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Pro basketball: Hayes to coach in North Korea

Longtime SCV hoops mentor chosen to lead team of professionals playing in Asia this June

Posted: April 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Longtime Santa Clarita Valley high school basketball coach Greg Hayes said he has been told that an American basketball team has never gone into North Korea to play the country’s top teams.

That could change this summer, as Hayes will be the head coach for a team made up mostly of Americans playing professionally in Asia that is scheduled to play in North Korea.

“People have asked me if I’m scared to go,” Hayes said. “I’m scared not to go.”

Hayes, who was the head coach at Canyon High from 1982 to 1996 and has been an assistant at Valencia since 2001, was chosen through an international contact he has with a man named Luke Elie.

Elie plays professionally in South Korea and it was his vision to get a pro team to play in North Korea.

Hayes, who said he has taught basketball in 30 different countries, was chosen to lead the group after he expressed interest through his international contact.

The team is scheduled to meet in Beijing in early June and do a two-day training camp June 10 and 11.

It is then supposed to arrive in North Korea on June 16 and stay for five days, playing college, club and professional teams in that span.

Hayes said former Valencia High basketball player Stevie Sansone, 2010 Valencia graduate, will be participating with the team.

“No one’s quite sure what to expect,” Hayes said. “We know the goal is to show love and goodness and kindness and respect and honor for a group going there and hopefully open doors for the U.S. teams for years to come in North Korea. Basketball’s an international language. There’s a sense of real responsibility. It’s a privilege and an honor.”

Hence, the group is calling this trip “Project uNKnown.”

The U.S. Department of State has a warning to travelers to North Korea on its website.

In the warning, it says: “The North Korean government will detain, prosecute, and sentence those who enter the DPRK without first having received explicit, official permission and an entry visa from its government. Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidently, have been subject to arrest and long-term detention.”

Hayes said his group has been granted permission and travel visas are in the works.

One thing on his group’s side is Hayes has heard that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a basketball fan, as reportedly was his father Kim Jong-il.

Hayes understands there will be hurdles along the way. Included in that is raising money for the trip.

The coach said it could cost nearly $50,000 and the group plans some fundraisers before the trip.

There’s already an itinerary so the gears are in motion.


Hayes can be reached at [email protected]


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