Youth Basketball Camp In Turkey Provides Opportunity of a Lifetime for Two U.S. Kids
It’s an annual summer rite for swarms of youth every year. Pack a bag, attempt to dodge a bear hug from mom and then bound off to a particular camp of interest to ideally make some memories for life. For two 14-year-old basketball players, it’s fair to say that this year’s camp experience was decidedly more memorable than most.
Jorie Gabrysiak of Brookfield, Wisconsin, and Peter Lavan of Bowdoin, Maine, each won a nationwide essay contest conducted by USA Basketball for a week at the Turkey Basketball Federation's Camp Pass It On in Istanbul, where they worked on their crossovers and jump shots with more than 200 other players from 87 different countries.
Founded in 2010 by the Turkish Basketball Federation and run this year in conjunction with the FIBA World Championship for Women, which tips off in Turkey on Sept. 27, one of the main goals of the camp was to promote social responsibility through basketball by bringing a myriad of cultures together under the umbrella of playing a sport they love.
And while each country had their own process for selecting their male and female representatives, the only official stipulation besides being 14 was a “basic knowledge of basketball and passion for making the world a better place.”
Gabrysiak, who found out about the contest on Twitter, says that she wrote her winning essay about how basketball is a metaphor for her life.
“Teamwork shows that if you fall down, you need to get back up and keep pushing because eventually you can get back in there and help your teammates,” she said. “It shows you that you can’t give up on what you believe in. Just dust yourself off and keep going.”
And Lavan, who came across the opportunity on Facebook, says he focused more on how the sport positively affects what’s important to him.
“When I’m playing basketball, it elevates everything else in my life,” he said. “My schoolwork, my friendships and my relationships with my parents, coaches and teachers are all better because of playing. It keeps me focused and prevents me from getting lazy.”
Accompanying the two players abroad was Dee Davis, the former all-time assists leader for Vanderbilt University, who has spent the last seven seasons as the head coach of the University School of Nashville’s women’s basketball team. Once arriving, one of the challenges Davis quickly encountered was just how to relay information to the non-English speaking players on her assigned squad, which was made up of athletes from countries as diverse as Cameroon, Kosovo and Swaziland -- but then technology came into play.
“There was a boy on my team from Italy who had a translator app on his phone so he showed it to me and it said, ‘Can I trade you an Italian team shirt for a USA Basketball shirt?’” said Davis. “I just thought it was the cutest thing because he was constantly smiling but he could never get out what he wanted to say to me before.”
And while the Italian player did get that trade and even had Davis sign his new shirt for him, the one thing that left an impression on her above all else was witnessing the heartening interactions between the players despite their immense differences.
“It was extraordinary to see all these kids from all these countries come together, work together and actually get along,” said Davis. “Especially when you see the turmoil that so many of these countries are going through, but you put these kids in the same room together and they just bonded. If the world could do that, it would be a better place.”
In addition to the packed days filled with drills, coaching clinics and scrimmages, the participants were treated to cultural events in the evenings to explore their surroundings. Some of the outings included a trip to watch powerhouse Spain beat Turkey 70-63 in a men’s FIBA World Cup exhibition game, and also catching a sightseeing cruise down the Bosphorus, which quickly turned into a dance party for the campers.
After the week was through, Gabrysiak, Lavan and also Davis reflected on how they came away from the experience with not only friendships from all corners of the globe, but some valuable takeaways as well.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Gabrysiak. “You learned so much there. You learned not only how to be better on the court but to be better as a person because even when your basketball career ends, you still need to have the backup of being a good person, which is always a good thing.”
A good thing, indeed.