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OKC Thunder Player Takes on International Role (Mar 04, 2011)

International names are not unusual on the team roster for the Oklahoma City Thunder. But as KGOU’s Kurt Gwartney reports, one player is connecting Oklahoma City to Africa and Europe through his charitable work.

Thabo Sefolosha is known by most people as a guard with the Thunder.  He’s an unlikely NBA star, with roots in South Africa and growing up in Switzerland, both countries where basketball is not the most popular sport.

“Growing up in Switzerland, I started basketball when I was 10 years old,” Sefolosha said. “That was right around when Barcelona hosted the Olympics and the Dream Team came to Europe, so I was with many other kids starting to play basketball at that time. I started on the playground, playing with my brother. Maybe a year later, I had a neighbor who said, ‘OK, you guys are kind of tall. Why don’t you come play with our basketball team?’"

Thabo and his wife Bertille invited me into their home recently to speak with the international couple about their new project.

“We’re building an afterschool program for children in South Africa,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “Which has sports facilities, meals for the children, and coaches and trainers on site to teach them different things they can be subjected to in the streets in the township of Mamelodi. Just helping build their character, be involved with sports."

“You have to realize that a lot of those children have nothing,” Betille said. “When I say nothing, it’s compared to the Oklahoma children. You can find soccer fields, you can find football fields, you have help from the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA. But when you go to South Africa, there is no social help whatsoever.”

“We really want to put the finger on what’s going to help them,” Thabo said. “For some of [these kids], it’s going to be the only hot meal they eat all day.”

This past Sunday, February 27, about 200 guests attended an Oscar night party organized by Thabo and Bertille to raise money for the after school program and its facilities in South Africa. While this was their first time in this role, it probably won’t be their last. Thabo is the new representative for international aid organization called IMBEWU, taking over from professional tennis star Roger Federer.

For both Thabo and Bertille, who’s from Cameroon and lived in France, they also see their involvement as a way to connect Oklahoma to the world.

“The world is getting smaller and smaller,” Thabo said. “We’re a good example of that. So we want to have the people of Oklahoma involved. And so far the response has been amazing. I think they appreciate it and we definitely appreciate doing this. It’s a first for us, and a first for them.”

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