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Veteran SCV hoops coach going back to North Korea

Greg Hayes to guide American team into the country

Posted: March 5, 2013 9:47 p.m.
Updated: March 5, 2013 9:46 p.m.
 

Santa Clarita Valley veteran basketball coach Greg Hayes is going back to North Korea where he will once again guide an American basketball team for games and clinics.

Hayes and a group of 13 went to North Korea last June on what was called “Project uNKnown” — a mission to bring the first American team to the reclusive nation to play the country’s top teams.

His team will play in China from June 8-15 and North Korea from June 15-21.

The U.S. State Department urges Americans not to visit North Korea because of its reported human rights abuses and with tension always high between the two countries.

Yet Hayes said his group, led by organizer Luke Elie, who plays professionally in South Korea, continues to hope basketball can help bridge the gap between the two nations.

Last year, the group, which included Valencia High graduates James Glass and Stevie Sansone, expected to play against high-level North Korean teams.

But due to rising tensions, the American group played against teams made up mostly of high school-aged boys.

“It was a wonderful group of guys — a perfect group. We’ve remained so close since then, but also made some friends in North Korea,” Hayes said. “They said, ‘Will you tell people good things about our country?’ I recognize those good things. I feel we’re going back to friends as well as a very challenging situation. Last summer showed us in a small way basketball can bring about peace and friendship. We’re excited about that opportunity again.”

Hayes said he didn’t hear from anybody in the U.S. government after his group’s visit last year.

The U.S. was vocal, though, last week when Dennis Rodman visited the country.

“The North Korean regime has a horrific human rights record, quite possibly the worst human rights situation in the world,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington.

On Rodman, he said: “Clearly you’ve got the regime spending money to wine and dine foreign visitors when they should be feeding their own people.”

“We’re not Dennis Rodman. We won’t get the publicity. We’re a grass-roots group. We’re using basketball to try and bring peace and friendship,” Hayes said.

Hayes said one player backed out last year at the last moment of going to North Korea because of his beliefs, but the other members of the group found it to be a rewarding experience.

The former Canyon basketball head coach said it’s a fair question to ask why he would go to North Korea with all that’s been said about the country and its distrust of the United States, but he said he saw a different side of the nation.

His group is hoping to bring a former NBA player.

He said Glass will likely join the team again.

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