Basketball Club’s Annual Weeklong Camp Develops Love of the Game, Community Spirit
Running a weeklong basketball camp for elementary through high school kids rarely resembles a turn-key operation but, somehow, the East Lansing Basketball Club manages to make it look easy.
The Hannah Center and the high school gyms this week were filled with Trojan and Junior Trojan players sharpening their skills alongside coaches learning, laughing, smiling and competing, all in the name of good sportsmanship, camaraderie, and community spirit.
Add to that atmosphere an appearance or two by some of the star players from the men’s and women’s teams at Michigan State University, and you have a blueprint for success year after year.
Former Spartan standout Andre Hutson, front and center again at this year’s camp, does his part by bringing in guest speakers and coaches like Cassius Winston, Jenna Allen, Xavier Tillman, and Josh Langford. Hutson knows what it’s like for a young athlete to see and hear from someone they would like to emulate one day.
“It’s not your typical Top 100 or five-star basketball camp by any means,” Hutson said. “It’s really more about the community, building relationships, and building some love and commitment to the game of basketball.
“And if we can show that to the young kids, the young men and women, then we’ve done our job. Of course, it helps to have them hear it from the older men and women who have gone on to play at that next level.”
This year’s camp drew about 370 attendees, who are then split into four-hour morning (second through sixth grades) and afternoon (seventh through 12th grades) sessions. Daily instruction emphasizes fundamentals and strategies, with instruction led by Trojan high school and middle school coaches, along with recent alumni.
Board members each have a role; planning sessions start in March
Kevin Mayes, president of the East Lansing Basketball Club, said that despite the long days — starting around 7 a.m. and ending at 6:30 p.m. — this is one of his favorite weeks of the year.
“We start planning for this in March, and truthfully it’s become a polished spring practice,” Mayes said. “Each of the board members knows his or her role, they roll up their sleeves and we get it done.
“I’ve been involved with the camp for close to twenty years now, and it’s great to see how it’s grown. We were at about 180-200 kids for the first couple of years but ever since we’ve averaged 350 or more.”
Mayes is quick to point out the teamwork involved in making the camp a success.
“Scott Martin takes care of the website and ordering food for the coaches, Nicole Martin makes sure each camper gets a team picture, Heather Morse is in charge of selecting the twelve different colors of shirts the kids wear during the week,” Mayes said. “Bob Uecker has been here from the beginning and knows exactly what we need for setup and finances, Jeff Burgess runs the high school site. Rick Wyble, Steve Belloli and Kyle Foster play key roles for us as well.”
Proceeds from the camp provide support for the high school and middle basketball program as well as community initiatives such as:
- Bailey Neighborhood playground equipment ($1,000)
- East Lansing Public Library Black History Month Mobile ($500)
- Spanish Club for Costa Rica Trip ($900)
- East Lansing Education Fund ($2,500)
- African American Spring Break College Tour ($1,200)
- MacDonald Middle School support to keep athletics cost down for students ($6,000)
All total, the basketball club contributed in excess of $30,000 in 2018 to support athletics, education and the East Lansing community.
“One of the reasons this is a very successful camp is because, if you go around the gyms and look, a majority of our coaches are East Lansing alumni,” said Mayes, who currently serves as the high school boys junior varsity coach, and whose daughter, Allie, plays on the high school varsity girls team. “Harper Riley, who first attended the camp as a second-grader some 17 years ago, still keeps coming back to coach. He missed a couple of sessions one year because of a broken arm but another than that he’s here every year, and I know he looks forward to it.”
Hutson, a key member of the MSU men's national championship team in 2000 and who was a part of four straight Big Ten title teams, is married to an East Lansing High School graduate and has two children who attend East Lansing schools. For him, the interaction between the older and younger kids really makes the week special.
MSU All-American Cassius Winston (left) speaks to the East Lansing Basketball Club's campers on Thursday at the Hannah Center.
Andre Hutson (right) plays a key role in attracting Spartan players to help out during the camp and to share their wisdom with the younger athletes.
“For me, I like to see that interaction between those two groups," Hutson said. "It gives our older kids a chance to show some leadership, and learn how to teach, and it gives our younger kids some hope — a sense of what it takes to get to that next level.
“That's a huge deal. Connecting our older athletes with our younger athletes, so they get a chance to work with one another and build a sense of community. A majority of these kids are East Lansing kids. A lot of the younger kids cheer for the older kids [during the school year], and the older kids are role models [for the younger ones]."
And who knows? Maybe one day one of these younger players will have a basketball camp named after them, too.
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