Just hours after playing in Friday night's semifinals, star players from all four teams at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four headed down to the FanZone on Saturday morning to meet Special Olympics athletes coming from Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade One Team program.
The event at Belgrade's famous Kalemegdan Fortress was staged in support of One Team, Euroleague Basketball's hugely successful social responsibility program which is supporting local communities across the continent.
The players who came along were Victor Khryapa and Kyle Hines from CSKA Moscow, Luigi Datome and Ahmet Duverioglu from Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul, Dino Radoncic and Santi Yusta from Real Madrid, and Axel Toupane and Paulius Valinskas from Zalgiris Kaunas.
"It is not about teaching the children to play basketball," Khryapa said. "It is to show them that we are supporting them, to make them feel good, enjoy it, and teach them something to use in everyday life. We have these sessions in our local areas, with our clubs, doing different exercises. Teaching them how to share, how to care about each other through basketball -- the same as we did today-- is great."
The eight players took part in a special session at the main court of the FanZone with 12 participants from the One Team program of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, which has taken place this season in partnership with Special Olympics Serbia.
"I know that when I was a kid, I wanted to spend time with basketball players," Valinskas said. "I think it is really important and we have had a great connection with them. This is something that happens throughout the year. It is great and important that players all over Europe are doing this. Hopefully, in the future, even more players and clubs will connect with kids like this."
There was lots of laughter and fun at the event which was open to the general public at the FanZone and also attended by VIP guests Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, and Miroslaw Krogulec, Special Olympics Europe Sports Director.
"We were having a lot of fun with the Special Olympic kids," Duverioglu said. "It is a nice event to spend time with the kids and give them something to remember and enjoy this special moment with them. We like it. To see them enjoying, happy, smiling. That's the best part about it."
"It was my first time and it was great," Toupane said. "This social responsibility program is a great initiative by the EuroLeague. It was a great experience and it was dynamic. Sometimes you just come and watch, but here we had a chance to participate and that was very good. My favorite part was when they had to shoot with blindfolds over their eyes, and the rest of us had to pretend they made it. That was pretty fun."
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 meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 14,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.