By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
The opportunity for student athletes to interact with NBA icons has been a staple of the Jeff Rodgers Summer Basketball Camp for three decades and that tradition continued as several familiar names made an appearance.
Bahamian basketball legend Mychal Thompson, along with Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets and Shelvin Mack of the Orlando Magic attended yesterday’s camp at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium, much to the approval of the many campers and instructors.
Thompson recounted his story from being a young teenager in the Bahamas to become the first foreign-born player selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.
“We didn’t have these opportunities when I was a kid growing up in the Bahamas trying to learn the game so I want you guys to truly appreciate this platform and the opportunity that this provides,” he said. “It’s a really a blessing that Jeff continues to do this every year so even if it’s just a month, with you guys, for that month you get to be taught the game at a high level and to learn life lessons.”
He eventually won two titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1987 and ‘88, before he retired in 1991. His sons have all reached the level of elite professional sports with Trayce – an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mychel – a member of the Santa Cruz Warriors in the NBA’s G League and Klay – the two time All Star and two time champion for the Golden State Warriors.
“Basketball is an amazing tool, I didn’t play when I was as young as many of you here but there were people that identified my potential, that they thought I could do with the game and I was able to change my life and impact the lives of many others. To get to that point it takes focus, it takes the drive, it takes discipline and dedication to your craft. I was one of the first but my story isn’t unique.
“The Bahamas is filled with talented players, I played with many of them in my transition to the United States, you see Bahamians in the NBA right now and there are more to come in the future. For me, it’s always special to be home. No matter how far or how long you’ve been away, it’s always special when you can come home and get re-established with your roots. It never gets old coming home and reconnecting with these young kids, because learning the history of the game and history of the country is so important for development.”
Gordon, whose mother Denise is Bahamian, recently completed one of his best seasons of his NBA career so far and captured the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
“Basketball is great and it’s done wonders for me and my family but I want you guys to always be focused on school and doing well in school. That has to be your top priority right now and where your focus is right now. Pay attention to the people around you and make sure they have the same goals in mind as you do,” he said, “I have a lot of friends and family here, so I enjoy coming here. This will always be my second home or my home away from home for me. Basketball continues to grow here and so it’s fun to be able to make a contribution.”
Shelvin Mack joined the Orlando Magic this offseason but said he made it a priority to return to the camp for the fourth time.
“It feels good. It’s a blessing to have been invited down here and I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can to help the camp. I played with Klay Thompson on the USA basketball U19 team and I’ve known Eric Gordon for a while, so when they asked me to come down, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. This is my fourth time here being apart of the camp and I always appreciate the opportunity to come down here,” he said.
A new addition to the day’s festivities was a motivational speech by a former camper and current junior national team member Samuel Hunter.
Hunter, now with BC Christian in British Colombia, Canada, recently averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game at the FIBA Centrobasket U17 championships and said he got his start at that very event.
“I remember being in this camp, this was where the story started for me. I was coming to the camp since I was six-years-old but I really didn’t get serious with the game and get pushed into it until I was about 10 or 11 and I started to grow. People saw my height and pushed me toward playing basketball and I grew to love it,” he said. “You never know where you can end up if you just push yourself and chase your dreams. When I first started out, I won’t lie to you I sucked and I wanted to quit at times, but I had people around me that helped me stick with it, I pushed and I continued to get better. That story can be the same for many of you.”
The camp will host its final work day today and the fun night will be hosted Saturday, August 11 at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium. Fun Night will be highlighted by an exhibition game between camp instructors and the visiting NBA icons – including a guest appearance from Klay Thompson.
“We thank God for continuing to allow us to host the camp. These guys have always supported me and they understand what I am trying to accomplish,” Rodgers said. “So to have a living legend like Mychal Thompson and these current stars take time out of their busy schedule it is a blessing and this is a commitment that they have made and they continue to honour that commitment.”