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May 5, 2016

The Great Basketball Camps … Back in the Day

The Great Basketball Camps … Back in the Day

THROWBACK THURSDAY – This weekend I’ll be sending out an email about how to pick a great summer basketball camp. The thing is that I heard Geno Auriemma on one of my last postings about him when he said, “Nobody goes to camp anymore.” What I think he meant is that because of this obsession with AAU, travel and tournament play at too young of an age, kids are missing out on those pure week-long basketball overnight camps that build so much character and skill.

I remember that a perfect summer was hopping to at least a few week-long camps where you did drills all morning, played three-on-three or full court. Then you had lunch, then you drilled again for a few hours, then you played again. Dinner then one more round. Your team played all week to get into playoffs and make a run to win it all. There were 3-on-3 contests, 4-on-4 and shooting contests. Stations were also a big deal. I remember doing ball handling drills outside behind Siena College in the middle of the day, then racing inside to the next station.

If I had my way and my parents had had the money, I would have gone to a different one each week and brought a different friend each time, or simply made my own. The upside is that you worked your can off all day usually in a gym that was not air conditioned and neither were the dorms. Yet that was normal. You just brought a fan or if like me, and you never did, you just hoped your roommate’s mom felt sorry for her and packed the fan. Either way, you sucked it up – all day. The downside is that yes, it’s an increased injury risk and diminishing returns, yet that made it all that much more personal when you woke up in the morning so exhausted, but still ready to work all over again.

Are these camps still around? If they are, doesn’t it feel like there are far less? Or they’re shorter in duration? Maybe it’s because there’s not enough interest in the old-school one-week sweat? The most efficient camps were day camps where after about six hours, you were spent and you could go sleep in your own bed. That’s why we structure our camps as four to six-hour events where we feel if we don’t get 1,000 touches, scrimmage time, injury prevention, drills and fun (dodge ball) into those hours, then we feel we are letting kids down. Half-day or five hour camps work just fine, and my Manhattan crowd and kids like knowing they have the rest of their day to do something else.

Yet I do miss those long days of camp where you’d just work so hard all day, all afternoon, and all evening. I remember how badly at my first Siena College basketball camp I wanted to be the player of the day. I didn’t get it the first day. Debbie Barnes did. That motivated me to work so much harder the next day. I think I picked up that award the second day or the third. I am absolutely sure it was only because of how hard I worked. I didn’t have talent. I had a lot of guts though. And that’s what those all-day, all night, all-week camps took – guts to just get through it.

I remember getting to the semi finals of the camp 1-on-1 tournament and having this tall, hefty blonde check ball with me. She turned around and backed me in on every play. I was so mad when I lost that I burst into tears. Debbie Barnes threw a towel at me and said, “Go cry in private. Not here.” She was right. I was a weak, sore loser or at least I looked like it in front a camp of 100s of kids. I learned my lesson and made sure I gave the hefty blonde all I had during the camp playoffs and finals.

I wish more kids mixed it up and hopped camp to camp as opposed to these short camps now – three days only – and there are the 5-7 week “sports” camps. They’re not real basketball camps or sports camps. The real athletes go and hop from one camp to the next because they feed off of the next challenge. They want to be the big fish in a small pond one week. They also can handle small fish in way over their head. They can take being the best player on their team, the worst player or something in between. They know what good coaching looks like as well as bad coaching. They know to nod their head at both. That’s what camp does – it gives kids such a rich experience of sweat, struggle and reward. Or that’s what the old ones did way back when.

(Please let me know if you know of any quality ones in the NYC metro area or close because parents always ask.)