PRIZE money for the second phase of the "Hoop of Life" initiative has been increased to $1.5 million, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has announced.
The second phase of the community-building and crime-fighting initiative will start next month, Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.
The Prime Minister made the statements as she delivered the feature address at the award and recognition ceremony for the inaugural phase of the competition.
The ceremony was held at St Barb's Basketball Court in Laventille, home court of the 2012 Hoop of Life champions, Laventille.
Persad-Bissessar said the inaugural competition was a "100 per cent success" as none of the participating players ran "afoul of the law" during the tournament.
Some 1,000 young men participated in the competition, she said.
The "Hoop of Life— The Sweat 2012" was unveiled in June last year with US basketball star Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal in attendance.
O'Neal was not present for yesterday's ceremony.
Persad-Bissessar said O'Neal sent apologies for his absence.
Prof Selwyn Ryan, who was scheduled to give remarks, was also absent from the event.
The Laventille community was, however, graced with the presence of the country's "brand new" President Anthony Carmona, according to master of ceremonies Errol Fabien.
It was Carmona's "first official public function" since his inauguration as President on Monday, said National Security Minister Jack Warner.
Carmona was not scheduled to address the ceremony, but delivered remarks through Persad-Bissessar to the winning Laventille basketball team.
"His Excellency asked me to say to you, and these are his words, 'I wish that you live this moment of success every day of your life Laventille'," said the Prime Minister.
Persad-Bissessar said the entire tournament cost $12 million and was "well worth it".
Warner said he asked the National Basketball Federation of Trinidad and Tobago to arrange a Caribbean all-star team to play against the Laventille team.
Sport Minister Anil Roberts said a professional netball league is next on the agenda, along with a windball cricket tournament.
The Laventille team arrived at the ceremony with "every man in jacket and tie", according to Persad-Bissessar.
Several Cabinet ministers, Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj and Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson were among those present.
The 2012 champion was treated to performances by two former calypso monarchs in Sandra "Singing Sandra" Des Vignes and Karene Ashe, along with the North-West Laventille Dance Troupe.
Following the ceremony there was an all star game between North and South.
Marabella and Caledonia, who placed second and third respectively in the tournament, were given medals.
Laventille received the champion trophy, while its star player Stephen "Lighter" Lewis received the Most Valuable Player trophy.
Warner was approached after the ceremony to respond to the Express exclusive interview with his son Daryan in Miami, Florida, USA, but he declined to comment.
"I have no comment, you don't understand, I said no comment," Warner said.