When I was a kid, Metro Parks and the YMCA were where I spent most of my summers connecting with peers. I always wondered what it would be like to spend just a small portion of my summer with an NBA player.
Last week, I saw firsthand what it’s like to hang out and bond with a professional athlete and the lasting memory it has on the life of a kid. June 20-22 was the first annual Camp Rozier, a project of former University of Louisville guard and current player for the Boston Celtics Terry Rozier.
Kids ages 5-17 came to gain total skill development at Westport Middle School, and when they stopped bouncing the basketball, they gathered around Terry as if he were telling a children’s story only to channel their inner Curious George and ask what it’s like to be a professional ball player.
“About 10 years ago, I was one of these kids in the camp, and it meant to so much to me to wake up, go to the camps and learn something new from a guy I looked up to,” Rozier recollects. “I understand that and I put myself in their shoes and try to teach them some things and give back – that’s the most important thing.”
Terrell Brandon, former NBA guard, was the first NBA player Rozier says he met. Being attracted more to football as a kid, he says he was somewhat indifferent to the recreational camps he attended when younger but later realized the impact it has on a teenager’s life when he says he was “blessed” to attend the LeBron James camp.
“I try to tell people, even though it is a camp, it’s still bigger than basketball. It’s about getting to meet those kids,” he adds.
As I surveyed the gym, the kids got ready for lunch, where they demolished their food, redefining the meaning of taco day. Once Rozier arrived, it didn’t take long for them to shift their eyes in his direction and flock to his magnetic presence. As he signed autographs and took pictures, he also took the time to explain important principles that helped him get to the place where he is today.
“I was the one who was always overlooked, so I learned to never stop working,” he attests. “I can always share that with them and encourage them just to work hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
As campers listened attentively, I’m sure the number one question was, “What does it take to get to the NBA?” Terry remembered his process that led to the Boston Celtics selecting him No. 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft and shared with them a few jewels to get to the Association.
“They want to see how competitive you are – that’s what the league is based on. I believe the Boston Celtics selected me because I remember going to my second workout, I wasn’t shooting it well, but I kept doing the drill until I passed the drill, and Danny Ainge [Boston Celtics president of basketball operations] mentioned that’s what he liked about me, just the competitive spirit that I have. So I think it plays a big role.”
It was a fun and festive environment that was a part of an entire week filled with events led by former Cardinals. Events included the second annual Russdiculous Golf Scramble and the Metro City Stars and LMPD Charity Basketball Game in honor of Officer Nick Rodman. Noted players were Tim Henderson, Chane Behanan, with Hall of Fame Coach Denny Crum and Peyton Siva calling the Xs and Os from the sideline.
“It’s all in efforts to give back and to better cultivate the Louisville community,” says Russ Smith Sr., founder of the Russ Smith Foundation.
“At the end of the day, we want to give these kids outlets. The reason Russ had a good life is because of my hustle. That’s why with the Russ Smith Foundation, I wanted to run everything out of Louisville, to show them this is what I do back up north in Brooklyn for the kids. My whole thing in life is I stress to the kids the importance of education. Education is going to be the key to success, and paying attention, motivation and hustle. You’ve got to hustle.”
Kids left Camp Rozier in a better place than they were in before it started. Through the bouncing of a ball, their lives were further shaped and stirred in the right direction. VT