By Dave Krider
The NBA Players’ Camp isn’t just fun, games and making it to the highest level in basketball. No, it’s much more about a stark reality check for teenagers with big – and often unrealistic – dreams.
The 16th annual session drew 120 campers – 10 of them sons of former NBA players – to the University of Virginia campus. The players’ parents also were invited and given much of the same education throughout the week so they could better understand the pressures and decisions their sons are facing and provide a stronger support system.
Director Tim McCormick – one of many former pros in attendance – pointed out that from over 1,600 camp participants only 109 have reached the NBA. “They sat in your seats and had the exact same dreams,” he told the campers. “About 1,500 are sitting home right now and saying, ‘What happened?’ They wish they could come back and sit in your seats again. They all had talent, but didn’t have the game plan. Find out the stuff you need to work on. How hungry are you?”
Current NBA performer Antonio Daniels reinforced the odds against reaching the top when he commented, “Every year 60 guys (two rounds of the draft) are coming in to take your jobs. That motivates me. It’s hard to get here, but harder to stay.”
Making the noose even tighter, 25 percent of the NBA now consists of foreign players.
Another former pro, Roy Hinson, explained why the camp was started. He told MaxPreps, “They (high school players of that era) weren’t as fundamentally sound as previous generations. Also, grass roots agents had reached out to them earlier and we wanted to expose the pitfalls. We wanted to mold men (future pros) instead of just ball players. Our camp is second to none.”
It’s all about choices, decisions and consequences.
Preparing many of the nation’s elite players for four days of intensive skits, discussions and seminars by experts in many fields, McCormick stressed, “You will forget 92 percent of the stuff that you don’t write down. You have an opportunity of a lifetime, but the stuff off the court is a career killer. You’re going to all sign a pledge about education – try to get your (college) degree and to be a better man. Your parents are going to sign them, too. If you don’t have a Plan B, you are making the biggest mistake of your life.”
He added, “If you pick the wrong coach and wrong school, that’s a career killer. If you don’t pick the right school, you will not reach your potential.���
NUTRITION: Campers were told that not all food is created equal. Poor eating habits can lead to later risk of diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure problems, among other things. They were given notebooks with information about “eating healthy” and told that they should not skip breakfast. Charlie Ward was used as a great example of an NBA player who changed his diet and added another five years to his NBA career.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE: (Drugs, alcohol, etc.) Once a player gets a bad reputation, it follows – and haunts – him for the rest of his career.
Former NBA guard Dirk Minniefield, who does drug testing for the NBA, warned the teenagers, “You all have got a target on your backs. Ninety percent of athletes who smoke marijuana start because of peer pressure. Identify your support network (parents, coaches, etc.). You’ve got to be careful who you hang out with.” He asked the campers what percentage of NBA players they thought smoked marijuana. One said 85 percent, another 65 percent. “Less than 15 percent,” Minniefield revealed.
Minniefield speaks from painful experience, having been an abuser himself. “You go to ‘Drunkathletes.com’ and you’ll find a picture of me,” he claimed. “There are no secrets, guys, and you’ve got a lot to lose. I’ve been doing this (drug testing) for 18 years. I’m not the president, but I’m a client, too. I played five years in the NBA and I might have had 15 except for alcohol and drugs. Even though I have money and own three or four businesses, I think less of myself. I went through two years of depression after my career was over.”
DRUNK DRIVING: Jeff Ford, a deputy for the Oakland County (Mich.) sheriff’s office, lost his father at age seven to a drunk driver. He noted that “alcohol consumption starts in eighth grade. On a college campus, there is a bar on every corner. I just put a man (age 17) in prison for 20 years for drunk driving, the most frequently committed violent crime. He put himself in jail. Your first offense could cost you $12,000 with lawyers, etc.”
McCormick added, “I worry about you guys throughout the year. You’re in our family. The legal age is 21. There’s no reason for you to drink. I empower you to be strong. Don’t let anybody mess with your dreams.”
FINANCES: Todd Hunter works with every player on handling his money. He meets with each team twice a year and – to show how serious this topic is with the league – any player who misses a meeting is fined $20,000.
“It’s upsetting how many people live check to check,” Hunter said. “I’ve got a couple of $15 million players who live check to check. The average NBA career is over at 4.4 years and the average life expectancy is 81 years. Nowadays a college degree is like a high school degree and you don’t have jobs guaranteed when you get out. There will be no Social Security for you guys (when they retire). Every young man here should have a checking and savings account.”
Hunter revealed that he even does seminars on “How to say no to your mom.”
McCormick added soberly, “Wouldn’t it be a shame if you worked all your life to make the NBA and walked away with no money? I don’t believe that (you shouldn’t help your mom), but mom did her job. You owe it to yourself to not write those blank checks. Most NBA players go broke because they enable their families. You can help with a house, but she doesn’t need a mansion in Beverly Hills.”
SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE: Houston doctor Valencia Thomas told campers that “abstinence always is the best policy” and showed pictures of ugly sexually transmitted diseases.
