Collin Sexton credits one player for helping launch his basketball career.
“We would go see every game and watch all of her events, everything that she did. I would say she pretty much made us want (to play) basketball, because she was the first one that started it,” the Utah Jazz guard said. “My sister pretty much paved the way for me.”
Across the country, though, there has been a decline in the number of girls playing basketball. So last week, Sexton spent an afternoon teaching and hopefully instilling a love of the game in a future generation.
After practice ended in Salt Lake City last week, the point guard drove down to the new Utah Jazz Shoot 360 building in Lehi to help out with an all-girls basketball clinic featuring 50 kids from ages 7 to 17.
Upon arrival, the event began as most of these do, with the new Jazz guard answering questions from the clinic leaders about his game, his routine, how he learned to play at an NBA level. But you could tell that he wanted to be more engaging, more connective. So he flipped the script, and started asking questions himself: “Who is your favorite player? What’s your favorite part of the game? How can I help you?”
Sexton asks these questions because it was his older sister, Giauna, who played a big part in his own script.
He listened. One participant, Lone Peak High School’s Makeili Ika, said she’d never met an NBA player before. But she wasn’t too starstruck; it was how Sexton could help her game that she says interested her most. “When he was teaching us his favorite move, like, what he does in games, his go-to move — I thought it was cool,” Ika said.
America is seeing fewer Giaunas and fewer Makeilis. While girls’ participation in track and field, soccer, and volleyball rises, the number of girls playing basketball has declined by 19% since 2002. In all, there are about 40% more high school boys basketball players than girls basketball players. In Utah in particular, there are 4,035 high school boys playing basketball, and 3,196 girls playing basketball, according to the 2021-22 report from the National Federation Of State High School Associations.
But the trend is even more skewed if you look at younger generations. Nate Martinez, vice president of youth programs for the Utah Jazz, said that of the roughly 60,000 kids who participate in Jr. Jazz programs, about 75% are boys; just 25% are girls.
A national campaign run by the WNBA and Jr. NBA programs, called Her Time To Play, is trying to help matters. The program gives out basketballs to girls’ basketball leagues, whistles and practice plans to coaches, and headbands and bag tags to players. They also run clinics like the one Sexton led last week.
“I think this is the first step in trying to get more kids, more girls involved, No. 1, and No. 2, keep on playing for longer,” Martinez said. “How can we keep them getting involved in the game and in sports as they grow older?”
The hope is that by building grassroots support for basketball among kids, pre-teens, and teenagers alike, leagues and events like the one Sexton visited can turn the tide.