One of the best-known basketball families in Turkey remains active in the summer to help kids learn more about the sport. Fenerbahce Istanbul guard Sinan Guler has teamed with his brother and father to create Guler Legacy, which, in collaboration with Ozyegin University, hosts a basketball camp for 150 kids. The camp is held at the university on the Asian side of Istanbul, just a few kilometers away from where Sinan Guler plays his home game at Ulker Sports Arena. Sinan, his brother Muratcan and their father Necati, a former Turkish national team player, host this camp for kids between the ages of 11 and 18.
The camp was inspired by the experiences of Muratcan and Sinan at different basketball camps in their youth, including one hosted by one of the all-time greats of the game. "We were very fortunate to spend several summers in the United States to attend basketball camps," Sinan said. "Two of those were Michael Jordan’s own basketball camps and it sure made an impact on my character as a basketball player to attend all the camps I have been to."
Sinan Guler started the camp at the right time, with basketball soaring in popularity in Turkey after the country hosted and won the silver medal at the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Sinan was a member of that team.
"It's not our goal only to create basketball players" - Sinan Guler
"After the 2010 World Cup, I started to think that I should create opportunities to share our family's experience with kids somehow. Differing from the general approach in Turkey, I tried to duplicate the basketball camps I had been to and share it with kids in Turkey and close countries," Sinan explained. "To make the camp as close to perfect as possible, I am around the camp all day long. Being married now, I do tend to go home after the kids go to sleep and arrive back at the campus when they enter the court in the mornings... I try to spend as much time as possible with kids to share our experience and motivate my team to offer the best possible service."
The camp's longevity means that the Gulers have seen some of their campers outgrow the camp and return as volunteers. "This is one of the two biggest joys I have in Guler Legacy," Sinan shared. "Watching kids grow, physically, mentally and as players is an amazing feeling."
Among the messages delivered to the kids is how to be better as basketballers and as people. "We use basketball as a tool, to help everybody in the camp become better overall. It's not our goal only to create basketball players," Sinan said. "By sharing our values, we hope they carry those values to even higher places. But since we give them so much basketball-related information during the week, right in the middle of the week, we all take a break. After lunch, there are team-related games that use less basketball. At night, we have pizza-and-movie night, where we keep sharing our experiences and try to show them sports-related movies."
Sinan Guler and his entire family are proud of what they do in their camp and how it connects them to people from all around Turkey and beyond. "In eight years and almost 900 kids, more than 350 of those kids came from cities in and outside of Turkey where basketball opportunities are not the same. Creating a way to connect kids at a level that only basketball can do and show them that they are living quite the same life, even though there are differences, creates a stronger bond between us, our team, and our campers," Sinan said. "This year, we had a chance to have three kids join our camp from Alicante, Spain, which in itself was a surprise and joy at the same time."
Some 20 former campers have already become professional players and others have stayed in the game through coaching, refereeing and other opportunities. A handful of kids have gone on to college after their positive experience on the campus of Ozyegin University. "Not only [does Ozyegin] provide the facilities to us and help us grow as a business, the founders are mentors of mine and help me become a better businessman."
Guler Legacy's basketball camp is here to stay for many, many years and Sinan hopes to see it grow all over Turkey. "Our purpose is to create opportunities for players who usually cannot find them and grow in numbers doing so. Our social approach makes our business more special. My main goal is to have at least one player and one coach from each city in Turkey in the next few years. We are at around 50 cities so far. We hope we can reach bigger numbers soon."
The way it's going, there are many reasons to believe that Guler Legacy will be churning out talented prospects and better people year after year.