It was the day before one of the most important nights of his life, and former University of Maryland basketball star Evers Burns was standing in front of 150 youths who were sitting attentively on the Gill Center gym floor at Western Maryland College.
"You have to dedicate yourselves in order to be a good basketball player. And if basketball doesn't turn out to be your thing, you have to put your heart and soul in whatever you want to do," Burns said. "Obstacles are made to be overcome. It just takes a lot of hard work."
Burns was one of the guest speakers at the sixth annual Johnny Dawkins Basketball Camp. His message sums up what Dawkins' camp is all about.
"I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to some basketball camps when I was little, so this is an opportunity for me to give something back," said Dawkins, a Philadelphia 76ers guard who has played seven seasons in the NBA.
"It's a chance for the kids to learn some fundamentals of the game, andwe try to make it as fun as possible."
This year's camp, which ends this afternoon, had a staff of 15 high school and college coaches along with Dawkins and camp director and WMC men's coach Nick Zoulias.
Throughout the week, the campers went through a number of instructional stations followed by a morning scrimmage. Lunch followed, and the procedure was repeated in the afternoon. Daily guest speakers lectured.
"It's rough, but I like it. It's a good workout," said Rob Mitchell, a 6-foot-8 junior at Dulaney High who hopes to start on varsity. "We're
learning to box out for rebounds, the proper form of shooting and motion offense."
Mitchell had the opportunity to play one-on-one with Dawkins, and he held his own.
"I think he might have let me win. I won twice and he won once. Johnny's a great inspiration. He works a lot with us, and I hope I can be like that when I'm in the NBA," he said.
Dawkins graduated from Duke in 1986. He said there are more benefits to the camp than just learning basketball.
"The camp gives the kids a chance to socialize and play against others from diverse backgrounds," he said.
"We're getting some different people together, which presents new competition on the court. It really brings out the competitive juices.
"The camp also gives the kids first-hand experience of what high school and college coaches are all about and what they might expect," he said. "It's exciting and rewarding for me to see kids come back and say they made the team they were trying out for or earned a starting job."
Campers came from as far as Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington and the Eastern Shore.
"The competition and defensive stations are the hardest," said Scott Lecompte, 14, of Eldersburg.
"We learned about motion offense, and I'm just trying to become a better player. [Dawkins] is a great basketball player and has really achieved a lot in his career."
Zoulias, who has directed all six camps, said the key to the camp's success is keeping it relatively small (150 campers this year).
"The whole idea is to get individual attention to all the kids. When it gets too big, the individual needs get left out," he said. "The camp gives the kids a chance to improve their game and have fun doing it."
After his 15-minute talk, Burns answered questions.
"When you play in the NBA, who would you most like to dunk on?" a youngster asked.
"Whoever's in my way," Burns said.