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Hoopster philanthropy is on the ball

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With nary a hoop in sight, about 20 basketball dribblers bounced their way across the three East River bridges from Brooklyn to Manhattan to raise money and awareness about the genocide in Sudan.

The dribbling was part of last Sunday’s 100-Mile Challenge through the non-profit organization Ball for Lives, based in New Jersey.

“It all started with me dribbling in front of a group of people a few years ago in my backyard and after watching them be captivated, I decided to use basketball to do something big and change lives,” said Ball for Lives founder and Executive Director Dan Occhiogrosso.

Occhiogrosso, who played point guard in high school at the Division 3 Baptist Bible College in Pennsylvania, said after this initial epiphany, he decided to battle world poverty and AIDS through his ball-handling skills.

So in 2007, he secured a few sponsors and dribbled through the New York City Marathon to raise money for an orphanage in South Africa.

From that event Occhiogrosso found eight other basketball players, who each did separate marathons, before officially registering Ball for Lives as a non-profit organization.

Last Sunday’s 100 Mile Challenge utilized 20 people each dribbling the ball five miles through New Jersey and New York City, including Brooklyn.

The dribbling marathon began at 6 a. m. in New Jersey, and after crossing the Bayonne Bridge into Staten Island, went across the Brooklyn Bridge a little after noon, down Tillary Street, and back across the Manhattan Bridge, then through lower Manhattan before crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn and back again.

All in all, the marathon took until 11:30 p.m. and raised about $2,000 for people in war-ravaged Darfur.

Occhiogrosso, 27, and single, is a substitute school teacher and motivational speaker, who goes to schools doing crazy dribbling tricks while inspiring kids to “live for something big.”

Amongst his tricks are fast, low ball dribbling and two-ball dribbling.

Although a native of New Jersey, Occhiogrosso is a lifelong Knicks fan and thinks the NBA’s New Jersey Nets planned move to Brooklyn is a good match.

“I think it would be great for Brooklyn and good for the Nets,” he said.

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