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It's fundamental: MC coach teaches kids to play basketball the right way

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG
Merced College's head basketball coach Bill Russell works with seven-year-old Natalee De La Torre, left, and seven-year-old Ben Livermore, during basketball camp, Wednesday, July 8, 2009 morning in the Merced College gym.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Merced College's head basketball coach Bill Russell works with seven-year-old Natalee De La Torre, left, and seven-year-old Ben Livermore, during basketball camp, Wednesday, July 8, 2009 morning in the Merced College gym. Merced Sun-Star

At the sound of a whistle, Merced College men's basketball coach Bill Russell has the rapt attention of 80-plus sets of eyes.

With his campers lined up around the boundaries of the Merced College court, Russell directs the kids through a series of warmups.

The Blue Devils coach has led this warmup probably a couple hundred times since the five-day camp's inception in the early '80s, but the joy and energy he conveys makes it look like the first time.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to teach these young boys and girls about patience, perseverance and sacrifice," Russell said. "We'll have the same kids come back year after year. I think the parents enjoy the structure of the camp.

"And it's always neat to see the kids' development."

The MC camp is open to boys and girls ages six to 15. Russell has a morning session with the younger campers and then hosts the older participants in the evening.

In a day and age where basketball fundamentals seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs, Russell's camp is a breath of fresh air.

While the structure has changed based off of the number of participants over the years, the basics remain the same.

This year's camp consists of eight stations where members of the MC men's basketball team give personal instruction to the campers on layups, defensive positioning, rebounding, passing, dribbling, free throws, a pass-and-cut drill and one-on-one matchups.

Russell's old-school approach is why so many of his former players -- like Joe Allison and Golden Valley boys basketball coach Keith Hunter -- bring their kids to the camp annually.

"My oldest son has been coming here for six years and now my younger son is here too," Allison said. "Coach Russell has always been about discipline and fundamentals, even when I played for him.

"It's great to be able to expose my sons to that, especially now. They watch TV and want to copy what they see, but that isn't basketball.

"This helps keep them grounded."

MC redshirt sophomore guard Andre Nichols knows firsthand how meaningful the camp is to the kids.

"I came to this camp for four straight years when I was a kid," Nichols said. "I'm still using things I learned here, today.

"It's part of the reason I wanted to volunteer to help out with the camp.

"It means a lot to the kids to have college players teaching them. They know it comes from experience and they really pay attention.

"Just watching them from the first day until now, it's amazing how far a lot of them have come."

Russell said the campers aren't the only ones learning.

"One of the things I love about the camp is that my players get to see how difficult it is to take a group of kids and get them to function as a unit.

"It gives them a little more appreciation for what I go through.

"It also forces them to assume leadership roles that help us out when the season gets going."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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