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An NBA champ imparts sense of fun, fundamentals


Nervous youngsters at Supreme Sports Club's basketball camp in Owen Brown put some extra spin on their free throws and arc on their three-point shots yesterday, as Sam Cassell of the NBA champion Houston Rockets tossed them basketballs and spoke about confidence.

"No one gave me a chance but myself to make the ball club," said the Baltimore native and rookie point guard. "They may have told me I'm too small, but confidence, hard work and dedication will get you over in whatever you want to do."

In the National Basketball Association finals, the 6-foot-3-inch Mr. Cassell hit a big three-pointer at the end of Game 3 at Madison Square Garden that gave the Rockets a 2-1 advantage in the series against the New York Knicks.

Yesterday, he spent nearly 40 minutes tossing balls and answering questions with the 100 youngsters, ages 7 to 15, taking part in the sports club's annual summer basketball camp.

Squatting on an indoor basketball court, the youngsters held a sign that read, "Welcome NBA World Champion Sam Cassell" and chanted "We Want Sam."

"I'm here today to have some fun, play some games, and get all the kids involved," said Mr. Cassell, wearing a No. 34 white T-shirt, denim shorts and Nike sneakers.

He pulled a number of children from the audience to play several games. In one game, he formed teams of two for a shooting contest. Members of the team that scored a set number of points the quickest were given mini-basketball trophies.

Timisha Gomez of Elkridge was one of the first children to make several baskets and receive a trophy. "I don't know who he is, but I'm excited a little bit," said the 8-year-old.

McKinsey Moore, 13, was not as fortunate. "I got nervous, I feel bad about not making any baskets," he said.

Hakeem Moss was one of only a few youngsters who were fortunate enough to get Mr. Cassell's autograph on a basketball card.

"I thought I'd never get to meet him in my life," said the 13-year-old Washington, D.C., native. "It's good that he comes to camps like this. He's a good man."

Mr. Cassell, who has spent three weeks relaxing in East Baltimore, sees himself as a role model.

"I enjoy dealing with the kids. They are so free-spirited. They want to know what I have to say," he said. "But athletes make mistakes, too. Sometimes I think people put too much pressure on athletes."

John Mendelson, the camp director, said that inviting sports celebrities to meet the children is part of the program.

"It's a big thrill for the kids. It instills some self-esteem into the children to meet someone of stature like Sam Cassell," he said.

Two other professional basketball players from Maryland -- Walt Williams of the Sacramento Kings and Evers Burns, a former Kings player who has just completed the Philadelphia 76ers' summer camp -- visited the camp earlier this summer.

Mr. Cassell will return to Supreme Sports Club in September for a two-day basketball clinic. For more information, call 381-5355.

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