Roseburg High grad molds USBA into mecca
TOM EGGERS, Commentary
August 19, 2005
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Bruce O'Neil, the founder and president of the United States Basketball Academy, has built a trusting relationship with the Chinese.
So good, in fact, it landed him the job of China's chief basketball consultant leading to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
"They're fantastic people to work with," O'Neil, a 1964 Roseburg High graduate, said during a phone interview Wednesday. "We've become so well known in the Asian market."
The USBA, a 46-acre facility which opened in 1997, is located near the McKenzie River in Blue River, approximately 47 miles east of Eugene. The academy provides basketball knowledge to the world through its educational programs and training camps held there, and at facilities in Asia and Europe.
O'Neil, 59, and the late Wilt Chamberlain, one of the National Basketball Association's greatest players, shared a vision to create an academy where athletes and coaches could concentrate on basketball without big-city distractions.
The academy's 12 lodges and dormitories can accommodate up to 250, and expansion is under way.
The USBA is launching several programs aimed at the Chinese basketball market, and O'Neil is hoping to cash in. He says the USBA will earn between $5 million and $7 million in profits in the first year through its online training course for Chinese coaches, set to start in October. The plan is to have 200,000 coaches participate.
O'Neil has been on the go since the start of the year, visiting China each month through July. The USBA opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai to help carry out daily activities.
" I travel so much, but you have to keep up with the market, especially with China," O'Neil said. "It's so exciting. Everyone is coming to us and we have to stay in front of everything."
Starting this weekend, the USBA will host the Chinese Basketball Association's tryout camp and three-round draft for invited U.S. and foreign players seeking to play in the professional league during the 2005-06 season.
The 12-player Chinese junior national team (18-and-under) will train for seven months at the academy, beginning in September.
"Basketball has passed soccer as the No. 1 participation sport in China," O'Neil said.
The academy continues to run summer camps for high school players. About 1,400 high schoolers attended camps there this summer.
O'Neil has some good help around him.
One of them is Paul Brothers, a 1963 RHS grad who quarterbacked the Indians to their first state football championship in 1961. Brothers, the co-head coach for the Willamette High girls basketball team in Eugene, is the director of basketball services for the USBA.
"Bruce is the greatest salesman I know, that's the best way to describe him," said Brothers. "I think he learned it as a very successful recruiter (at the University of Hawaii). If he believes in something or wants something bad enough he does a great job of selling people on it.
"Bruce has put an awful lot of effort into China, and it's starting to pay some good dividends."
O'Neil's two sons both work at the academy. Braidy, 36, is vice president of marketing, while Matt, 33, is vice president of facilities and media services. O'Neil and his wife, Eileen, have been married for 39 years and also have a daughter, Jenni, 31.
O'Neil fondly remembers his high school days in Roseburg, where he was a four-year varsity letterman in basketball under Curt Jarvis.
The 6-foot-5 post was moved up the varsity late in the season as a freshman and played in the 1961 state tournament. He averaged 17.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as a senior, receiving first-team All-Midwestern League honors.
O'Neil was honored by The News-Review in 2004 as one of Roseburg's top 10 players of all-time.
"Very positive memories," O'Neil said. "Growing up in Roseburg had a lot to do with who I am today. I was fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere like that. I'm grateful for the support and friends I had."
O'Neil was among the first class of basketball recruits at the University of Hawaii, graduating in 1969. He later became a head coach at age 27, guiding Hawaii for nearly three seasons (1973-76).
He compiled a 42-32 record, but was forced out after the NCAA said that he had committed several rules infractions, including paying his players' rent.
After a brief stint as coach of a Continental Basketball Association team in Hawaii, O'Neil returned to Oregon in 1980 with his family.
O'Neil is a former founder of Westcom Productions, Inc., a video production company in Eugene that sold instructional sports tapes. Successfully marketing the tapes in Japan helped ignite his basketball training ventures in Asia.
"We've just gotten over the top in the last 18 months," he said. "We can't grow fast enough now. Teams all over the world want to train here."
* You can reach Associate Editor Tom Eggers at 957-4204 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org