Jordy Kuiper is a 22-year old power forward/center who is in his fifth year at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He started his basketball career in Groningen in the Netherlands, but ended up in the United States via the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain. Last week, UNCG reached the ‘Big Dance’, the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. Kuiper and his Spartans will have to beat Gonzaga in the first round on Thursday to advance to the next round.
How did you end up at UNCG?
My sister played for the Dutch national team, and played Division I and Division II College basketball in Denver, Colorado. When I saw her play as a little boy, I decided I wanted to play at that level as well and I wanted to do everything to realize that dream. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of Division I College coaches who come to the Netherlands to look for players. That’s why I moved to Spain as a 16-year-old boy to play for Canaries Basketball Academy for a year, to play myself in the picture at American Colleges. After a year of hard work, I became the Captain of our U-18 team and we played in the Spanish National Championship tournament. That’s how I got attention of multiple good schools in the United States and I eventually chose to for UNCG (University of North Carolina at Greensboro).
What is the biggest difference between playing in the Dutch competition, playing with the CBA and playing in the NCAA?
Basketball at the highest College level in the United States is a lot faster, more physical and more intense than in the Netherlands or in Spain.
Did you have to adapt to the way of playing in the NCAA?
Almost every freshman who starts his or her NCAA career has a period where they have to get used to the pace and intensity of basketball in the Division I. This isn’t only in regard to the games, but also the practices, in the gym and how to combine your athletics with your academic career. It may take a while, but you’ll get used to the pace of the game, and you’ll get better at balancing all your other responsibilities.
How did you experience your time there?
Absolutely fantastic. The best five years of my life. The people I met, and the fantastic memories I have made, on and off the basketball court, I’ll cherish forever.
You had to Red-Shirt in your third year. Can you explain how that came to be?
Normally, you have a four-year career as a basketball player in College. But, if you have a serious injury, you can apply for a ‘Medical Red-Shirt’. This means that you don’t lose that year, and that you can re-do that year the next season. You can only do that once in your career, but it was definitely the right decision for me, after I tore a ligament in my knee in a game against NC State.
What do your days look like at UNCG?
Normally, my alarm goes of around 7.30. Every morning, I start with a 45-minute shooting work-out with coaches and rebounders. Then, I eat a big breakfast in our school’s cafeteria (which is one of the largest in the US). After that, I have one or two lessons per day, followed by weight training and a basketball team practice. After the team practice, I eat dinner and then I have the rest of the night off. The next day, this routine starts all over again!
UNCG has managed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. How was it to play a major role in that important game against ETSU, both defensively and offensively?
One of the best experiences in my life. Five years ago, when I started as a Freshman at UNCG, we had a new coach, with a new vision and a dream. By falling, standing up and a lot of really hard work, we have created a culture in Greensboro and laid a foundation that will ensure success for years to come. I am honored that I could be a part of such a successful basketball program.
What are your expectations for the NCAA Tournament?
For a lot of mid-major schools, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament is already successful enough, but that definitely isn’t the case for us. This year, we’ve shown that we can beat every team, and that’s why we’re not going to the Big Dance for just one game. Thanks to our strong defense (top 5 in the entire NCAA) we can make it difficult for everyone and we certainly intend to do so.
The NCAA Tournament is the most important Tournament in College basketball. What does it mean to you to be able to play in the tournament?
It’s difficult to explain what a great event the NCAA Tournament is for people that have never experienced it. This time of the year, it’s the best viewed sporting event in the world and the fact that I’m allowed to fight with my team, even lets the heart of a down-to-earth guy from Groningen beat a bit faster.
Who would be your dream opponent?
I honestly don’t have a ‘dream opponent’. I don’t care against who we play, but the dream is to win as many games as possible once we get there.
Last week was your Senior Night. How did you experience that?
It’s always a very emotional night for seniors, where you play your last game in your home arena and for your home crowd. I had the opportunity to share this special moment with my father, who flew to Greensboro for Senior Night and our Conference Tournament. The fact that I could share my Senior Night and two championships with him, was great.
What is it like to play basketball at a high level with Diabetes?
The fact that not a lot of people play sports at this level shows that it’s definitely a challenge to keep your sugar levels in order, with the schedule of an athlete. When I got the diagnosis as a 9-year-old boy, the first thing I asked the doctor was: “Can I still play basketball?”. He said that it was definitely still possible, but that it required a lot of discipline and hard work. I have an insuline pump connected to me 24 hours a day, which gives me the insuline I need. Nobody is perfect, but with falling, standing up and always staying positive, I’ve never let diabetes stand in the way of chasing and fulfilling my dreams.
How important is it for you to be an example for other children with diabetes who play sports?
Very important. My doctor gave my (the right) answer that I could continue playing basketball with diabetes, but that I simply had to work harder to achieve the same results as other children. Unfortunately, there are a lot of children and adults who are afraid of chasing their dreams, simply because of the risks and fear because of their diagnosis. I try to use the large platform I have now as the Captain of UNCG, to show as many people as possible that if I can lead my team to the Big Dance with type-1 diabetes, they can definitely make their dreams come true.
Do you have a idol yourself?
Bas van de Goor is a former volleyball player, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics with the Netherlands. He is also diabetic, and founded the Bas van de Goor Foundation to improve the quality of life of people with diabetes through sports and exercise. They do this by sharing information with people with diabetes and their social environment in an inspiring way. They inform them about the positive effects of sports and exercise on a life with diabetes, and let them experience these effects and inspire them to live a active life with diabetes. Bas was only a big example for me, because he didn’t only show me what kind of active and exciting life you could lead with diabetes, but he also taught me in which way you could reach people with this positive message.
How did you get the nickname ‘ Vanilla Gorilla’?
It’s a name that started out as a joke, but I think I got the name because I play with a certain intensity that might make some people think of a gorilla? Haha. It has got a bit out of hand with the fans who come to our games with ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ masks, T-shirts and even white gorilla costumes. But I think it’s fantastic!
— UNCG Promotions (@UNCGPromotions) January 4, 2018
What is your role on the team?
I’m Captain and thus a defining player on several levels. Many plays run through me as Power Forward/Center, as I play both in the post and on the perimeter. Besides that, I’m also the anchor of our defense. It’s my job to show the Freshman how we do things in Greensboro, I’m the first point of contact for the coaches regarding play calls and match-ups. Therefore, I have the most responsibility in the team. But, I have worked very hard the last five years to get this role, and I wear it with pride.
You’re probably the most vocally present on the team. How do you ensure that the team communicates well?
Communication is by far the most important thing and, for some reason, also the most difficult thing a team can do on the court. Communication is of course important in the defense, because your defense is the strongest if everyone constantly communicates what happens, so you can responds as fast as possible. Furthermore, communication creates positive energy where your team can benefit from both offensively and defensively. It takes a lot of time to build a good communicating team, but it’s simply a matter of drilling and drilling, until it’s really part of your identity as a team.
Your strong point is your defense. How do you become a good defender?
The good thing about defending is that everyone can become a good defender. I’m not the fastest or most athletic player, but EVERYONE can communicate, box out, rebound, take charges and dive for 50/50 balls. If you only play hard if it goes well in the offense, you will definitely become an inconsistent player. Sometimes, you simply don’t have no control over whether the ball goes in or not, but you always have control over your effort and hustle defensively.
Do you already have plans for next year?
I want to show the world where UNCG is all about during the Big Dance this month, After that, I intend to go back to Europe to play at the highest possible level. I’ve build a good network over the years, so I’m confident it’s going to be allright.