By Jason A. Smith
Area children, who participated in a recent basketball camp, say they learned a great deal about the sport, and about key values that will help them off the court.
The 2008 Atlanta Hawks Summer Basketball Camp was held last week at McDonough First United Methodist Church. The program was organized by the Griffin Grasshoppers Youth Boys and Girls Association.
The group's director, Alan "Duck" Richards, coached approximately 15 children during the five-day event, teaching techniques in dribbling, shooting and passing. He says the camp provided valuable instruction for the participants, particularly those who had never shot a basketball before.
"We started this camp off with the basic fundamentals ... and [broke] everything down as if they've never played the game before," he says. "It put everybody on the same level. Once we did that, it made those kids who have never played a little more comfortable, because they're learning ... at the same time."
On the first day of the camp, the kids were paid a visit by former NBA Atlanta Hawks player, Charlie Criss, who currently serves as a basketball development liaison for the team.
Criss says he had a goal to teach the kids the fundamentals of the sport, as well as key life lessons. After he was done, he called his time at the camp "a success." "I talked to them about hard work, and things they need to do to succeed in life," he says. "Hopefully, they got something out of it."
The former Hawks player says the goal of the KIA Summer Hoops Tour is to branch out to the community with clinics to help advance young players' skills in the fundamentals of basketball. "Every child doesn't get the opportunity to experience this level of training, and it is an opportunity for the Hawks organization and myself to give back."
As early as the second day of the camp, Coach Richards says, he began to see improvement in the players' abilities. In addition, he says he was gratified to learn the kids were taking the time to practice the mechanics of the sport at home.
One of the children, who attended the camp, was 12-year-old Joseph Deraney, of McDonough. He says the coach's advice was valuable in helping him improve his overall shooting technique. "I wasn't following through [with my shots]," he says. "I'm getting better at the basic skills." Deraney says the camp helped him increase the discipline necessary to improve his abilities.
Scott Stinson, 16, says he came to the first day as a relative novice. Scott, who lives in Fulton County, says he was looking for a place to improve his skills, and found such a location at the camp in McDonough. "Everything they've showed me ... is something new," he says, adding that the organized nature of the event was beneficial. "It's just a different experience. Getting together with the guys is something you can always do, but I might never be able to [participate in such a camp] again."
As for the time he and the other children spent with Criss, Stinson says one lesson stands above the rest in terms of how it will help his playing ability. "The best tip, I think was ... to keep your eyes up when you're dribbling," he says.
Like his older brother, 10-year-old Khari Stinson says he was excited to participate in the camp, and to have an opportunity to become a better player. The most valuable lesson he picked up, he says, was in developing a "shooting routine." "[I learned] the proper form for shooting, and the best way to get the ball to go in the hoop."
The boys' sister, 12-year-old Amara Stinson, was one of several girls who held their own on the basketball court. Amara says prior to last week, she was "really bad" at shooting, but signed up for the camp nonetheless. "A lot of my friends play basketball, and I thought I'd try it," she says. "I think I'm getting better."
The three siblings' mother, Michelle Stinson, was present at the church gymnasium throughout the week, watching her children with pride. She says she is thankful for the program, and for Coach Richards' willingness to work with the kids. "It's all about playing to their strengths, and letting them have something they enjoy," she says. "When you have good leadership, kids get a chance to fall in love with whatever they're learning."
On the final day of the camp, the kids got a visit from professional basketball player Brent Petway, a small forward with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. He lives in McDonough. The 6-foot, 8-inch athlete, who met Coach Richards in high school, says when he was approached about meeting the children, he jumped at the chance.
He says three basic principles guided him as he spoke to the children: Be respectful; listen to those in authority, and be persistent.
"If you're not the best player right now, keep going at it," he says. "No one becomes Michael Jordan overnight."