With the NBA lockout in its 134th day, many are fearing the pains of a winter without professional basketball. But in Cyprus at least, there is plenty of basketball to hold us over. In the Greek-Cypriot community there are 9 Division 1 basketball teams: APOEL, AEK, Achilleas, ETHA, Keravnos, Omonia, Apollon, AEL, and ENAD. Every season the 9 teams play each other twice, followed by playoffs where the champion automatically qualifies to compete in FIBA’s EuroChallenge competition where they will compete against the best teams of Europe, Russia and Turkey.
In the Turkish-Cypriot community there are also 9 teams: Gonyeli, Near East University, Eastern Mediterranean, Akdeniz, Kucuk Kaymakli, Soyer Sport, Koop, Karaoglanoglu, and Yeni Cami. But other than the number of teams, there is very little in common between the Greek-Cyprtiot and the Turkish-Cypriot basketball leagues. For the Turkish-Cypriot teams there is no opportunity to advance to play in the EuroChallenge, and the talent levels and team budgets are much lower. In the Greek-Cypriot community, teams have annual budgets of 120,000 t0 700,000 euro, while on the north the budgets are around 35,000 euro. For this reason every team in the Greek-Cypriot league is able to draw up to 3 American players (usually coming out of low end D1 colleges) and a host of other European professional players, while there are usually only 1 or 2 Americans and Europeans playing in the entire Turkish-Cypriot league.
One thing that makes professional basketball in Cyprus special is how it feels like a small family. At every game you see the same faces in the crowd, and the same coaches standing on the sidelines. And while players will switch jerseys from season to season, you can pretty much guess who the starting 5 will be year after year. And there are plenty of current and former PeacePlayer staff among the ranks. Former PPI-CY Coordinator Marios is now the head coach of ENAD, friend of the program Mihalis is assistant coach for Karavnos, PPI-CY coaches Antonia and Alexi play and coach for Achilleas, while current PPI-CY Coordinator Athanasios (aka T-Bone) plays for Omonia. Last season PPI-CY International Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom played in the Turkish-Cypriot league on the Lefkosia Devils with PPI-CY Board Member Ercan Basaran. I had the pleasure of watching them win their first 3 games before the team was disbanded due to lack of funds.
But one of the best memories from professional basketball in Cyprus was during my first few months on the island, when PPI-CY Board Member Orhun Mevlit, was head coach of Gonyeli. They were already in the second round of the playoffs when Orhun asked Gunnar and myself to join the team as his assistant coaches. We gladly accepted, and spent the next month sitting on the bench with the team, working with the players and coaches, as they made their way to the championship.
With many good relationships between PPI-CY and the professional basketball community in Cyprus, we see great opportunity for future partnerships such as inviting professional players to PPI-CY tournaments, holding professional coaches trainings, and inviting PPI-CY teams to attend professional games and even play during halftime. All of these ideas would be fun for our kids and a great opportunity to give put the spotlight on PeacePlayers’ mission of uniting the youth of Cyprus through sport.