… From Kwakwani to Georgetown to Caribbean history
By Ras Wadada
ON the last ‘Boxing Day’ of the 20th century – historic in its own right – in the ‘mining-logging’ community of Kwakwani, a very special child was born at the hospital.
On that Sunday morning at about seven hours, 17-year-old Vishawn Hopkinson gave birth to her first offspring – a healthy bouncing 9-pound 6-ounce baby boy – in the presence of his dad, Stanton Rose (Senior).
“The joy in the room was overwhelming because I got my wish of a boy,” a still happy Hopkinson recalled.
Rose Jr would, 18 years later, bring greater joy to his parents, community and country, when he captained and inspired the nation to their first-ever senior men’s Caribbean Basketball Championship.
From his very early childhood Rose Jr fell in love with the sport of basketball and by the tender age of twelve he was on the court, rubbing shoulders with the much bigger and older men of the community.
Kwakwani, a small peaceful village on the east bank of the Berbice River and most southern to the more vibrant town of Linden is approximately 130 miles from the capital City of Georgetown.
“I first got attracted to the game when I was about nine years old, but did not start to play and get to understand the game until about three years after. The influence came from watching the game on TV and also going out with my mom to watch my Dad play in the community in the afternoons.
“Those games were intense, but what aroused more interest in me was how the game brought the community together,” Rose Jr related in an exclusive interview with Chronicle Sport recently.
“I never had any interest in any other sport while growing up, though I played a little cricket for fun. Our community is a very small one and very peaceful and where I grew up was adjacent to the ghetto area, but I was preoccupied with my passion for basketball so there was no time to be involved in the ills that go with growing up.
“I also had access to two of my dad’s DVDs and I watched them repeatedly – one on the fundamentals of the game and the other was the 100 Greatest Players,” he intimated.
“I was like 12 years when I started playing with the senior team of the community, just training though. I never played in the games as those guys were way ahead of me in terms of technical skills, size and age.
“Nevertheless I had the mentality to ‘never back down’ and as months went by, then years I gradually got to their level. I had a love for the game to the point of being fearless so anyone who stepped in front of me, I always told myself that I can dominate them. It was very challenging at first.
“It was rough growing up, to be honest. Like some people, on some days, there was no food, but my Mom and my Grandma would always say that one day everything is going to be alright, just stay focussed on your school work.
“They would constantly remind me that there are persons in worse situations. I think what motivated me to always be positively focussed and determined is when I saw on TV how the people in Africa rise to the many difficult challenges they have to endure in order to overcome,” recalled the elder of two children for his Mom and Dad, the other being an 18-year-old sister.
“In my early childhood education I was focussed and doing well, but once I found basketball that became my focus and caused me to drop back in my school work. When I realised I will need both the academics and basketball, I did some catching up but it was kind of late as I was on my way out of school.”
Junior Rose’s fast progression, on the court, continued to impress all who watched him and while he declared many persons were involved, he thinks it all started with him.
“I would say my first coach was myself and the first person to coach me was coach/Sis Ann Gordon, a national coach who is from the community.
“I vividly remember her first question to me: Do you really love the game?’ I responded, yes. Then she asked if I am prepared to do what it takes to be a good player and again I confidently said, yes; no matter what it takes.
“As I started to develop and play with the older and bigger guys everyone was telling me to keep at it because I am talented and that motivated me so I kept working hard on my game daily. A lot of people helped along the way in my development, in fact it is the community that nurtured and moulded me.”
In an invited comment, coach Ann emphasised his commitment. “At a very young age you could have seen the potential of an outstanding basketball player as he was always seen with a basketball.
“Training sessions were never enough for him, so he would continue on his own on the court or in his backyard, with a makeshift backboard consisting of a bicycle rim. At age nine when I finally accepted him to be part of the training, his skills were ahead of kids his age so most of the time he would play with the older guys.
“His love for the game was evident in his dedication to train for long hours and his discipline and respectful attitude made him very coachable. His IQ for basketball is exceptional.”
Rose Jr recounted that when he started playing in the games with the bigger guys at age 13 there was one particular guy who ‘did not want to play with me’. It was the other players who would say ‘let him play because he can play..
He added that the opportunity to play with those bigger guys at such an early age helped in his fast-paced development as a player. Within two years he was competing on the court with the seniors.
“At 14 years I felt I was good enough to make the National U-16 team, but the coaches did not see it that way and I was hugely disappointed. I got some consolation the next year when I was called to the National U-19 team for the Inter-Guiana Games, and had a good series and from that time I just kept improving as a player.
“The year 2016 was my break-out year as I was awarded the MVP in the tournament ‘The Road to Mecca’, playing for Bounty Colts.
“In 2017, I travelled to Jamaica with a National U-23 team and then in 2018 just before the Caribbean Championship I made my senior debut in a three-match series in Barbados versus the home side, also preparing for the Regional Championship,” Rose Jr remembers.
“Looking back on the visit to Barbados the Capricorn-born teenager, at that time, believes that is where the team started to have confidence in themselves, and with it the dream of doing the unthinkable – winning the Caribbean Championship.
“It was an eye-opener for the national team as we were beaten in the first game, but bounced back to triumph in the other 2 games. It was really team chemistry in motion and indeed a timely test for our match-readiness for the Caribbean Championship due to be played in a matter of weeks.
“I was like the floor general on and off the court, always very vocal. As a captain you must be able to motivate the team and that’s what I tried to do.
