By Mike Max

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (WCCO) — Every Final Four has to have a signature place or two inside the city that people want to see, a landmark. Here in San Antonio it’s rather easy — it’s the Alamo.

People pause and remember what was and what was fought on this soil. It’s amazing — many times sports bridges us, brings different cultures together. That’s the idea behind the NBA Academy. Different places throughout the world where they’re trying to develop basketball players ages 14-17.

They’ve brought them all here to the Final Four for an opportunity to compete and an opportunity for us that have never see them before to get a look.

This is more than the Final Four. It’s taken on quite an international flavor. Tall teenagers from all around the world, ages 14 to 17. They’re here.

They are sponsored by the NBA and live in various academies in different countries, schooled by NBA-trained coaches.

“We’ve been able to identify local coaches and local officials in markets all over the world that tell us about up and coming talent,” Brooks Meek said.

Meek helps run it. It will be in Minnesota next year. A chance to see what the rest of the world looks like at the high school level.

“On Sunday, which is between the semifinal games and the final games, our academies play exhibition games that are open to the public,” Meek said. “So any fan in Minneapolis that wants to come out and hopefully see the next Gorgui Dieng, they would have the opportunity to come and see these academies play.”

Meek knows that this can work. He’s very close to the Timberwolves’ Dieng, who came to his program a raw and gifted athlete.

“When I first met Gorgui, he didn’t speak a word of English. But he was able to come up to me after a session of training and be able to come up to me and in broken English say, ‘I’m going to play in the NBA,'” Meek said. “And that’s always stuck with me because Gorgui’s drive and determination is what makes him what a special, special person and a special basketball player that he is.”

So next year you will see people that look like this: young, very tall and hoping to springboard to the U.S. one day to play basketball. It’s an eye-popping visual.

“We’ve really done our homework and yeah it’s new and we’re going to learn things that work and some things that won’t work,” Meek said. “But I think the most important thing that we’re trying to do is really just be a positive impact on the development of the game.”

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