Wahoos & Water: Working Miracles One Well At A Time

By Jerry Ratcliffe

UVA basketball greats Justin Anderson, Ralph Sampson, Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris pose at Saturday night’s fundraiser event in Charlottesville.

There are certain moments in all our lives that are indelibly stamped into our souls. Malcolm Brogdon has many from his basketball days at Virginia and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

None of those compete with the most startling thing he witnessed upon a trip to Tanzania. Brogdon’s heart melted when he saw what village women endured in transporting water from the nearest water source back to their homes.

Brogdon shared the story with a small group of potential contributors to Hoops2o, the pro basketball affiliate of a fellow Cavalier football icon, Chris Long’s Waterboys, formed a couple of years ago to bring clean water to East Africa.

The event was hosted by Phil Wendel, a man who never asks for or gets enough credit for what he does for UVA and the Charlottesville community.

“Seeing women walking miles to the nearest water source and carrying buckets (weighing approximately 40 pounds each) in each hand, while balancing another on their head was shocking to me,” Brogdon said after he and NBA mates — all former Wahoos — Joe Harris and Justin Anderson addressed the group.

Anderson, who joined Brogdon’s lead in the fight for clean water, had spent a couple of hours conversing on the phone to learn talking points prior to recent interviews on the topic, and didn’t mind elaborating on what Brogdon had shared with him about the trip.

“Malcolm told me about women that would have to walk miles at a time to get water,” said Anderson, who plans on joining Brogdon and Harris on the latter two’s first visit to Africa this month. “Malcolm told me he tried carrying the buckets and they were so heavy that he was having to take a break every five or six steps, but these strong women are putting water balanced on their head and carrying one bucket in each hand.”

Brogdon is no weakling by any stretch, which gives a poignant reveal of what these women endure.

There was another story about a child fetching water from a distant source, but after he filled his bucket, it was noticed that a cow was nearby, drinking from the same water source.

“You’re in the desert, you’re in dirt, and the water can have contamination,” Anderson said of Brogdon’s stories that influenced him to join the group.

We all knew years ago that Brogdon wanted to make a difference in the world. He explained that prior to his final season at Virginia, referring to a trip he and his family had made to poverty-stricken regions of Africa as a teen and how that impacted how he viewed his mission in life.

This fundraiser came a day prior to the NBA’s free agency madness, which left Brogdon traded by the Bucks to the Indiana Pacers, who agreed to pay him $85 million for the next four years. Certainly that will make a difference in how Brogdon wants to help.

No sooner had Brogdon reached the NBA, he asked his agent to research projects where he could make an impact, and ironically that research traced back to Long, who had started Waterboys. As Brogdon told the crowd, “It was a perfect match.”

When Long started the initiative, his long-range goal was to supply one million people with clean drinking water via digging wells. Initially, Long wanted 32 wells dug to represent 32 NFL teams. Presently, 62 wells have been funded, serving more than 225,000 people. The NBA is committing to 10 wells over the next 12 months.

Long originally went to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, with its summit about 4,900 meters from its base and 5,895 meters above sea level. Long, who has recently retired from the NFL, scaled the mountain for fun with a teammate the first time around in 2013. Now, it’s an annual pilgrimage with military veterans, current and former NFL players, among others, all to bring about awareness of “Waterboys.”

“Chris didn’t have an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but he knew he wanted to get back to that country and make a difference,” said Nicole Woodie, who manages Long’s Foundation and Waterboys. “It was clear to him that water would be the choice.”

Once Brogdon made the trip to Tanzania (he plans to join the Kilimanjaro ascent in the future), he was hooked on helping and began to recruit the NBA version of Waterboys, something called Hoops2o. Anyone interested may learn more about their groups at Waterboys.org or Hoops2o.org.

Brogdon recruited his college teammates, Harris and Anderson, in the group along with Memphis’ Garrett Temple and Minnesota’s Anthony Tolliver.

