WINFIELD — The stakes on a summer morning in South Carroll High School's gymnasium were much lower than those of April's national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston, but it didn't matter to the pair of 11-year-olds facing down a dwindling clock at South Carroll's annual boys basketball camp.
Michael Tombs inbounded the ball to Derek Goff, and the two boys sprinted across the South Carroll gym while Doug Goff's booming voice counted down the seconds: "Five, four, three…"
Derek turned and pitched the ball back to Michael who released his shot just before the blast from Goff's whistle signaled the clock had been expired. It wasn't Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono setting up Kris Jenkins for his historic game-winning shot to capture a national title. But Michael said the drill made the campers feel "the excitement going through your veins."
After all, making the game-winning shot is every basketball player's dream, whether it's alone on the playground blacktop or on the biggest stage.
Goff, the former South Carroll varsity coach, and Jim Shea, the Cavaliers' junior varsity coach, are trying to give the campers memories they can hold onto while also molding what could be the next generation of Cavaliers boys basketball players.
"Basketball's a fun sport no matter what level you're at," Goff said before Thursday morning's session. "You can be really good or you can be a first-timer, and it's just a lot of fun. You get to dribble, you get to shoot. … It's fun for all the kids, and that stays with them, whether they're playing in the backyard or they're going to try for a rec or a high school team."
Each time a duo came close in the drill, the gym filled with anticipation and exhaled with either disappointment or exhilaration. Michael and Derek completed the feat later in the drill — this time the pair had only three seconds to make it across the gym and Derek made the shot — while 14-year-old James Kessler, a rising freshman at Century, made a pair of half-court shots in his attempts.
In between whistle blasts, Goff announced, "I love this drill."
In order to accommodate more players, Shea and Goff divided the week of camps into two sessions. The morning camp was a shooting camp with 44 attendees that focused on the fundamentals of shooting with contests like the end of game drill and a 3-point shooting contest. Shea and Goff joked that the younger campers would be happy just playing games of knockout for three hours.
The afternoon's camp was a skills and drills camp with 47 attendees that featured more dribbling and game action. Each of the counselors — current South Carroll players — was put in charge of a team of younger players to coach for the week, culminating in a championship tournament on Friday.
"It's a different perspective," Cavaliers rising senior guard Connor Graham said. "Now we get to see what our coach has to do during practice."
"We're doing the things that our coaches do and now we know how hard it is to teach kids what to do," rising senior guard Bret Morsberger said.
Shea, a 1998 graduate of South Carroll, has been helping run the camps for 11 years, and he knows the impact the week can have on the next generation of players. South Carroll plays an annual "gold rush" game, and some of the young campers were wearing their gold T-shirts at the camp.
They watched the Cavaliers during the season, and now they wanted to be coached by them.
"I can remember going to these camps and seeing the South Carroll players and wanting to put that jersey on when I was a little kid," Shea said. "I wanted to wear that South Carroll jersey. That was important to me. And it's important to me to have these little kids want that feeling too."
Nothing is lost on the current Cavaliers, who also participated in the drills. Graham partnered with a player in the sixth- and seventh-grade age group, while Morsberger and rising senior forward Kyle Dizon took their own shots at beating the buzzer with all the campers looking on.
"When we came here as middle schoolers, we looked up to the counselors, and it's kind of cool that they're probably looking up to us now," Dizon said. "It's nice to give back."
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