The NAU men’s basketball team has arguably been in a slump for some time now. A change in direction came their way this summer when the Lumberjacks sent junior forward Bernie Andre to a Haitian national team minicamp.
Andre was born and raised in Miami, Florida, but his parents were born in Haiti and raised him and his older brother with their roots close to the heart in everything they worked for.
The 6-foot-7-inch forward received a phone call and was told he could contribute to the goals of the Haitian team. He was invited to a minicamp to showcase his talent as a prospective representative for Haiti on their national team.
The camps have been hosted in Miami for several years now, because the Haitian team lacks the proper indoor facilities to host such an event.
In 2010 Haiti experienced a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked the small Caribbean country. After more than 50 aftershocks, an estimated 3 million people were affected.
“It’s more than basketball,” Andre said. “It’s drawing attention to a country that is still very poor and needs a lot of help.”
Andre said from a young age it has been a goal of his to give back, and to use any privilege he might have to help raise awareness of what is going on in Haiti.
In 2017, the HuffPost reported that 2.5 million Haitians are in need of humanitarian aid. Housing, schools, medical and government buildings were all destroyed in the 2010 disaster that left nearly 55,000 people in makeshift camps.
“My country was already in a bad place,” Andre said. “But my people got the short end of the stick again.”
The initial death toll varies among sources, but it was multiplied due to the already existing poverty and national debt.
“I was very fortunate to even just have basketball shoes growing up, but some kids don’t get that,” Andre said. “Skal Labissière was at the camp and is doing something that I hope to do one day.”
Labissière is a power forward for the Portland Trail Blazers. He is only 22 years old and fled Haiti after the earthquake that left him unable to walk for weeks. His humanitarian projects began with a camp in 2017 for the Haitian youth. He taught them basketball skills, life lessons and gave them a safe space to play the game they all love.
Andre said the camp was a little different than what he was familiar with. Playing with new people was not an issue. As a basketball player, you are asked to go from team to team and experience what it is like to play with strangers on the court.
“I’ve never played with so many Haitian guys on one court,” Andre said. “We connected on a level more than just loving basketball.”
Andre said the experience heightened his goals and allowed him to see how many opportunities are out there if you work hard enough.
“We’re here to win games by guiding these men to take it to the next level,” head coach Shane Burcar said. “It’s more than a game, especially in the age of social media — they are capable to use their voice for great things. I want to help them find their voice.”
The people that stand behind Andre show more than encouragement — they validate his goals.
“I’ve only been here for a year, and there have been some changes to the team,” Andre said. “But that did not stop anyone from cheering me on, posting me on social media and just letting me know that they are supporting me.”
This summer, he was also involved in some pro-am’s, which allowed Andre to experience playing with NBA players. Pro-am’s create an opportunity for amateur athletes to receive feedback and take on professional players.
Andre said a highlight was playing with Derrick Jones from the Miami Heat. He received a lot of good feedback that fed confidence into how he continues to play the game.
Ralph Diaz has known Andre since seventh grade, and shared a piece of his best friend’s character.
“He’s a church loving, family-oriented guy,” Diaz said. “He loves basketball, and I 100% believe that he could play at the highest level.” Diaz said.
Diaz said their relationship was made through basketball, and well into their 20s it is still based around basketball.
Over the summer they trained in the morning and got reps in on the court to prepare for both of their upcoming seasons.
Andre is entering the 2019-20 season as a junior with two years of playing time left. He joined the squad as an NCAA sophomore after playing at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama.
Andre completed his first season at NAU by making appearances in the Big Sky Conference statistical leaderboards. He was third in the conference for rebounds with 263 total, and scored 428 points, which ranked 13th in the conference.
“This team had a lot of chemistry last year, making it easy to be successful,” Andre said. “I can’t wait to see what we do on the court.”
Although Andre participated in the minicamp this summer, he still has time for a break before the regular season begins. However, he said there is never a break.
The men’s basketball team begins its journey to the title of Big Sky champions Nov. 6 in Tucson at UA. Following the Tucson game, they have a cushion of comfort with four consecutive home games.