Beyond the Books: CR ballers playing in first-ever Jr. NBA World Tournament

    Coach Brandon Jackson brings some of the current Cedar Rapids Diplomats squad together, along with several younger kids who may be part of the team's future roster.

    With LeBron & Co. awaiting their NBA Finals opponent -- Warriors-Rockets play game 7 Monday night -- a group of Cedar Rapids youth basketball players gear up for a tournament of their own.

    The 14-and-under Cedar Rapids Diplomats is comprised of ten young teenagers from area middle schools.

    The team will participate in the first-ever Jr. NBA World Championship, a tournament designed to give young ballers an opportunity to play on a global stage for scouts to see.

    The exposure will go a long way for kids in Cedar Rapids, as community organizer Chuck Crawley is the first to admit the city doesn't attract many eyes.

    "Coach K (Duke University head men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski) [is] not coming to Washington High School," said Crawley, the vice president of Big Bang Foundation, an organization committed to creating opportunities for the youth. "This gives some kids an opportunity to be put on that world stage."

    The team will travel to Lawrence, Kansas for the Central Regional Tournament, which begins on June 8.

    Ballers like Dkhai Pope hope to showcase their skills and shine a spotlight on the city.

    "Cedar Rapids doesn't get the name around," said Pope, an eighth grader at Taft Middle School, who plans to make a name for his community and himself.

    Teammate Brayden Kindhart has a similar goal.

    "I'm trying to put this place on the map," said Kindhart, who aspires to play in the NBA. "It's a big way to get exposure and I'm kind of excited for that."

    Coach Brandon Jackson said the team has only played together for a few months, and expects the competition -- many teams have played together for years -- to be strong.

    Ultimately though, Jackson has faith in his squad, describing the group as "special."

    "Even if we go out there and lose every game, it's still a win," said Jackson. "These kids -- they're more exposed to drugs, violence, and to actually have a hand in helping them, it's gonna bring the community together."

    If the Cedar Rapids Diplomats win the Central Regional Tournament, the team will then travel to Disney, where they will play in a 16-team tournament featuring top talent from across the country and world.

    Click here to donate to assist with travel costs for the team's families.

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