By Doug Gorman
They dribbled into the lane, they played defense, shot free throws, listened to their coaches draw up plays and discussed strategy. They also put their skills to the test against other teams in scrimmages on one of two courts.
All in all, it seemed like a normal high school basketball practice in the middle of another season in the dead of a Georgia winter.
Think again. It's 95 degrees outside and it's the middle of summer, but that hasn't stopped area high school basketball teams from crashing the courts at Clayton State as part of the college's high school team basketball camp as programs gear up for the 2010-11 season.
The camp has been an annual June tradition at Clayton State since current men's coach Gordon Gibbons arrived on the campus in Morrow a decade ago.
"It's really grown, that first year we tried to do two sessions, and I think we had 20 teams," Gibbons said. "It has grown to more than 100 teams now. The biggest thing is we provide a service for the high school coaches who can coach their teams in the month of June."
On Thursday, the last of four-week long sessions came to and end at Clayton State.
This session included the Jonesboro and Dutchtown varsity squads, while Morrow, Riverdale and Luella brought both varsity and junior varsity teams.
"The Clayton State camp is the best team basketball camp in the Southeast, and I have been to a bunch of them," Morrow head coach Jay Livingston said. "They do such a great job of accommodating each team's needs."
"At one time or another, every Southern Crescent basketball team has taken part in one of the CSU team camps.
Clayton State offers two different types of camps, a weekend shoot-out where each team gets six games, or a week-long session, where teams get 10 games.
The Georgia High School Association allows high school teams to practice and workout in the month of June almost like it is the middle of the season. Teams can have a shoot around in the middle of the afternoon in their own gym, then come to Clayton State and play two games using a running 35 minute clock.
The next day teams often work on something from the previous day's games.
Although it is easy for teams to get caught up in the outcome of the camp games, coaches are less concerned about the score than getting better.
"You want your kids to have that winning attitude," Jonesboro head coach Dan Maehlman said. "But there are things we need to work on and this gives some of our younger kids the chance to step up and play. It gets frustrating at times because you will have six or seven 14 year olds playing against a bunch of 17 or 18-year-old players. The only thing to do is stay positive with them."
Gibbons takes pride in the fact that his team camp draws a wide-range of basketball talent.
Schools such as Westlake, South Atlanta, and Norcross are often ranked in national high school basketball polls and are loaded with Division I talent, but they can be seen in at least one of the basketball session at Clayton State.
"The competition level is unbelievable," Livingston said. "It's better than watching a really good team on film because you can get out there and play against them and really see where you need work."
But there is a place for lesser known programs that might have younger talent on its squad too.
"We have the flexibility, and thanks to the hard work of my assists, we are able to match up teams to the level they want to play," Gibbons said. A newer Class A program can come in here too and they will get great competition, and so can the top teams in the state. We have a bunch of teams from the northern part of the state that come down here because they feel they are going to face teams that are really athletic from Atlanta.
Maehlman, who came from Ohio, says this is one of the few states that allows this type of intense camp sessions in the summertime, and he is grateful for Clayton State for giving teams a place to play.
"This is where you learn about your team, because those three days of tryouts when October comes around is not going to cut it," he said. "I tell my team this is where we build team unity," Maehlman said.
Livingston said the camp is a great measuring stick for his junior varsity teams too.
"We have rising ninth graders who are coming from really good middle school programs and they come to a camp like this and they face other really good teams and players. It's a great ego check, They quickly learn it's time to go to work, and that there is plenty to work on."
Although it is not a recruiting tool for the Laker basketball program to find players, the camp has allowed Gibbons to meet just about every high school basketball coach in the state at one time or another.
"They become guys that support our program, and guys that know about our program and very often recommend players to us. I have not signed a high school player from Atlanta that did not come to our camp," Gibbons said.