Indonesia’s best basketball prospect, Derrick Michael Xzavierro, steps onto world stage

Indonesian basketball took a giant leap forward on Tuesday. It happened the moment that Derrick Michael Xzavierro walked into the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Australia. Xzavierro is perhaps the best prospect Indonesia has ever produced, and he is the first to join any of the academies the NBA has set up around the world. 

This is an opportunity for the 6-foot-8 Xzavierro to play with and against high school-age players his own size, while learning from coaches with professional experience. It is also a “major milestone,” NBA senior director of international basketball operations Chris Ebersole said — for the academy program, for the league itself and for Indonesia. 

The NBA conducted its first clinic in Indonesia in 2008, in conjunction with the DBL, a league for middle schoolers and high schoolers. Since then it has invested an enormous amount of resources in getting young Indonesians to bounce a ball. In the last seven years, more than 21 million of them have taken part in the Jr. NBA development program. The Jr. NBA coaches academy has taught 53,000 Indonesian teachers how to teach the fundamentals.

Former dunk champ Jason Richardson gets on the court in Jakarta in 2019.
Jr. NBA Indonesia

Xzavierro went to Jr. NBA in 2017 in Jakarta. He remembers making friends there and meeting former NBA player Sam Perkins. In 2019, the league partnered with the Jakarta city government to integrate the program into its physical education curriculum. 

With a population of more than 270 million and a median age around 30 years old, Indonesia represents a golden business opportunity for the NBA. “There’s a growing middle class, there’s an increase in interest for entertainment and they obviously have disposable income,” NBA Asia managing director Scott Levy said. Everything the league has done has been about encouraging mass participation and enhancing the basketball ecosystem. More than 300 Indonesian teachers who went through the train-the-trainers program are now traveling around the country, working as basketball coaches. 

“Kids can learn it in school, teachers can become coaches, coaches can make a living,” Levy said. “They create competitive environments at all levels of competition, and then the elite have a pathway to make it all the way if they have that capability.”

Indonesian prospect Derrick Michael Xzavierro at the NBA Global Academy, Day 1.
NBA Academy

About three months before Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the 2019-20 season went on hiatus, the NBA’s New York-based international basketball operations staff got a tip from their counterparts in Hong Kong. Most of the players that Carlos Barroca and Natália André encounter at youth tournaments will not go on to an NBA academy or play professionally, but when they saw a 6-foot-8 Indonesian kid with that kind of potential, it was their responsibility to send word. 

At the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier on Feb. 20, 2020, Indonesia’s senior national team trailed Korea by 33 points when a 16-year-old Xzavierro checked in to a roaring ovation. After grabbing a couple of rebounds in garbage time, coach Rajko Toroman called him “the future of Indonesian basketball.” Xzavierro told reporters he was shocked to have played at all. 

Shortly thereafter, the NBA Global Academy got in touch with Xzavierro and his mother. Typically, the league would then send more scouts to see him play or even fly him to an NBA academy, but the pandemic prevented any in-person contact. Instead, using an app called HomeCourt, Xzavierro recorded himself. 

“We were able to have Derrick go through a series of drills: shooting drills, ball-handling drills,” Ebersole said. “We were able to do athletic measurements, physiological measurements, things like his wingspan and hand width, all those different things, to sort of confirm the eye test.”

Xzavierro was raw, but it was clear that he was quick and smooth for his size. “He’s definitely a special prospect in the sense that he has, really, unlimited upside in terms of his size, his athleticism,” Ebersole said. To the international basketball ops department, Xzavierro is a success story for the NBA Global Scout platform within HomeCourt, which in theory will allow the league to identify high-level players from afar, not just evaluate them.

By the end of October 2020, Xzavierro had accepted a scholarship offer from the NBA Global Academy and expressed his excitement in interviews. But getting him from Indonesia to Australia, which has had some of the tightest travel restrictions in the world throughout the pandemic, would prove challenging. On April 27 he finally flew to Sydney, where he immediately quarantined at a Marriott by the harbor. 

“It’s a long process,” Xzavierro said from his hotel room, with three days left in his two-week quarantine. “I’ve been waiting one year to join the NBA academy because of the pandemic.”

Indonesia’s top prospect is finally in Canberra.
NBA Academy

Xzavierro said he spent all that time preparing for his next step. “It’s a little sad because I have to leave my one and only mom,” he said, but he’s happy about what it means for his career. Xzavierro is in Australia to “improve my skill,” he said, and “train with people above my level.” 

He will also surely improve his strength and conditioning and nutrition. The NBA Global Academy is part of the Australian Institute of Sport’s Centre of Excellence, a training facility that served as a model for the league when it started the academy program. In July, Josh Giddey will become its first graduate to be selected in the NBA Draft. 

Ebersole described it as an “iron-sharpens-iron environment” for young players from all over the world. Xzavierro will have a steeper learning curve than most, which Ebersole said “actually makes it more exciting.” In Canberra, players like him tend to develop extremely quickly.

Xzavierro was in fifth grade when he started playing basketball. He fell in love with it as soon as he discovered a team could feel like a family. He likes to watch LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his favorite player, Derrick Rose. Xzavierro wants to be the kind of player who can do everything. 

Just before his quarantine in Sydney ended, Xzavierro posted a photo of himself at Jr. NBA. He’s posing for the camera in bright red D Rose 7s, putting a WNBA ball through his skinny legs. “Local heroes are really important,” Levy said, and for the millions of Indonesian kids who went through the same program, he could be just that. 

It is an “amazing” feeling to know that people will be watching him back home, Xzavierro said. He does not, however, want to be overhyped or compared to anyone else. 

“I just want to be myself,” he said. “And trust me, I can do this.”

Xzavierro plans to pepper his new coaches with questions, take in as much information as he can and see where it takes him. In August, he might briefly be back in Jakarta, logging non-garbage-time minutes for the national team at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. It’s anybody’s guess where he’ll be a year from now, although 47 NBA academy players have gone on to play NCAA Division I ball. One thing, however, is for certain. When he eventually returns to Indonesia as a graduate, he wants to share everything he’s learned.

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