The YMCA Europe festival took place in Prague over the 4th to 9th July and I (el prez) was fortunate enough to take a group of young people from Leith over to participate.
At the festival a streetball project from Helsinki provided some superb beats whilst ballers could play in pick up games all week.
Things culminated with a 3 on 3 competition on the Thursday evening with around 20 teams made up of players aged 16+ from around the world competing.
The day started with a fun division in the afternoon then in the evening when the sun went down the floodlights lit the courts for a ‘pro’ division tournament.
I joined forces with two 16 year olds from Harlem (Will & Brandi) and a big man from Finland (Ivo) to take it to some pretty skilled playersfrom all over the world in the pro tournament.
We lost our big man in the first game with a dislocated shoulder so i stepped inside as the two young New Yorkers ran it from the outside as we looked to pick our way through the group stages.
The first game was a comfortable victory over a group of players from the US as we moved the ball more and forced them to chase us over the court.
Game 2 was against some physical Fins who burst my lip within a minute! Still we went at it and forced the win by one point in overtime. By now we had done enough in the group to progress to the semis bit still we faced a team from NYC in our final group game and were stunned by a former US college point guard who shot the lights out, handing us a hefty defeat.
Regardless, we moved into the semis and played to a big crowd against a team featuring a Finnish pro baller called Omega who I had the task of guarding. Remarkably we pushed them hard and forced it into another overtime decider. Nerves set in on the big stage for our young guards and Omega (the big man from Finland) picked off a slack pass on the perimeter and drove to the hoop to slam it home and seal the win, sending us out of the tournament.
There was no complaints from our team though as we had enjoyed this opportunity to meet fellow players from around the world, make friends and unite in a sport we love with like minded people. Unsurprisingly the NYC team won the tournament to a packed crowd as the guard AJ put on a show beyond the reaches of the other competitors.
It was interesting to play with guys from across the globe and see the different styles at play. The New Yorkers generally liked to go solo and take it to the hole but the passing euro style often worked effectively against them as throughout the week more victories were notched up than defeats.
The real winner was the work of the Helsinki YMCA, which to see first had was pretty special. Taking 2 turntables, a soundsystem and some dedicated ballers they engage with hard to reach young people in the streets of Helsinki offering a positive alternative to getting wrecked every Friday and Saturday night. It’s not about telling people what to do or how to be. They just provide great music so youths can hang out together, watch and play Bball and if need be, chat with individuals about any issues they face or things on their mind.
Basketball truly is a sport than can bring people together and when you find something for you in life it can help give that positive focus you once were missing. As a youth worker and basketball player I hope we can turn some young people onto this fantastic sport over the next few years, through our team and other possible ventures like those of the Helsinki YMCA.