Alongside Local Legends, Kaminsky Ventures to Basketball-Crazed Serbia

by Sam Perley

Two weeks ago, Bismack Biyombo and Marvin Williams were in South Africa for Basketball Without Borders and the NBA Africa Game. Now, it’s their Hornets teammate who is doing some globetrotting of his own.

Beginning on Wednesday, August 15, Frank Kaminsky will help kick off Serbia’s first-ever Basketball Without Borders camp in the capital city of Belgrade. This four-day event will be bringing together 63 of the best young male and female players from all over Europe to work directly with NBA players, coaches and other personnel, many of whom hail from the former Yugoslavia.

Kaminsky, who is of Serbian ancestry, will be accompanied on the trip by fellow American Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets, as well as Serbian NBA talents in Harris’ teammate Nikola Jokić, Bogdan Bogdanović and Nemanja Bjelica of the Sacramento Kings and the L.A. Clippers’ Boban Marjanović. A citizen of bordering Montenegro, Orlando Magic center, Nikola Vučević, will also be part of the assembly.

Adding to the group will be San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Soviet Studies from the Air Force Academy. The son of a Serbian father and Croatian mother, Popovich spent five years of active duty touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the U.S. Armed Forces Basketball Team back in the early 1970’s.

Charlotte Hornet alum Vlade Divac and Peja Stojaković – former-Kings teammates who are both Serbian and currently work together in the Sacramento front office – will also be making the journey home. Other former NBA players in attendance will include Serbians Žarko Paspalj and Vladimir Radmanović, Montenegrins Predrag Drobnjak and Saša Pavlović, Slovenians Rasho Nesterović, Boštjan Nachbar and Beno Udrih and Croatian Dino Radja.

For Divac, this trip holds emotional significance as he and three-time NBA Champion, Toni Kukoč, helped arrange the first-ever BWB Camp in Treviso, Italy way back in 2001 as a means to bring together children affected by violence in the war-torn Balkans. Divac and the Croatian-born Kukoč played together on the Yugoslavian National Team in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, which, at the time, was considered by many as the best team in the world outside of the United States.

Additional BWB 2018 invitees in Croatian Bruno Šundov, Serbian Dragan Tarlać and the aforementioned Nesterović also joined Divac and Kukoć at the inaugural edition of this event.

Divac – who played in Charlotte from 1996-98 as part of a 16-year NBA career – is a well-renowned figure back in Serbia and also one of the original pioneers when it comes to European basketball players migrating to the United States. Since retiring in 2005, he’s served as a Los Angeles Lakers scout, a sports adviser to the Serbian government, President of the country’s Olympic Committee and now, the Sacramento Kings’ VP of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

Stojaković played professional in Serbia and Greece before joining the Kings in 1998. He played 13 seasons in the league, racking up three All-Star Game appearances, an All-NBA Second Team selection and a championship ring with the Dallas Mavericks before retiring in 2011.

After hanging up his sneakers, Stojaković started his own foundation and completed his mandatory service in the Hellenic Army (he holds dual Greek citizenship). He is currently Sacramento’s director of player personnel and development.

While Yugoslavian basketball experienced much success during the glory days of Divac, Kukoč and the late Dražen Petrović, violent political turmoil fueled by nationalistic and ethnic tensions eventually tore the country (and team) apart. Still today, a feeling of, ‘What could have been?’, hovers like a ghost over the dissolved Yugoslavian National Team, which ultimately never fulfilled its true potential.

After Serbia’s separation from Montenegro in 2006, the National Team went through a relative dry spell before turning a corner in recent years. Silver medals at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics, 2017 European Championships and gold at each of the last two FIBA Europe Under-18 tournaments have helped restore the country’s reputation as one of the world’s elite basketball powers.

The war put a devastating toll on Serbia and the other former-Yugoslav republics, but basketball always remained a constant. With the resilience and fortitude needed to navigate such a situation, it’s no surprise that the region is currently one of the sport’s top talent producers on the planet.

In the most recent FIBA world rankings, Serbia sits fourth behind only the United States, Spain and France, while former Yugoslavian nations of Slovenia (7th) and Croatia (8th) are both part of the top 10. Serbia is also home to some of the top domestic clubs in Europe as well, most notably Crvena Zvezda, Mega Bemax and Divac’s former squad, Partizan.

Five Serbians were on NBA opening night rosters last season, with the former-Yugoslavian republics of Croatia (5), Bosnia & Herzegovina (3), Montenegro (2) and Slovenia (1) all represented as well. A total of 11 players with direct Serbian heritage have been taken in the past five NBA Drafts combined, including the reigning third overall pick in Luka Dončić.

Outside of the basketball-related activities, Kaminsky and the other invitees will take part in an NBA Cares community outreach project in Belgrade, which will consist of filling and delivering care packages for young people in the area battling illnesses.

The soon-to-be fourth-year big man will be joining a lengthy list of Hornets players who have taken part in BWB camps throughout the years. Both Nicolas Batum (Italy 2005) and Willy Hernangómez (Slovenia 2011) were invited to BWB Europe camps as teenage players, while Biyombo, Williams, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Tony Parker and Cody Zeller have now all been volunteers at some point as well.

Each BWB camp is a bit different, but all of them share a common thread in NBA players and coaches being able to use their platforms on a global scale to help the sport’s future stars of tomorrow. Not only are these NBA-sanctioned events a form of scouting for many teams, but they double as invaluable exposure and a potential gateway to a better life for many of the invited young players and their families.

Going back to the region that was heavily involved in the first Basketball Without Borders camp 17 years ago is quite an experience and honor in itself for Frank Kaminsky. Doing it in conjunction with one of the original founders of the program and a plethora of homegrown heroes only makes the trip that much more remarkable.


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