Lakewood Ranch High’s gym had a championship aura to it June 14 even though the Mustangs boys and girls basketball teams had no games scheduled.
The Mustang players spent time acting as coaches and referees at Lakewood Ranch’s summer basketball camp, which had 115 campers entering second through ninth grades, all competing like it was the NBA Finals.
Mustangs boys coach Jeremy Schiller said he was pleased with the camp’s turnout, and noted the volunteers gain perspective as much as the participants gain skills.
“For them, it’s a chance to work with, hopefully, the next generation of Mustang basketball players,” Schiller said. “It also helps them gain knowledge on officiating. If you complain about a few calls as a player, (here) you realize that the officials won’t always give you the calls you want. They get a bit of a feel for that, which is an interesting dynamic.”
Lakewood Ranch guard Christian Perez, who will be a junior in the fall, said he attended the camp during his fourth- through sixth-grade summers. He would have attended in seventh and eighth grade, too, he said, if not for injuries. Perez credits the camp with helping his ball-handling skills and his shooting, and he was excited to give back to the younger players.
“Definitely leadership,” Perez said about what he learned throughout the week.
He said he learned the personalities of the players and figured out the best way to coach them as a group. "Dealing with their competitiveness, you learn a lot from it,” he said.
Perez said those lessons will help him in the Mustangs' locker room next season. With Jack Kelley, Damien Gordon and Evan Spiller now graduated, it will take players like Perez rising to the occasion if Lakewood Ranch hopes to avoid a drop-off in results.
The Mustangs girls team was excited as well about sharing lessons they've learned, and about learning a few tricks of the trade themselves.
Jordan Brown, who will be a sophomore, said she took the responsibility of working at the camp seriously and hopes she can help the next generation of stars.
“I love being around the kids,” Brown said with a laugh. “They’re a delight. There are some rough moments, too. A lot of tears. You just have to cheer them all up. Overall, it’s a great experience.”
The kids had fun, too, and perhaps no one had more fun than the Davis sisters, Olivia (eighth grade) and Avery (sixth grade). The Davis family moved to Lakewood Ranch from Indianapolis the week prior so this was their first athletic activity in their new home, according to their mother, Jodi Davis.
Avery won the co-ed camp’s Mustang award, given to players displaying the most sportsmanship and respect, and Olivia took home an MVP award, wowing both Schiller and girls coach Melanie Johnson with her athleticism and three-point shooting. The current Nolan Middle School students are expected to join Lakewood Ranch at the high school level, and that has Johnson excited.
“Listen,” Johnson said, “it’s hard to explain how exciting it is to see a player (Olivia) with that potential. You almost get nervous. You don’t want to get excited and then see her go somewhere else. She plays well above her age group. The guys on her team were giving her the ball. That says a lot.”
The Davis sisters said they had a blast at camp, citing lessons on defense and playing as a team. When players, coaches and referees are all having fun, you know a camp is special.
Lakewood Ranch’s camp runs twice more, from June 25-28 and July 9-12. It costs $140 per child to attend, or $164 with lunch provided. For more information, call 727-6100 ext. 2135 or email [email protected].
Braden River High also hosts a basketball camp at its facilities, with the week of June 25-28 being its final week. Walk-ups are welcome. For more information, contact coach Jason Mickan at 545-2434.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.