“The Barbados trip was an ideal learning one that was much needed to get the chemistry right for the big Championship. The management and the coaching staff did a fantastic job, bringing the chemistry together.
“After that Tour we believed in ourselves, we were all on the same page and a very confident unit. Our preparations intensified on our return home from Barbados and the goal had been set – win the Championship – and that was our mentality.”
The leadership role was handed to him the previous year when the U-23s went for a Goodwill series versus their Jamaican counterparts. As the starting point he was entrusted to lead the team and ‘thanks to the support of the older players “my job became easier as they all respected my views and always listened keenly. They believed in me and we motivated ourselves by being confident”.
When the team was selected to travel to Suriname it was no surprise that he retained the captaincy of his country’s senior team at the youthful age of 18 and except for the first half in their opening game where nerves dominated things, it was smooth sailing thereafter.
“Our opening half of the Championship was a bit nervous, but in the second half the jitters left and it was game over as we rolled over the Grenadians.
“The second game was the toughest of the tournament for us as the game went into double overtime versus St Vincent and the Grenadines. In the first quarter we struggled to contest the much bigger men. They were huge: 7 feet, 6‘10”. My suggestion to the coach at the end of first quarter where we trailed by about 13 points was to employ a pressing game with a smaller-sized team.
“The idea was to keep them running so eventually they get tired and it worked. We fought like a team and were more or less enjoying the game. We displayed a fighting and determined spirit to overcome the ‘Vincy’ men.
“Our next opponents were against the home side and that was my worst game as I was being double-teamed throughout the game. The pressure caused me to turn over the ball repeatedly in the opening half and after the half-time talk Ray Victor led us to victory.
“I feel the home crowd also played a part in my poor showing as I was closely shut out and scared to make any mistake. In the end, we accomplished a big win since we had not beaten Suriname at this level for some time.
“The next game was against the tournament’s worst team, St Lucia and it was an easy win. Our semi-final opponents were Barbados whom we had defeated comprehensively in their backyard less than a month ago so we went into that game extremely confident and that helped us to prevail.
“It was a test because although our confidence was high we had to play hard to stop the Bajans. Our big men, Anthony Moe, Timothy Thompson and Shane Webster stepped up, like in most of the games, to match the big men from the opposition and it was into the Championship game.
“On the eve of the final I was in conversation with the coach, Junior Hercules and his assistant, Dennis Clarke who reminded me about a loss in an U-18 final of a ‘3-on-3’ tournament played in St Lucia the year before. And what I remember coach Clarke saying: ‘Don’t make history repeat itself. You have a chance to make history for yourself and country’.
“It really stuck with me going into that final. Coach Clarke has always been a good motivator to me. He told me in no uncertain terms that he believed in me and it was time for me to take Guyana over the hump that they had failed to overcome in the past.
“Going into that final we actually won that game before even going on the court, such was our confidence and thirst for history. The Antiguan side were much older, but we backed our youthful legs and energy against their older legs and experience so we just went out and executed
“When the final whistle was blown it was all emotional, naturally flowing tears of joy and we hugged and congratulated each other. It’s hard to explain those feelings we shared and love we received. It was mission accomplished.”
“Players and officials from the other teams also came up and congratulated us. And then my phone continued to ring non-stop with more congratulations. On arrival at our hotel where we had internet all phones were on fire and we just in the end had to lock-off the phones,” a proud Rose Jr vividly and compactly evoked.
The Championship victory has been recorded as the youngest captain to ever lead his country to the title in the Region, but Rose Jr. expressed his disappointment at the reception the team received when they returned home. “I thought this was a historic moment and we should have shared it as a nation, instead of just us with the basketball fraternity.
“We should have had a motorcade and celebrated with the people. As for me, my welcome home in Kwakwani was full of love and I enjoyed every moment.”
Two months after the championship victory he was off to Jacksonville Community College in Florida on a 2-year scholarship.
“It was a big difference, but more importantly it was a dream come through. In Guyana I would go to school in the day and practise in the afternoons. In the USA, it is wake up in the morning early and to the weight room or a training session.
“After classes you get an individual workout then get a snack before getting some rest then practise every day except Sundays. At first it was very hard for me and I would skip some sessions.
“Coming to America I wasn’t so good with the books but on arrival I got good with the books. Balancing books and basketball is very challenging, and I recognised and learnt it quickly. It is a very huge transformation from Guyana.
“Communication at first with my team mates was a bit awkward since I had an accent which was new to them. It was difficult being able to fit in at first, but in the end I got used to them and visa-versa.
“After a year at Jacksonville I transferred to Panola College in Texas where I completed a Diploma in Business Management. I am now on my way to St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas to begin my Junior year in order to complete my Bachelors in Business Management in another two years
“I learnt quickly, as I had a lot of starting time at Panola, that in America it is you first then players and not the other way as I know it. Only 3 weeks ago I finished my last papers. I am still learning to balance the books and the game.
“The toughest thing for me here though is not having any family around. My family has been my motivation because that’s why I am here to help the family out of the present situation.
The present Global lockdown has been frustrating since Rose Jr. was planning to be home for the first time since leaving in 2018. To compound things now, there is present upheaval in America with protesting..
“Racism is more in your face here and that is the thing I am yet to overcome. I just wish I was at home in Kwakwani with my family and not here at this present time. I am at present in Atlanta with other family,” Rose Jr concluded.