Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program One Team once again put at-risk groups in need of community integration under the spotlight with a series of successful activities at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Istanbul.
The week started with a welcome session at the Ahmet Comert Sports Hall for the 150 local and international volunteers who had offered their help in ensuring all the week's events ran smoothly.
The volunteers were joined by Euroleague Legend Joe Arlauckas, Galatasaray Odeabank's One Team Ambassador Sinan Guler, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu, and Final Four Istanbul Ambassador Mirsad Turkcan.
Former Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahce big man Turkcan was particularly impressed with the growth in One Team since his own playing career ended, saying: "In the last five or six years this has become a very big social project, and I want to congratulate the Euroleague family because they're doing a great job."
On Friday, the morning of the semi-finals, One Team played a prominent part in the official opening ceremony of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague FanZone at Marmara Forum, with an illustrious list of former greats back on the floor to entertain the crowd with a One Team Legends Session and Exhibition Game.
Arlauckas, Turkcan, Nikola Vujcic, Ibrahim Kutluay, Theo Papaloukas, Patrick Femerling, Matjaz Smodis, Michalis Kakiouzis and Ermal Kuqo were all in attendance, alongside young One Team participants from Istanbul-based EuroLeague clubs Efes, Galatasaray and Darrusafaka Dogus.
Kuqo, who spent the majority of his playing career in Istanbul and still lives in the city, stated that the event at the FanZone helped underline the work carried out by One Team throughout the year.
"One Team is one of the most important parts of EuroLeague, which is not only about the players on the court but also about the kids," he said. "Euroleague does a great job all year, not only at the Final Four, actively working to give kids a great opportunity to come together."
Another event was staged at the FanZone on Saturday morning, when One Team hosted a fun session with athletes from the program's partner, Special Olympics, featuring guest appearances by players from each of the competing Final Four teams.
Global One Team Ambassador Kyle Hines of CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce's Ahmet Duverioglu, Othello Hunter from Real Madrid and Olympiacos Piraeus pair Kostas Papanikolaou and Ioannis Papapetrou all took the time to join the party atmosphere at the FanZone.
Papanikolaou, who has supported One Team all season by acting as Olympiacos's ambassador for the program, believes that players learn a lot from meeting up with the Special Olympics athletes, as much as the other way around.
"It's something wonderful," he said. "We have the opportunity to share some good moments with these kids. They love what they're doing and that inspires us."
One Team also had a strong presence inside the Sinan Erdem Dome for the Final Four, with the pre-game starting five presentations including athletes from Special Olympics Turkey, One Team participants from Galatasaray and Efes, and children from Dogus Group's Stay in the Game program.
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve real social impact in our communities.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already reached directly and indirectly 12,000 participants through its various team projects.