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East County Thursday, Jun. 16, 2022 2 weeks ago

Basketball camp fires up future Lakewood Ranch High players

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The annual camp at Lakewood Ranch High also gives its current players a chance to coach.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

Summer basketball camp at Lakewood Ranch High looks fun, but it is also serious business. 

"Anybody who is whining is never going to be a Mustang someday," Lakewood Ranch High Head Coach Chris Kawcak told dozens of campers. 

Whenever Kawcak would speak, the campers — who ranged from sixth to ninth graders — would listen intently, somewhat unusual for kids their age. I wasn't surprised, though. When I was their age, I wanted to be just like the high school athletes I knew. If professional athletes were like untouchable gods to me, high school athletes were more human heroes, the people whose footsteps I could actually see myself following someday. 

I stopped by the annual camp June 10, a Friday and the last day of the campers' five-day experience. It is likely that some kids at this camp will indeed be Mustangs basketball players in the future. In my eyes, which are admittedly easy to please, a lot of them looked like they had the potential to be future stars.

Trey Smith, 10, said he had so much fun at last year's Mustangs basketball camp that he decided to return.

That includes 10-year-old Trey Smith, who was attending the camp for the second summer in a row. Smith was putting the moves on everyone during the camp. In the post, he was especially dominant. I asked him what his secret was. He didn't hesitate. 

"I like to go between the legs, behind the back, take a step back and shoot it," Smith said. " He acted out the moves as he said them, as any good player would do. 

Smith said he was enjoying all aspects of this year's camp but particularly enjoyed the five-on-five games where he could let loose. The games are a chance for the campers to show off what they have learned. Smith clearly is a high-level athlete, but usually in baseball and football. Asked if he would be adding basketball to his schedule, Smith said he would consider it, but that his schedule is fairly full as it is, so he was leaning toward a "No." A fair response. but I think he should keep at it He has some smoothness to his basketball game. 

Smith had a year's experience on some of the kids in attendance, but that doesn't mean the newcomers couldn't make an immediate impact. Quite the opposite.

But making an impact wasn't the main reason for many of the campers.

Adriana Buchanan, 9, said she only came to the camp because a handful of her friends were there. She had never played basketball before, at least not in a similar setting. Buchanan admitted her game was a bit rough at the beginning of the week but she has worked hard to improve and, to her surprise, she has enjoyed herself. 

"My favorite part is when we get to dribble," Buchanan said. "Dribbling down the court is a lot of fun." 

Buchanan said the camp's assistant coaches, all players in the high school's boys and girls basketball programs, were nice to her and helped her whenever she was struggling. That is always one of the best parts of any camp. The high school players get to see what it is like to be a coach and realize it is not easy to wrangle a group of players into a cohesive unit. They seemed to be enjoying the challenge. 

"I have learned that you have to be patient," said Thomas Huggins, a rising sophomore. "You have to take your time. They don't always listen right away and some of their confidence levels are a little lower than others. But they are all getting better. It has been a blast to teach them new things. They are starting to adapt to what is going on." 

Sara Leonardis, a rising senior in the girls program, echoed Huggins' sentiments and added that watching the kids go through relay races had been the highlight of her week. I can attest to how fun those were. Kawcak divided the campers into groups of three by age and experience level, then had the groups race, with the oldest/most experienced kids having to dribble the furthest distance before turning around and coming back. Multiple races were contested and several different campers came out on top, as no one person dominated.

One thing was constant. At the end of the day, all the kids were feeling the burn and breathing heavy. That's a tell-tale sign that their fun had to be earned. 

The camp at Lakewood Ranch is hardly the only basketball camp where this type of growth is happening. Braden River High's basketball camp is going on this week (June 13-16). If you're still looking to get your athlete in a camp and you're willing to drive slightly outside the Lakewood Ranch area, there will be a Nike boys basketball camp held at Sarasota High July 25-29 and Nike boys and girls camps held at Bradenton Christian School June 20-23. Prices and times for the camps vary, so head to ussportscamps.com for more information or to register an athlete. 

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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