Again, McCormick was able to magnify sex in the NBA while throwing out some major food for thought. He explained, “You meet the finest women you’ve ever seen. They will do whatever the player wants. Then you find out, ‘Oh, oh, she’s pregnant.’ You’ll be writing a $15,000 check every month (for child support) for the next 20 years. Eighty two percent of NBA players are divorced. All that money you’ve made – you just gave her one-half. You’ve got to protect your career and make good decisions.”
Current NBA performer Adrian Griffin is married with four children and may be somewhat bulletproof. “If they (other women) come around, they’re in trouble,” he promises. “My wife works for the FBI and I have a lot to lose. Yes, it’s cool and it appeals to your ego. But you lose it (everything) in the blink of an eye.”
MOTIVATION: Another retired NBA player, Walter Bond, wound up the education portion of the week with a motivation speech about his career. He warned the youthful campers, “When you get to the university, you may have started a game (in high school) for the last time in your life.” But he was quick to add, “If you go to college and don’t get your paper (degree), you are a fool.”
Bond, who did not start a game in four years at the University of Minnesota, still was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and became a starter in the pros. “If you’re the best in the world,” he said, “you better hold onto your position because there’s a Walter Bond waiting out there to take your position. The only way to keep it is to work hard.”
The Kentucky Derby has nothing on the NBA Players Camp. Coaches constantly hollered, “Push it! Push it! Get back! Get back!” Every game gave the appearance of 10 thoroughbreds racing up and down the court in break-neck fashion. The 48-minute games moved at such warp speed (Star Trek creators would have been impressed) that it’s a wonder spectators weren’t plagued by whiplash.
North Carolina recruiting guru Bob Gibbons, who selected the players and organized the games, awarded a large camp MVP trophy to Kenny Boynton. The 6-foot-3 rising senior guard from American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) averaged 14.7 points for nine games, third highest for the week.
He told MaxPreps, "It’s an honor to God. I just thank Him every day. He gives me the strength. I feel like I had a good camp. This is probably the biggest honor that I’ve ever had.”
The long-range sharpshooter related that the life skills teaching was most beneficial to him. “Just to say no to peer pressure,” he explained. On the court, he said that he learned to be more aggressive going to the basket because he has been known primarily as an outside shooter.”
Overall, Boynton said that his camp experience “helps me a lot (with confidence), because you’ll never go anywhere and play with this type of talent.”
His top five colleges are Texas, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Florida and Duke.
Boynton, who had a 61-point game and made MaxPreps All-America as a junior, teamed with rising junior guard Brandon Knight of Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) to help the Jazz take camp runner-up honors. The “Swoosh Brothers” were the most crowd-pleasing duo in the camp, turning on the after-burners time after time, making brilliant shots and passes. Last summer they teamed to help win the National AAU 17-and-under crown.
In the championship game, however, they were blitzed by the undefeated Suns, 93-73. Boynton scored 14 points and Knight 10. Knight later was named the most promising underclass prospect over a strong field.
Harrison Barnes, a 6-6 rising junior from Ames, Iowa, paced the champs with 15 points. Ari Stewart, a 6-7 rising senior from Marietta, Ga., was close behind with 14 and 6-3 rising senior Brandon Paul from Warren (Gurnee, Ill.) added 13. The Suns’ roster was not filled with big-name players, but they had great scoring balance and absolutely ferocious rebounding. They were well-coached by Robert Smith of Simeon (Chicago, Ill.).
The camp’s leading scorer at 17.7 points through eight games was John Jenkins, a 6-5 rising senior swingman from Station Camp (Gallatin, Tenn.). Jordan Hamilton was a distant second at 14.8, but he was one of 13 players who had to miss Saturday’s three playoff games due to previous commitments. The 6-7 rising senior from Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) was so adept at scoring from every angle that it appeared he often just “willed” the ball into the basket.
The leading rebounder for the week was Ohio State-commit Jared Sullinger with a 7.6 average. The 6-8, 240-pound rising junior from Northland (Columbus, Ohio) is a powerful finisher and conjured up images of a “big Adrian Dantley” to at least one spectator. Close behind at 7.3 was Garrick Sherman, a 6-10 rising senior from Kenton, Ohio. Sherman also was No. 2 in blocked shots with a 1.38 average.
Rising junior point guard Kendall Marshall of Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.) led the camp with a 5.0 assist average. C.J. Harris, a 6-3 rising senior from Mount Tabor (Winston Salem, N.C.) was runner-up with a 4.0 average. The leader in blocked shots at 1.56 was 6-8 rising junior Tristan Thompson of St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.).
The Mr. Hustle award appropriately was given to Damon Powell, a 6-6, 200-pound rising senior from Division I California state champion Oakland McClymonds. He must have led the camp in taking charges and he definitely is the person you would want in your fox hole during a war.
The award for most unselfish team player went to 6-3 rising senior point guard Abdul Gaddy of Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.). Other individual awards were given to Junior Cadougan, Terrell Vinson, D.J. Byrd, Roger Franklin, Dante Taylor and Ryan Kelly.
McCormick summed up the camp this way: “I really love high school basketball. This gives me hope for the future that basketball is in great hands and I look forward to see how far they will go.”