FAU associate basketball coach travels to Africa to teach local coaches

This month, Michael Jarvis II has coached children who prefer Nike brand sneakers. But in mid-May, he spent a day coaching children who were lucky if they even owned shoes.

These children live in an orphanage that Jarvis II, associate head coach for FAU men’s basketball, visited on a mission trip to Western Africa. He traveled to the countries of Mali and Togo with two basketball coaches from other American universities and the Miami Heat team chaplain. Staff members of Athletes in Action, a sports ministry organization, coordinated the trip.

The group volunteered in local communities at institutions like the orphanage as well as prisons. ?At the orphanage – to which the coaches brought shoes and clothing – they held a basketball clinic for the children who live there. They also held coaching clinics for local basketball coaches, including national-team coaches.

“[Coaches] there pretty much hung on every word we said. Basketball-wise, they’re probably 20 years behind,” says Mercer University’s Paul Johnson, an assistant coach who traveled with Jarvis II.

When not conducting clinics, Jarvis II visited a women’s prison. Many of the prisoners’ children resided with them as part of the prison’s effort to rehabilitate these women and prepare them to transition to life after their release from the prison.

Jarvis II also participated in a worship service at a prison populated by both Christians and Muslims.

“It was weird, but it was cool,” Jarvis II says of the Christian service held within earshot of praying Muslims. “They were sitting in their area, but they were listening.”

While Islam is a common religion in Mali and Togo, French is the official language of both countries. Yet communication was not an obstacle for Jarvis II. He was accompanied by a translator and says that many of the local people he worked with are learning English. Further, Jarvis II managed to use basketball itself to communicate with local coaches on the court.

“Basketball is a game that has one language,” he shared on his Twitter page. From the two-star hotels he stayed in, Jarvis II updated his Twitter page several times while abroad, sharing his experience with others.

Jarvis II’s ability to communicate with the local coaches contributed to his ability to adjust to their way of life.

“He’s a really good, gifted communicator. … He did great and fit right in. He adapted well,” says John Marcum, assistant women’s basketball coach at Oklahoma Baptist University and one of Jarvis II’s American traveling companions.

While Jarvis II looked forward to learning about how the people of Mali and Togo live, he still found himself surprised by their living conditions.

“It could be really nice, but it’s just dirty,” Jarvis II says of a coastal city in which he spent several days. “They don’t have any kind of infrastructure for garbage. People just throw stuff wherever. It’s unbelievable. That was the most shocking thing.”

Yet Jarvis II was also surprised by how eager they were to better themselves despite their living conditions.

“They’re thirsty for knowledge. They just want to learn as much as they can,” he says of local people he drove past on a highway. “They were sitting under the lights so they could read at night because a lot of the homes don’t have electricity. Under every street lamp there was somebody reading.”

Because of his experience in Mali and Togo, Jarvis II is eager to return to Africa and give others a similar experience abroad.

“Next year I want to go to Kenya,” he reveals, adding that he hopes to bring some of FAU’s basketball players with him next summer. “I think everybody, at some point before they graduate, should try to do a trip like this. It makes you really appreciate everything you have. It just makes you grateful.”