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He's as All-American as could be, Travis Hansen. He grew up in the heart of patriotic Utah County, attended athletic powerhouse Mountain View High School in Orem and played basketball for his hometown and church school, Brigham Young University. Yet he could be Russian at the Olympics.
Just like WNBA star Becky Hammon, Hansen has been awarded Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, making the 6-foot-6 swingman eligible to play for the former "Evil Empire" at the 2008 Beijing Games in China - not long after he holds his second annual basketball camp in Lehi next week, aimed at benefitting underprivileged children in Russian orphanages.
"That's really important to us," he said.
Both developments are products of the path Hansen's career has taken since leaving the Cougars as the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year five years ago.
Though drafted by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, Hansen played only one season in the NBA before heading overseas, first to Spain, then to Russia. He recently finished his second season with Dynamo Moscow in the capital city, where he has emerged as one of the star players in the Russian Super League.
That's why national officials approached him last year about giving him citizenship. Hansen said he was "open" to the idea, and by the end of March, he had a red passport that clears the way for him to compete for a spot on the Russian national team, alongside the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko.
"That should be fun," Hansen said. "It's everybody's dream to play in the Olympics. The Olympics would be an unbelievable experience."
While Hammond has endured much criticism over her decision to join the Russian team, Hansen apparently has not - perhaps because unlike Hammond, he never was a highly regarded player in the pool of prospective members of the U.S. team.
What's more, he's hardly a sure thing to join the Russians in China.
International rules allow only one naturalized citizen per team, and point guard J.R. Holden is widely presumed to be the man who will occupy that spot for Russia, having played for the team for several years at a crucial position and made the basket that won the 2007 European Championships. But Hansen said the Russians are trying to arrange for Holden to count as a regular Russian, rather than a naturalized citizen, potentially clearing the way for both of them to make the team - though even Hansen seems to regard that as a long shot.
"If they choose me, that'd be great," he said. "But if they choose him, that'd be great, too."
It might not hurt that the national team coach, David Blatt, was named head coach of Dynamo Moscow earlier this month. Blatt will get a look at Hansen during a national team training camp starting July 5; the Russians will train together again in August before the Olympics.
"You never know," Hansen said. "Obviously, they asked me to play. I'd love to do it. We'll just see."
Meanwhile, he and his wife have continued their work on behalf of Russian orphans.
The mission was born a couple of winters ago in Moscow, when LaRee Hansen visited a local orphanage with an orphanage worker whom the couple had hired to help tutor their young son, Ryder. (The couple now has a second son, Mason.) She saw first-hand the shabby conditions that many of the hundreds of thousands of orphaned children endure, in a nation that notoriously still strains to recognize and care for them.
"After that, we said, 'You know what? We're going to do something and help these kids out,' " Hansen said. "It just kind of went crazy, from there."
Since then, the Hansens have created the Little Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to provide better care for the children at the orphanage and baby hospital in Lyubertsy, Russia. The foundation already has funded the renovation of two floors of the baby hospital and helped several children with medical expenses, and the Hansens hope to add to that with the proceeds of the Travis Hansen Charity Classic basketball camp.
Ultimately, the Hansens want to raise upwards of $5 million, so the foundation "can just run itself," Hansen said. They also are hoping to one day partner with the LDS Church or another foundation to help facilitate international adoptions.
For now, though, they're happy to do what they can for the children whose cause they have adopted. It hasn't been easy, negotiating the bureaucratic and cultural tangles involved in creating a foundation and soliciting donations - all while trying to bridge a serious language barrier.
But it has been worth it.
"We went orphanage to orphanage, and asked if we could help," Hansen recalled. "And nine out of 10 told us no, because we're foreigners or they didn't want us. . . . It took us awhile to find people that really wanted us to help and really wanted to build a relationship. But you know what? We found it, and it's a blessing."
Misc: Played at Mountain View High School, Utah Valley State College and
Brigham Young University. . . . Chosen in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, by the Atlanta Hawks. . . . Plays for Dynamo Moscow in Russia, after a two-year stint with Tau Vitoria in Spain. . . . Married to LaRee Hansen, with sons Ryder and Mason.
Travis Hansen Charity Classic Basketball Camp
June 25-27 at Open Court in Lehi
Call 801-830-4523 or visit http://www.littleheroesfoundation.org