“Our goal last season was to raise $225,000 for five new wells and we’ve raised over $280,000,” Brogdon said. “Our goal this season has doubled to 10 wells. It’s a lofty goal but very achievable. I’ve seen the impact it makes, the type of lives people were living compared to how they’re living now, and having clean water is truly a blessing.”

One well is estimated to supply water for 7,500 people with the wells lasting 20 to 25 years before requiring major repairs.

Harris, who carved a niche as the NBA’s top 3-point shooter this past season, said he has been influenced by several great leaders including his father, Joe Sr., along with UVA coach Tony Bennett and others, including Long’s generosity and Brogdon.

“Malcolm is an unbelievable ball player,” said Harris, who was tagged ‘Joey Buckets,’ while starring Virginia. “We’ve all seen that, but he’s even a better person and leader. When he pitched the idea to Justin and myself, well, I don’t want to speak for Justin, but we would probably do anything that Malcolm suggested.

“For us to be part of this project, it’s a no-brainer,” Harris continued.

The current Brooklyn Nets star said that he has been surprised at how impactful basketball players have been in getting involved. He has sat down with a number of people in New York and Wall Street, helping the network grow. He loved it when Brogdon visited the TNT ‘Inside the NBA’ set after a recent playoff game in which Milwaukee defeated eventual NBA champion Toronto in one of that series’ games, and enticed host Charles Barkley to become involved.

Brogdon explained to the group at Wendel’s home that a close friend that once coached him in AAU ball in Atlanta is now head of security at TNT and was pushing the network to get Brogdon on for an interview after a game. Brogdon had played lights out in this particular win and so the NBA crew brought him on.

At the end of the interview, Barkley asked Brogdon about the water project and asked him how much it cost to dig one well. Brogdon told him $45,000.

Barkley, who is always full of surprises, said he would like to donate enough to dig a well, bringing a wide smile to Brogdon’s face.

In the background, broadcast mate Shaquille O’Neal suggested to Brogdon to name it “The Chuck Well.”

As Harris said Saturday night, the group of five NBA’ers aren’t only trying to raise funds, but also to raise awareness via social media, dinner parties and private events.

Anderson talked about what an impact the wells make on the Tanzanian people. It’s not only drinking water, but water used to cook, clean, bathe in, and more.

He also spoke of Brogdon’s leadership — fans don’t call him ‘President’ for nothing — and how he trusted his former teammate’s guidance in the project.

“I can’t wait to go to Tanzania,” Anderson said. “Malcolm influenced me and when I was onboard, Chris texted me and said this is going to impact you for a lifetime. Any time we can be a servant and serve other people and give our best to provide clean water, it’s definitely an opportunity I want to be part of.”

At some point, the Waterboys and Hoops2o want to take donors to Tanzania so they can see their money at work and how it changes lives, capped off by a luxury safari with NFL and NBA athletes.

For now, the Wahoo trio is making a difference in hopes that others will join in to help people that can’t help themselves. That’s part of Tony Bennett’s “Five Pillars,” isn’t it?

Their trip “home” to Charlottesville wasn’t a long one, but as Anderson grinned, “We all got a chance to put up some shots today (at JPJ), and to be together on the court again.”

Virginia fans at Saturday’s fete remarked amongst themselves how proud they were that the former Cavalier trio showed so much humility in trying to help make an impact in the world rather than flaunt their earnings with bling.

Wonder how many lives these guys and their colleagues will impact, even save, over time? They’d love to have more help.


  1. Hampton Randolph says:

    Fantastic article!Really shows what kind of positive influence Tony Bennett has had on his players.
    We are very blessed to have such a role model as our coach.

  2. Dave Johnson says:

    Great article Jerry! These young men are not self-centered, egotistical superstars but humble men serving the needs of others! They are a wonderful example to all other athletes!

  3. Sam Smith says:

    Whatever he’s running for, Malcolm has MY vote!

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