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Joe Harris

Where I’m going next…

Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon
© Clay Cook 2019

Coach Bennett always used to have these African proverbs he would bring up in practice. There was one that I think about often:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.   

This year has been a roller coaster for me and I thought about this quote a few times. I thought about it in Minneapolis when we saw our Wahoos competing in the Final Four. I knew what it took to get to that point. I thought about my time at UVA and what we had been through.

Photo: ESPN

And just like the rest of Wahoo nation, when I saw Kyle sink those THREE free throws to win the game, WOW! CLUTCH! I’d like to think I would’ve hit those free throws too, but because I never had the opportunity in that way (and not many have), I can’t really say. Good for you Kyle! Thank you for bringing it home for us!

Some of you may be wondering how in the world I was able to attend that game during the NBA season. Well, before the Final Four weekend, my team (the Atlanta Hawks) were playing in Orlando. I was just coming off a 10 point performance against Philly and feeling pretty good. That morning Coach Lloyd Pierce (Atlanta’s Head Coach) came over to me and said “You guys are going to the Final Four, you better go!”

I couldn’t believe it. I had been thinking about asking him if I could go but didn’t know how. He knows what UVA means to me and I am so thankful and grateful that he allowed me to go. Thank you Coach Pierce! 

Luckily, we were traveling to Milwaukee that weekend (only an hour away from Minneapolis). After our game that day in Orlando, the Hawks put me on a flight to Minneapolis while they flew to Milwaukee. How amazing is that? After Kyle hit those free throws, I drove to Milwaukee where we just happened to be playing Malcolm’s Bucks (who, by the way, had just played Joe Harris’ Nets the day before). So after the game, we (Malc and myself) flew back out to Minneapolis to see the championship game.

Together, we watched the guys cut down the nets. It was a game for the ages, a story for the ages.

After the game we met in the player and family lounge on the 3rd floor of the team hotel.  Here’s a picture of the moment I saw Ty.

Wow, what a moment. Being able to see so many familiar faces in such a special environment was surreal. Everyone was saying “Can you believe it?” My answer was “Yes, I absolutely believe it. If I know one thing, it’s that Coach Bennett has been preparing us and this program for this exact moment since the day he set foot on campus.”

Being there was an experience I will never forget. Knowing just how hard everyone had worked to get to that point, and to see it unfold the way it did, was something I’m not sure anyone could put into words. At that moment, I thought about Coach Bennett’s quote.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

The atmosphere, the culture he has built is something that brings us together. And together we got to go as far as a program can go in one season. But we’re not done. Coach Bennett will take us further.

Photo from UVAMenshoops

It’s that quote again. Together. Which brings me back to Malcolm. Last year, he called me about an opportunity to join him and be a part of the “Starting Five” with  Hoops2o ( a branch of Chris Long’s Waterboys organization) to help bring clean water to villages in East Africa. In my mind I was thinking, ‘Starting Five?’ I haven’t been a starter since my days at UVA and to do it again with Malcolm and Joe Harris? I jumped at the opportunity. All we were missing were Anthony Gill, Akil Mitchell and London Perrantes.

© Clay Cook 2019

This summer we took a trip to Tanzania. Malc had talked about the trip for months and how its mission would change our perspective on life. He took trips with his grandparents as a child and Africa really influenced his life. We talked about how blessed we were to have the privilege to travel there as adults. He also mentioned that we would go on a safari. What he didn’t know was that a safari was the number one thing on my bucket list. And to be able to check it off my list at the age of 25? Ridiculous! I’ll be honest—I thought the safari would be the thing to change me. I was SUPER EXCITED about it.

When we arrived, we were met by a few members of the Maasai Tribe. The hospitality they showed, along with their passion and knowledge of the land, was incredible. Their spirit was contagious.

© Clay Cook 2019

I probably asked Nick a thousand questions during the trip.  (Shoutout to my man Nick: Thank you!)

Day 1: 

We woke up at sunrise to get ready for the safari. I remember being in a daze at breakfast and Malc saying “Are you nervous about the safari?” I responded with “Absolutely not, I’m crazy excited about this…but the lions can’t eat us right?” We laughed and headed out.

© Clay Cook 2019

We drove around for hours and I was shocked at the number of wildebeests we saw. I had been worried about being eaten by a lion; meanwhile, we didn’t even see one (no Simba or Mufasa). But it was a beautiful thing to see mother nature up close and personal.

© Clay Cook 2019

About ten hours in, we stopped in the middle of the jungle and our guide said, “This is where we’re staying tonight.” Now, I wasn’t expecting a 5-star hotel. I knew this wasn’t like traveling with an NBA team. But we’re used to having valet and concierge services and now, we pull up and it’s just a bunch of tents in the middle of the jungle.

