Coach Gio’s Unlikely Basketball Journey From Tbilisi To Brooklyn

When Giorgi Koguashvili was a six-year-old in post-Soviet Georgia, his uncle bought him a copy of Space Jam, now best-remembered by everyone else as the cringeworthy crossover of Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny.

For Koguashvili, the movie was life-changing: “I fell in love with Michael Jordan. And since then I wanted to be like him.”

In his childhood in Tbilisi, Coach Gio — as he’s now known — started in a yard with a wooden hoop. He joined his first organized team when he was seven.

“Conditions were horrible. Windows broken, floors messed up, crooked hoops, no electricity, no heat we played in jackets with gloves on,” he recalled in a recent interview.

Giorgi was a star on the national 16-and-under team when he was recruited to a powerhouse basketball prep school in West Virginia, Mountain State Academy.

“In the first couple of months, I don’t even know how I survived. I could not speak English, there were no Georgians, it was a small town,” he said. “Everybody played basketball, they respected me because I played basketball.”

A bad injury slowed him down and he realized he might not make a career in basketball. He got his degree in agriculture business management, planning to go back to Georgia and work the land. But along the way, he passed through New York and crashed on a friend’s couch — and wound up with an internship.

But Giorgi also needed to make some money, “so I started to train kids in the parks. I knew some Georgian families, 5, 6 kids. When it got too cold to play outside in the fall of 2017, he found a court at a Greek Orthodox church and advertised the class on Facebook. Nine kids came for the first session, then 18 for the next, and not all of them were Georgian anymore. Soon, Gio needed to hire another coach and found Melvin McCluen — “Coach Mike”.

His dream is a home for the Academy.

“I want to get my own space, a warehouse, where I could have a basketball gym with a full-sized court, with 3-4 side courts for individual training and a library where kids can come do homework,” he said. “We could have classes, tournaments – now it is always someone else’s gym.”

Brooklyn Basketball Academy is $260/month for three 90-minute after school classes a week, for kids 6-10 and 11-14.

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