OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — In a post-lunch session at Warriors youth basketball camp, 11-year-old Vanessa Lewis stood and beamed as she asked a very important question to a pair of very important guests: “Have you seen your rings yet?”

Nope, answered Nemanja Bjelica and Chris Chiozza. Then, moments later Wednesday, fellow campers Amari Chiefelk and Will McCloskey appeared from around the blue Golden State Warriors partition and handed each man a box containing his sparkling 2022 championship ring.

Awestruck, their eyes lit up immediately.

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“I didn’t realize it was going to be that big,” said an emotional Bjelica, who traveled from home in Belgrade, Serbia, via Istanbul, Turkey, to San Francisco for the special occasion. “Probably in a couple more years it will be more realistic.”

Typically, the Warriors present former players with their rings in an on-court pregame ceremony when they come through town with an opposing organization, but these two were playing overseas so the first opportunity was Wednesday — and having the kids participate made it that much more memorable.

Senior camp director Jeff Addiego rallied the campers to start cheering and screaming so the players would emerge from the Warriors’ former weight room area to see what all the commotion was all about.

Chiozza had been home in Atlanta. He spent time with Brooklyn’s G League team this past season before recently playing two months in Spain. Chiozza called it special to see Bjelica again and was overjoyed to have the youth players take part in the fun.

“It is, I ain’t seen him in a long time. That’s my guy right here,” Chiozza said. “I didn’t know we were going to be here with the kids.”

The 35-year-old Bjelica said he will always be “very grateful” for his one season playing alongside superstars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

“It was amazing to share the locker room with this group of people,” Bjelica recalled. “It was a great friendship with all these people here. … It was all about the team and what we could accomplish as a group.”

Bjelica and Chiozza hoped the youngsters would still remember them — and if they didn’t, the players sure felt the love anyway. They autographed team photos for each camper.

And every young athlete had the chance to fist bump the stars and pose for a photo with them in front of the championship trophy. Lewis, an 11-year-old from the Northern California city of Fairfield, captured pictures and videos on her phone. The 10-year-old Chiefelk will have quite the story to share when she returns to her tiny hometown of Polson, Montana.

For the campers, it was an absolute thrill to be part of the unforgettable festivities.

“It was really amazing to see pros in person,” said the 11-year-old McCloskey, who will be a sixth-grader in Oakland in the fall and said of being picked, “I think it was just luck. I was really nervous. I was nervous I was going to drop the ring.”

No turnover here, just a perfect assist right into the hands of Chiozza.


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