The screams throughout Caster Activity Center on Wednesday were loud and overwhelming during some of the final hour of the New Mexico Junior College youth boys’ basketball camp.
Ten year-old Jaemon Stephens and another player had to face off in a sudden-death free throw challenge as a tie-breaker to a layup contest. So, in “support,” the other 38 or so campers surrounded the paint and yelled as loud as they could to make one shooter miss.
One by one, the two players kept making the free throw. And after every make, the surrounding screams got louder and more emphatic. Some faces turned bright red because of how hard they were yelling. Some kids used their entire body to scream. Most of the screams were so electric, they started to waver from fatigue by the time Stephens eventually won. That victory was immediately met by a long series of hugs and high-fives, leaving Stephens grinning ear to ear.
And thus sums up the amount of energy and joy the kids poured into camp, which Thunderbirds men’s basketball assistant coach and camp co-director Shaun Gutting believes is a result of mixing fun games like that with fundamental instruction.
“Ultimately, I think part of it is really just having a good balance between having fun and still teaching them something,” he said. “(We balance the basic instruction with) the fun games, the ones that kind of get them all excited and revved up. Let them compete a little bit, and just kind of get used to having to compete their way into winning.”
Gutting and NMJC men’s basketball head coach Brian Lohrey – who was one of the other two camp co-directors – felt they did a good job of balancing fun with instruction.
The camp, which lasted three days and ended on Wednesday, was hyper focused on instilling fundamentals into the campers’ skill set. The kids were kindergartners through sixth-graders, so the basics were priority number one.
There were no scrimmages of any kind. Campers worked on passing, dribbling and shooting, as they rotated through stations after being divided up into five groups based on age. Lohrey felt most kids responded well to that instruction.
“I thought the kids came and worked hard every day,” he said. “They tried, and I saw improvement in some of them from Day 1 to the third day. … This year was awesome. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
To balance the basics, games and contests were sprinkled into the camp. That included basketball related games like knockout and a “hot-shot” contest, along with non-related games that just got the kids moving.
No matter it being a game or a drill, though, Lohrey says each activity was beneficial to the growth of the kids.
“(Playing games) helps them listen,” he said. “(They) help them listen and do what they’re told, which is an important part of basketball. We’re not doing these (games) just for fun. It is (fun), but it’s also listening and doing.”
Usually, the camp directors want some NMJC men’s players to help out with the coaching. But summer classes haven’t started yet, meaning none of those players are around to help out right now. That motivated the directors to pull from all over the area, as players from the Lady Thunderbirds, the University of Southwest men’s team and the Lovington girls’ team came to help coach. Former Hobbs Lady Eagles hoops legend Adrianne Ross also coached.
“It was good to have some people that were willing to come help out,” Gutting said. “You want to have as many coaches as you can.”
And even though none of his players could meet the campers and interact with them, Lohrey is pleased with what this camp does for the community.
“It gets everyone in the community out here, and that’s what we want,” he said. “It’s awesome seeing some of these (campers) at games the next year. That’s another part of what we want to do.”
All campers got a Thunderbirds basketball T-shirt, and the winners of the contests got prizes as well. And now that the kids have met the coaches, Lohrey says he and the other coaches will try and keep in touch with parents via email to stay connected on what’s going on.