KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Pat Summitt and her Tennessee Lady Volunteers staff routinely preach basketball fundamentals to campers – just not to players from Iraq.
There were 10 eager teenage Iraq girls at Summitt’s annual camp this week, hanging on every word: games can’t be won without defense and ball control is the foundation of good offense.
“At the beginning I didn’t play well, but I got better after a few days,” 16-year-old Shan wrote in a translated blog post for the U.S. Department of State. “I became more open and comfortable after the first few games. I’ve learned so much about basketball, and I saw places that are very different from Iraq.”
For security purposes, Shan’s and the rest of the players’ last names were not given.
The Iraq contingent was in Knoxville from June 3 through Thursday as part of a U.S. Department of State exchange program.
They toured Washington, attended a WNBA game and visited the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in addition to participating in Summitt’s camp.
The girls participated alongside the other teams in Summitt’s program, practicing skills with Tennessee assistant coaches Holly Warlick, Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles-Furlow and competing in games.
“They were the most popular team in camp,” Summitt said. “When we introduced them, you would not believe how the other campers applauded and responded. They wanted to hang out with them.”
Unlike the American campers who have played basketball for most of their lives, the Iraqi girls have played organized basketball for only a year or two.
Most of them play on open-air courts in Iraq and get little game time during the hot summers. At Summitt’s camp, they were playing in the state-of-the-art Pratt Pavilion with two full-sized courts.
Summitt said she was impressed with how easily the girls – who are from different parts of Iraq – came together to form a team.
“They didn’t know each other and they came together. Their coaches were so excited,” she said. “With our campers here, they just got better because they played against better competition.”