At this point, I said to Malc, “Are you serious? This is where we’re staying? Is this safe?” Malcolm said the last time he stayed there he had heard the hyenas laughing and lions roaring at night. He said it was amazing.

© Clay Cook 2019

When I first laid down on my cot in my tent, I was thinking how easily an elephant could just trample us all. At that point, I thought we were crazy, but you know what? It was really peaceful. I felt at one with the earth.

© Clay Cook 2019

Day 3:

Days 1 and 2 were basically a vacation. On day 3, we made a trip to a remote village where our first well site was located. This was a life changer. On our way we saw toddlers, who honestly looked like they had just learned to walk, working the fields to feed the donkeys, herd the cattle and help carry the water. Women were carrying wood and water buckets on their heads. It was incredible! But not only were people working, they seemed so happy.

© Clay Cook 2019

Near the village, we stopped by a local water source. It was more like a little puddle. It was hard to imagine that it was what people used to drink, bathe, and cook.

© Clay Cook 2019
© Clay Cook 2019

When we got to the well site, they prepared a small ceremony to turn on the well. I wasn’t sure how to interact, so I followed Malcolm’s lead, but the Masaai people were so welcoming and inviting, I immediately felt at home.

The walk through the village to the ceremony felt like the biggest fiesta, with people yelling, dancing and screaming like it was a championship parade. To feel the energy of the African people, it was contagious. The people were so grateful and excited.  There were kids just holding our hands and walking with us. I’ll admit, some of the people seemed a little nervous, but the energy was intense.

© Clay Cook 2019

In African culture, the women are responsible for the homes, which means they carry the wood, they cook, they clean, they raise the children and they bring water back to the village. They do the real heavy lifting for the families.  It was like our green team and managers at UVA, except multiplied by a million.

© Clay Cook 2019

So when we got to the well, there was the grand finale where they turn the well on for the entire village. The person they selected to turn on the well wasn’t Malcolm or Joe, it was an elderly woman.  She swiftly turned on the water and the entire village erupted in cheers and joy. That was the most touching part to me—of all the people they could have selected, they selected a woman who had provided for the village her entire life and once again, provided clean water for everyone.

© Clay Cook 2019

Day 4:

On the last day of the trip, we went to another village in the mountains. We wanted to experience what it was like for the Masaai people to get water, so we decided to make their daily trip with them.

One of the warriors of the tribe took us on the journey to get water at the crack of dawn. When I was told that getting water was a journey, I thought I understood, but I underestimated what it took.  We hiked and hiked, battling the scorching sun, the bugs, and of course the snakes. I’m not going to lie, it was not an easy hike. Even as a professional athlete, my heart was racing.

© Clay Cook 2019

About halfway through the trip, I started to get a little tired. I looked down and saw that our guide, was casually hiking in his flip flops. He was walking like it was nothing. So I quickly got over my fatigue. When we got to the water source at the top of the mountain, it was breathtaking. There were animals of all kinds near the water, including the most dangerous hippos. We walked to the water source and took a sample of the water that everyone in the village used.  When we got the water, this is what it looked like compared to our well water.

© Clay Cook 2019

It only costs $45,000 for a well and it can change an entire generation for this village. It’s mind boggling to think that God chose me to be here to witness this and to have a platform to share my experiences.

This has absolutely changed my perspective on my life and my career. At UVA, we talk about one of our pillars, servanthood. I have a newfound perspective on servanthood. We saw how the Maasai people live. We walked the land and I now understood why Malcolm was so passionate about this cause.

A lot of us (me included) crave more possessions for whatever reason, but to see these people who have nothing and still have such a positive outlook, it was life altering. I am ready to work harder than ever to better my career because I am committed to changing these people’s lives for the better.

It’s funny how I thought I was going there to change their lives, but they turned around and changed mine.

I know what you’re thinking. A lot of people take these trips and talk about being enlightened and a few months later, they are right back where they started.

I know the only way for me to show you how this has changed me is to change my behavior. There are a lot of changes happening in my life. For one, the site that you’re reading this on, Locker Room Access, is a new venture for me. I’m excited to bring you guys inside my journey.

I’m also starting a new chapter in life with free agency. I don’t know where I’ll be next year, but wherever it is, I know I am going to think back on my experience in Tanzania and that village and know I’m playing for a higher purpose. That I am here for something much bigger than me. And the only way to go far is if we go TOGETHER.

Come on this adventure with me, we are going to go far.

Justin Anderson

© Clay Cook 2019

P.S. I finally got to meet Simba

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