The further away you are from from something, the more you yearn for it. And it was that yearning that led former basketball coach Thanos Softsis and veteran player of Olympiacos, AEK and PAOK (among others) Giannis Kalampokis to create the “Learn, Love and Connect” (or LLC, for short) basketball camps.

The idea came to the two men after they were invited to give a lecture at a basketball programme in Stuttgart organised by Hellas Esslingen, a Greek club in the region. Both sportsmen were left overwhelmed by the love and nostalgia the Greeks of the diaspora had for anything remotely related to their homeland, which resulted in conversations on what they could do to help these people feel connected with Greece and the birth of the LLC programme.

Mr Softsis told Neos Kosmos that each programme begins with the selection of a suitable location, before the creation of a schedule based on morning camps and the addition of further events in association with the participants. The next LLC will be in Thessaloniki from 13-20 June, with visits to the archaeological sites of Pella and Vergina, while in the mornings there will be basketball training and visits by sports legends such as Nikos Galis and Giannis Ioannidis. The afternoons will be spent with friendly games with the academies of PAOK, Aris, Iraklis, Chatzivrettas and Mantoulidis. Finally, there will also be talks with nutritionists regarding how the Mediterranean diet benefits people’s health.

Basketball is used as a means of fostering connections between people and their homeland. Mr Softsis said that it has been proven that Greeks have a deep connection with sports as can be seen by the euphoria they feel when celebrating Greece’s success stories in the sports arena.

The goal of the LLC is “the dissemination of Greek ideals and elements of culture and cultural heritage to the new generations in an experiential way”, while also ensuring there is great interactivity between young diasporans and locals to foster understanding and exchange.

The initiative enjoys the support of major clubs and athletes in Greece from teams such as Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and AEK that also enjoy a following abroad and which are interested in seeing Greek migrants connect with their heritage. Future programmes are also planned for Goumenissa, whereas the creators of LLC hope to also go beyond the borders of Greece and take their programme to other countries.

“The idea is that we organise a group of people from different sectors of life and we try to convey as much information as possible from Greek culture and Greek philosophy. It is more convenient that when the program takes place in Greece, it is much more easy for us, as the monuments and archaeological sites, the speakers of various sciences, the theatres and the people of arts, the athletes and the invited guests are next to us.

Of course it has a very big impact at expatriates returning home. Nevertheless, organising such a program in another country promoting Greek philosophy in life and sport is very tempting”, says Mr Softsis.

However, as he says, if the Greeks of Melbourne were to show their support in the way they are known to, then the program is guaranteed to be a success.