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Ginobili uses celebrity to reach young players



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



He joined Dikembe Mutombo at a basketball camp in Argentina.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Manu Ginobili is home again and trying his best to lower the volume on his celebrity. That is no easy thing for someone who is greeted by his president and likened to Diego Maradona in a country where soccer is king.

"Even if I had a chance to put on 17 championship rings, I'd still feel no different," he said. "Talking about achievements makes me uncomfortable."

Ginobili, who helped the San Antonio Spurs to their second NBA title in three years, received an effusive welcome Friday from President Nestor Kirchner at the pink Government House.

"Manu is a superstar," Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo said. "To win a championship is how legends are born. He's already legend. ... He has a strong heart and a strong will and you can tell just the way he plays: He plays very hard."

Ginobili and Mutombo are in Argentina, mentoring the next generation of Latin American stars. They are taking part in a "Basketball Without Borders" training camp, teaching some of the best youth players from 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries what it takes to make it in the NBA.

International players

A foreigner was once a rarity in the NBA. Now, Manu told 57 teenage stars from across the Americas, the barriers are falling fast for international players with the skills and tenacity to survive in the world's toughest basketball league.

"The NBA is looking to all the countries of the world, wherever there is talent," Ginobili said at the start of the three-day camp. "Argentina is one of those countries ... and it's only a question of time before more players break into the NBA."'

Fellow Argentines Carlos Delfino of the Detroit Pistons and Andres Nocioni of the Chicago Bulls also headlined the camp. Mutombo of Nigeria wowed the youngsters with slam dunks and his oversized basketball shoes.

NBA officials in Argentina hope the program that began in Europe in 2001 will expand in coming years. Similar camps are expected this year in Beijing on July 14-17 and Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 7-12.

So far more than 440 players from 72 countries have taken part in that and other programs backed by the NBA and the International Basketball Federation.

Arturo Nunez, the vice president and managing director for NBA Latin America, said the league has come a long way from 1997 when it had just two Latin American players -- now up to 16. And that's not counting foreign-born players from elsewhere around the world.

"Each year these athletes are playing bigger roles for their teams and each year there are more stars emerging," Nunez said.

Encouraging youngsters

He cited Ginobili as an example and said he hoped programs like the one in Buenos Aires would encourage more youngsters.

"At this camp, we have many kids who could be potential NBA players," he said.

For now, the spotlight is on Ginobili, the left-handed guard who helped the Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons in seven games for the NBA title. His play has brought out the superlatives in local sports columnists, who are putting Ginobili on a pedestal beside the likes of Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 World Cup crown.

"I think the NBA represents a global showcase for talent," Mutombo said. "That's something that just started happening in these past years. Worldwide as I travel all over the world, you see that more kids who are wearing NBA shirts and thinking of playing basketball."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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