After a quick bite for lunch and plenty of greetings with his big smile, NBA star and Baltimore native Will Barton quickly went to work at St. Frances Academy's gym on Monday.
Surrounding him were 40 of the area's top high school basketball players — hand-selected and evenly divided from each of the upcoming freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes to compete, learn and have fun at the Will Barton Elite Basketball Camp.
Shortly after putting on his blue camp T-shirt, the 25-year-old Barton was in the mix — teaming with his brother, Antonio, and former Walbrook and Connecticut standout Roscoe Smith for a spirited game of 3-on-3 as in-awe campers took their turns facing the trio.
Barton, a four-year pro who is coming off a breakout season with the Denver Nuggets, was clearly right at home. He was in Baltimore, playing basketball and, most importantly, enjoying that he was giving back to the city's youth.
"I have relationships with a lot of these kids. We talk on the phone, we text, FaceTime. I hang out with some of them just to show them I'm a regular guy just like them and I came from some of the same places and overcame some of the same obstacles. I want to let them know if I can do it, they can do it," Barton said.
Barton has been running youth camps since he turned professional. The daylong camp was free to participants and included various skill stations in the morning session, followed by 3-on-3 play, 5-on-5 play and plenty of motivational words and instruction throughout. It was a day of hard work for the campers and they welcomed it.
"We all came here to compete. This is a real honor because this is a real good camp, a real good opportunity and it's a chance for me to get better," said Calvert Hall rising junior guard Brendan Adams, an All-Metro second-team pick last season."Will is a great role model for us. A lot of people, when they make it, they don't do camps like this and want to give back. But Will has been doing this for the past three, four years, so it's definitely a good thing for us."
As a junior at Lake Clifton in 2008-09, Barton led the Lakers to a 28-0 season and earned All-Metro Player of the Year honors.
After playing two years in college at Memphis, he was selected with the 40th pick of the 2012 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Hard work and strong support helped get him to where he is at now and frequent trips back home provide a reminder as to just how far he has come.
"I love coming home — there's no place I'd rather be," he said. "My mom, my friends and family are all here. Just to ride through some of the neighborhoods I grew up in and see how far I've come, every time I come back is amazing to me. It just puts me in a place where nothing else can take me because it's so humbling to see where I started and to see where I'm at now and to see where I'm trying to go."
McDonogh rising senior Damian Chong-Qui couldn't help but be impressed Monday. He got in on one of the 3-on-3 sessions with Barton.
"It's great to have somebody at that level — playing in the NBA — giving back and helping everybody out," he said. "It gives everybody a chance to get better and hopefully join the path he took."
As much as he was in awe, Chong-Qui also left the session that much more motivated. That's how Barton wants it.
"There's a lot of talent, some kids that can really play," Barton said. "And they just have to keep putting the work in and trusting themselves and know the sky is the limit."