This week’s blog is brought to you by Pat Garrity, former NBA sharpshooter, who played professionally for the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic for ten years. Pat and former WNBA player, Evan Unrau, were VIP’s at PPI – Cyprus’ Summer Camp, which brought together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children together to play basketball and build friendships. During the week-long camp, Pat shared an unbelievable amount of knowledge and passion for the game with our participants and coaches.
In August I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in PPI-Cyprus’s annual Summer Camp. I’d gotten to know about PeacePlayers through a friend who also serves on PPI’s board. Through him, I met Brendan Touhey, one of PPI’s Co-Founders. During my career in the NBA, I had the good fortune to participate in a number of programs around the world that use basketball as a bridge to connect young people and develop leadership. The experiences all left me with long lasting relationships and terrific memories. Basketball has always been the centerpiece of my life. Since retiring from the NBA in 2008 and no longer able to do what I once used to on the court, I’ve found that teaching kids the game is the next best thing. So when Brendan called me earlier this summer and asked if I’d be interested in helping lead PPI’s summer camp in Cyprus, I gladly accepted.
I worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers.
Prior to arriving, the only thing I knew about basketball in Cyprus was that a former teammate of mine on the Orlando Magic, Darrell Armstrong, had played there in the days before he broke into the NBA. His career in Cyprus didn’t last long, though. He had to return back to the US early after his team’s gym was burned down by rival fans upset about the outcome of a game. After dinner one night, I mentioned the story I’d heard from Darrell to Michalis, one of the camp coaches, wanting to know if in fact it were true. Though he was only 12 at the time, Michalis remembered the game and told me about it in great detail. His ability to recall the episode in such detail illustrated an impression I’d formed early on in my interactions in the first days of the camp: people here love basketball! As the week went on, this was evident not only in the outstanding coaches who helped lead the camp, but also in the passion and knowledge of the game possessed by the kids who participated.
For a week, I along with Evan Unrau (who just joined Stanford’s women’s staff; congrats Evan!) and Robbie Hummel (who just finished his playing career at Stanford), worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers. In the mornings, we led 64 participants through fundamentals, and in the evening, the kids put what they learned into action in 5-on-5 games. On one of the nights, Evan, Robbie and I, with the help of some of the older campers, led a coaching clinic for local coaches. Off the court, the PPI staff conducted a full regiment of sessions aimed at teaching leadership, tolerance, and cooperation. And of course, there was plenty of time for the pool and meals during which the kids could just hang out, uninterrupted by adults, reviewing their latest posts on Instagram, and more importantly, forming bonds which might otherwise never have been formed were it not for programs like PeacePlayers.
At the end of the last on-court session, we had a huge water balloon fight. The last night we had a dance, with a DJ, lights and all, and celebrated all the hard work that the kids, Ryan Hage (PPI-Cyprus’ International Fellow), Stephanie Nicolas (PPI-Cyprus’ Coordinator) and Jale Canlibalik (PPI-Cyprus’ Managing Director) put in to making it such a success.
Basketball has provided me a great deal, ever since I picked up the game in 4th grade. I’ve had a chance to play for some of the best coaches in the game and against the best players in the world. Basketball has taken me to China, Africa, India and throughout Europe. And as anyone who’s been around the game will tell you, it’s the relationship based on a common love of the game that form the longest-lasting memories. My time in Cyprus with PeacePlayers was no different.
Many thanks to all who made my experience with Peace Players possible. Thank you to US Ambassador John Koenig and the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus for supporting the program and taking the time to visit. Along with Evan, Robbie, Ryan, Stephanie and Jale, a special thanks also to the Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, and Nicos who in addition to their contributions to the camp dedicate so much of their time year-round to continue to build the program and put PeacePlayers mission into action. And finally, a big thank you to the 64 campers for their wonderful attitudes, open-mindedness and effort. I hope what you learned this week fuels your improvement, not only in basketball but also as leaders on your team, in your schools and in your communities. I hope our paths can cross again someday!