Basketball Without Borders unites Greek, Turkish boys

About 50 Greek and Turkish boys ages 12-14 will spend four days in Istanbul, on July 5-8, playing basketball and being taught the secrets of the game by professional Greek and Turkish players, plus Greek-speaking Serb Predrag Stojakovic, of the Sacramento Kings. The program, Basketball Without Borders, was conceived by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP). «We first thought about bringing together children from the former Yugoslavia, all the republics,» UNODCCP official Tim Carlsgaard told reporters yesterday. «Then we approached (Sacramento Kings center) Vlade Divac, who was very supportive of our idea.» Divac, a Serb, persuaded his former teammate on the unified Yugoslav team, Croat Toni Kukoc of the Atlanta Hawks, to participate at a summer camp in Treviso, Italy last summer along with five other Yugoslav stars also playing in the NBA, and teach the secrets of the game to 10 children from each state of the former Yugoslav republic. This summer’s camp is the second and will also be limited to boys. Carlsgaard said that, from next year onward, «we will consider bringing girls into it.» Greece will send to the camp 24 boys from the Hellenic Basketball Federation’s development program, chosen from 1,000, said the federation’s secretary-general, Petros Kapayeroff. «We tried to pick not just the best players, but boys with leadership skills,» said Kapayeroff. Also taking part in the camp are seven professional players, all members of their respective national teams. Stojakovic, who began his professional career with the Thessaloniki team PAOK, was chosen because he speaks Greek and because of his high profile – he is considered, along with Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki, the best European in the NBA. Joining Stojakovic will be his Kings teammate and back-up Hidayet Turkoglu and Antonis Fotsis of the Memphis Grizzlies, the first Turk and Greek, respectively, to play in the NBA. The other professionals who will attend are guard Theodoros Papaloukas and forward Dimitris Papanikolaou, both from Olympiakos, guard Ibrahim Kutluay of Panathinaikos, the first Turk to play professionally in Greece, forward Mirsad Turkcan of CSKA Moscow, a naturalized Bosnian, and forward Mehmet Okur, of Efes Pilsen. The boys will stay in dormitories at the Darussafaka sports facility in Istanbul. There they will break into four teams (Grizzlies, Kings, Pistons and Suns) who will play each other. The pros will not only help teach the boys new skills but will also talk to them about the dangers of drugs and the benefits of sports. Former basketball star and current member of parliament Panayiotis Fassoulas said at yesterday’s conference that the boys ought to be warned about the dangers of doping, which is prevalent in professional sports. «I consider the abuse of doping substances even more dangerous than drug abuse, because the ill effects of drugs are immediately apparent, while doping makes you feel stronger and more capable,» Fassoulas said. «Moreover, many parents, who would never think of encouraging their children to take drugs, encourage them to take performance-enhancing substances, mostly out of ignorance of their side effects,» he added.