Motivated by teammates, VU senior stages charity hoops event

Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:41pm

Vanderbilt senior Joe Duffy didn’t have to look far to find someone who has been impacted by malaria.

Actually, he only needed to look down the bench. Duffy spent the last three years playing basketball with Steve Tchiengang, a junior from the African country Cameroon. Tchiengang has actually had the infection twice in his life but fortunately survived — it can be fatal. In fact, every 45 seconds a child dies from malaria and 90 percent of those deaths occur in Africa — the home continent of not only Tchiengang but Vanderbilt junior center Festus Ezeli (Nigeria) and freshman forward James Siakam (Cameroon).

“That is pretty close to home for us,” Duffy said.

Duffy read an article by national columnist Rick Reilly in 2006 that enlightened readers about the devastating illness.

Reilly urged readers to donate $10 to purchase an insecticide-treated mosquito net. From there, Nothing But Nets was born. In the last five years, the foundation has raised enough money to purchase more than 2.8 million nets that have been sent to Africa.

This inspired Duffy’s friends Stephen Curry and Bryant Barr, who both played basketball at Davidson College near Duffy’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., to host a youth basketball tournament at Davidson in 2009. In turn, Duffy took the idea and brought it to Vanderbilt, holding a basketball tournament last year in which his Commodore teammates served as coaches. The event raised more than $5,000, which went to Nothing But Nets.

“I thought the cause was really cool and it is really the only foundation that I saw that really had a great correlation with basketball,” Duffy, a 6-foot-8 reserve center who began his career at Vanderbilt as a walk-on, said. “The $10 for one net, the $10 for one life is kind of like a cool, very easy way to see how your donation directly affects somebody in need. That part of it really intrigues me.”

This year, the tournament will have a new spin on it. Vanderbilt’s Buzzkill: “Dores for Nets 2011” 3-on-3 basketball tournament for third through eighth graders will take place from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium. The proceeds will still go toward purchasing mosquito nets.

But “Buzzkill” derives from the BUZZKILL Foundation, a charitable 501(c)(3) organization that Barr and Duffy created. The foundation partners with Nothing But Nets and Freedom from Hunger, which aids women in poor, rural areas of Africa.

In addition to Davidson and Vanderbilt, UNC-Wilmington will host its first 3-on-3 tournament in May.

“Basically our goal is to spread this tournament idea to schools all over the country,” Duffy said.

At Vanderbilt, the cost to enter the tournament is $50 per team. There are 20 teams now — more than double than last year — but there are still limited spots left for fifth and sixth grade teams and also in the seventh and eighth grade range. To sign up, visit http://www.buzzkillfoundation.org/BUZZKILL/Vanderbilt.html.

In addition to the tournament, there will be a silent auction and Duffy encourages people to stop by to learn more about the cause and donate.

Those who are participating in the tournament are encouraged to raise money on their own — with an incentive. The team that raises the most money gets the first draft pick to select which Vanderbilt player will coach its team. Last year, the team that drafted first raised more than $900.

“It helps we are a successful team and we have a good fan following,” Duffy, whose goal is to raise more than $15,000 this year, said. “They really want us to coach them, which is cool. The other thing is they are excited about the cause.”

Duffy said he was also approached by local high school students who wanted to help out in raising awareness and money for the cause.

“A lot of kids are excited about it and want to help out,” Duffy said. “It is cool that kids are conscious of about what is going out in the world, outside of Nashville.”

Duffy will graduate in May with a degree in economics and will move to Chicago to start a job in finance. He said he plans to pass on the reins of tournament chair to Tchiengang and Ezeli.