Those of us who are in leadership positions at the enterprise have got to be smart enough to get together, collaborate and make sure that we’re not asking these athletes to do more than is reasonable because they’ll do it,” said Dempsey. “As the big organizations: FIBA, the NBA, the WNBA, USA Basketball, as we work out the schedule leading up to both the World Cups and then the Olympics in Paris and beyond, we’ve got to make sure we build into that program whatever it takes to keep the athletes healthy and safe so they can have long careers.”

With a robust offering of youth and coach development opportunities, USA Basketball is active in grassroots basketball. The creation of the USA Basketball Foundation, which launched in December 2019, helps to bolster those activities. As the national governing body of the game of basketball in the USA, the goal is to set standards to protect those who are younger and be influencers for those that play an instrumental role in youth sports.

The mission extends into coaching as well. The USA Basketball Coach License and Coach Academy programs educate coaches while ensuring the safety of those with whom the coach may come in contact. All NCAA-sanctioned coaches must have a USA Basketball coach license.

“When they go through the programs, coaches are educated on how to support kids on and off the court while also completing mandatory SafeSport courses annually,” Dempsey said. “The on- and off-court educational offerings continue to evolve with the sport and are something we are very proud of.”

Related to the areas of grassroots growth and equal representation in the sport, the USAB Foundation recently announced a significant gift from the Tull Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on impacting lives in impoverished communities. Among the ways the gift will be used, a focus will be women in the game and youth development.

As a popular game around the world, basketball has a prominent role in today’s society. It is for that reason that Dempsey sees the potential impact USAB can make as so important.

“I think there’s a real place for USA basketball, and not just USA Basketball but all the governing bodies, to be really active in helping young men and women today to be not only better athletes but better people.”

Owen Kaelble and Sarah Lounsbury, who assisted with reporting, are contributors to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.

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