TREVISO, Italy, July 2 (AP) --
Growing up in Croatia, 14-year-old basketball prospect Arsen Solic had never met a Yugoslavian or Bosnian. Now he can count several as friends, bunkmates and teammates.
"They're normal kids, just like us," Solic said from Treviso, Italy, at a special basketball camp led by NBA players, including Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Rasho Nesterovic.
The event united 50 promising young talents from across the former Yugoslavia. From each of five different countries -- Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Yugoslavia -- 10 kids arrived separately in this northeastern Italian city.
But before they got back on their ethnically divided buses to return to the Balkans, the youngsters aged 12 to 14 spent June 29 to July 2 on teams, in bunks and at dinner tables mixed among peers from across the troubled region.
"Yeah, we exchanged addresses. Hopefully we'll keep in touch," Solic said of kids from other countries who were on his team for drills and a four-squad, mini-tournament.
Zan Tabak, Alex Radojevic, Rasho Nesterovic and Bruno Sundov pose with one of the campers.
Fabio Bozzani/NBAE Photos
The camp was sponsored by the United Nations and funded by Benetton, which owns the Italian league team in Treviso.
"Basketball is the same everywhere," said Nesterovic, a Slovenian center with the Minnesota Timberwolves. "You give the kids a chance to make friends with some from other countries, and try to forget what's been going on these 10 years."
Divac, who was becoming a star with the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 1990s while his homeland spiraled into ethnic violence, has long been involved in helping the victims of the bloodshed.
"I'm very proud to be part of this camp," said the center, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings. "There are a lot of Yugoslavian players who came to the United States to play in the league and now the NBA is trying to do something special for us."
The youths, picked from among the top prospects by their nations' basketball federations, also took part in seminars and discussion groups.
Counselors talked about leadership, working together and the dangers of drugs, but they didn't directly address the war and hate that have afflicted their parents' generation.
"We wanted the lessons to be implicit -- in living together and eating together, also in the game," said Nada Bucat, a Croatian-born psychologist working for the United Nations. "We talked about the importance of feeling part of a group -- not a national group -- but a team."