John Hemsley just met the guys on his basketball team a month ago, but yesterday they worked the court at Catonsville Community College as if they had been playing together for years.
"I hardly knew these guys, but we played today like we were a family," said Hemsley, an 18-year-old Southern High School graduate who played guard yesterday. "That's what I like about this program. It's a family atmosphere."
Hemsley, a local sensation who has signed with the University of Miami, joined players ages 15 to 18 from Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, Fla., and the Baltimore-Washington area to play in the HOPE Worldwide Second Annual Freedom Invitational
HOPE -- Helping Other People Everywhere -- is an organization affiliated with the International Church of Christ, which sponsors several charity projects abroad.
Evangelist and volunteer coach Jon Goodman said the 2-year-old basketball program has become extremely popular.
"HOPE does so much worldwide that we were looking for a way to do something for the kids in this country," said Goodman, who played for Duke University 10 years ago.
"We have literally had to turn kids away."
Players are recruited for teams in the four areas that were represented yesterday, as well as New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Goodman said the program brings several inner-city students together to practice as a team for two months before the tournament, which was in Washington last year.
"It's not just about having talent," Goodman said. "We are looking for kids that have great moral character, kids who want to make a difference and kids who like to compete."
Curtis King, 16, of Philadelphia said the tournament gave him the opportunity to visit another city and make friends.
He said he loves basketball and enjoyed the spiritual part of the tournament.
"It adds a better aspect to the game," King said. "You are playing in a religious environment, and that helps you have more respect for your fellow players, the referees and the coaches."
Pub Date: 7/07/96