Thursday , Aug , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Laker Youth Camp 2004: Forging Champions

I walked into the UC Santa Barbara Thunder Dome on July 14th, 2004 to find out what all the buzz was about, I kept hearing that the youth camp run by Laker Assistant General Manager Glenn Carraro was the most dynamic NBA camp around teaching kids skills, respect, and the stuff that makes champions, what I found exceeded my expectations. Kids in Southern California idolize the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, for them to attend the camp and get positive talks and first rate instruction from the players and counselors was an experience of a lifetime for them.

All the campers had this energized look on their faces, like the first time you go to Disneyland, the sight of 350 campers wearing the royal purple and gold was overwhelming. What did the average kid take away from this camp: Pride and a sense of how to do things well. For example, 4th grade Cameron from the Los Angeles area summed up his journey that week, “These past two days here I have escalated my game, they have taught me rounding drills, how to be ferocious defender -all the stuff that a 4th grader needs to know to get by.”

This camp churns out championship caliber attitudes. Jose Gil, the 33 year old Laker Camp counselor was recently promoted to be the commissioner of the NIT division, which is one of three leagues based on age at the camp. Gil has worked this event for the past five years, he states why the camp is so successful at building character, “Winning starts at the top, working with a true professionals like Laker Assistant GM Glenn Cararro gives me confidence, Glenn inspires trust to do your best and mold these kids into something special, it’s a huge responsibility that we take seriously here at the Laker Camp.”

Talk about serious, the Lakers brought Gil down 300 miles south from Salinas, California to help with this camp, he is considered by many to be a top Latino high school coach on in the Western United States. Gil is often asked by the legion of people in his hometown of Salinas what it’s like to work the camp, “I tell people that working as with everybody at the camp is like winning the lottery: you feel like a million bucks.” Many highly qualified counselors are flown in from places like Rhode Island and New York to provide this tremendous experience for the campers, would you expect anything less from the Lakers?

Each of the two five day sessions in July starts with breakfast at 7:00 a.m. for the kids at camp, they are taken through detailed instruction and return to their dormitories by 7:00 p.m. One mother named Susan from Orange County was here to monitor her son Jake and says of the action, “Wow! I never expected these counselors to care so much about my boy Jake, he almost cried this morning because he was so happy to feel loved and apart of the Laker family.” Integrity, determination, and heart are all themes that the Lakers offer to the kids at this camp. A highlight of the camp was definitely Horace Grant’s speech on saying “no to drugs” and the lesson taught by the overdose death by drugs of Len Bias nearly two decades after being selected in the NBA draft, “You kids have to promise never to do drugs, right now is the time to be responsible for you own success in life.”

Family. That one word sums up the feeling of this camp. The camp is known for giving out awards such as “best rebounder, Mr. Hustle, and the best playmaker”, the emphasis is on assisting one another at the camp instead of encouraging ball hogging that unfortunately prevails in high school sports today. The skills instructions at this camp are far better than the majority of camps I’ve seen.

A local counselor and former high school coach of Hueneme high school named Patrick Davis summed it all up with his quote on what he got from working the camp, “The kids teach me as much about life as I try to teach them about basketball, if I could get bottle up what is at this camp I’d be rich selling this feeling.” If only life were filled with more Laker camps to teach kids the right way to be champions.