In The Name of Basketball: Evan Unrau Bridges Divides at the PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

The whole gang

Evan Unrau with PeacePlayers coaches and members of the Leadership Development Program

Today’s blog is written by former WNBA player, Evan Unrau. Two weeks ago, Evan along with former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, flew to Cyprus for the PeacePlayers Summer Camp. Each year the camp brings together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth for six days of basketball training, conflict resolution, and leadership development.

Evan with the winners of one vs one finalists

Evan with the winners of one vs one finalists

My name is Evan Unrau, and I have recently returned home to Los Angeles after spending a week in Cyprus as a PeacePlayers – Cyprus VIP for their summer basketball camp.  As a Division I collegiate coach and former elite athlete, I have devoted my life to the game of basketball.  I have been blessed with the chance to play and coach at the highest level and have developed a philosophy about my involvement in the game – it’s all about people.  Sport has the unique ability to unite people across ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and other qualifiers.  When the opportunity arose to partner with PeacePlayers International and assist with their summer camp in Cyprus, I jumped at the opportunity.  I hopped on a plane and made the 14-hour journey to Cyprus filled with excitement and a bit of uncertainty as to  what lay ahead for the next 10 days.  To my delight, I was met with one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage met me at the airport, and we began an adventure for the ages.  In my days leading up to the camp, I was introduced to my fellow VIP partner, former NBA star Pat Garrity.  Pat is a highly accomplished man on paper, but the real life version is so much better.  Pat has a passion and intellect for the game of basketball that is rare to come across.  Together we toured Cyprus and were treated to its wonderful cuisine and sights and were introduced to a team of PPI staff members whose passion for their cause is truly beautiful.

Evan and Pat with US Ambassador

Evan and Pat with US Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig

The day of camp came, and we took a bus to the hills of Agros where camp was to be held. The  views were spectacular!  It is here that we met other camp workers and many of the PPI players attending camp.  What a special group of people!  There was an air of excitement as our PPI camp journey was beginning to take form.   It was in sitting with the PPI coaches that the story of Cyprus and its embattled past began to take from.  A country divided between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, I began to meet the people living the present day struggle to become a country united.  The camp itself was scheduled to include sessions focused on leadership development, team bonding and basketball skill sessions.  Myself and Pat were in charge of the basketball component of camp, but it was outside of the basketball court where I found the true value of PPI’s mission.  In a room with PPI coaches and community leaders, we participated in activities aimed at joining the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot campers together and learned more about one another and finding a common ground.  With many of the players having the ability to speak English, we engaged with this wonderful group of kids and found ourselves talking and laughing a ton.  It was in these sessions that the power of PeacePlayers began to take form.

To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.

Evan leading the girls team through a series of basketball drills

Evan leading the girls team through a series of basketball drills

Basketball time!  I had no idea what to expect when planning my workouts with the PPI athletes.  What level of basketball talent were they?  What kind of drills and terminology had they been exposed to?  Would they look at me like I had 4 heads?  To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.  With the assistance of PPI coaches and senior leaders as translators when needed, we worked hard and got even better!  As impressed as I was with the players on the court, my interaction with them on the walk to the gym and in the moments shooting around before and after practice really showed their personalities, and they are WONDERFUL!  I learned about where they are from, their families, what kind of music they like, who their favorite players are and why they are part of PPI.  As their stories unfolded, I began to truly understand the power of PPI’s initiative – that kids are kids and when you bring them together in the name of a cause, such as basketball, memories and relationships are formed which shed the burden of history that has been thrust upon them.

Evan with the PPI - Cyprus coaches and young leaders who assisted with many of the practices

Evan with PeacePlayers coaches and young leaders who assisted with many of the practices

I can’t thank the coaches and organizers of PPI enough for letting me partake in such a wonderful event.  To PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage, thank you for your time and enthusiasm.  No one has more energy than you!  To Stephanie, you organized a well-oiled machine and provided the ultimate summer camp experience.  To Jale, who behind the scenes helped make a vision into a reality.  To the PeacePlayers coaches: Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, Nicos, and Robbie, you guys are a basketball player’s dream to have coach them.  To the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia and Ambassador John Koenig who so graciously helped fund and take the time out of his busy schedule to attend the camp.  And finally, to all the campers,  THANK YOU!  I had the time of my life and am thrilled to add PPI-Cyprus to my ever expanding family in the name of basketball.

In case you missed it, check out this fantastic video recap of the camp made by Tessa Ramsay, a volunteer for the week at camp:

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