Elevation slam-dunk weekend

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG —The second annual Elevation Basketball Camp Weekend took place last month at the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center. Over 70 aspiring professional basketball players attended the weekend of drills, sweat and fun.

Warm-up drills started promptly at 10 a.m. with movement exercises. The kids were split up into two groups, one in the gym and the other on the court in the hot Florida sun. By the time the groups switched places, the temperature was hitting 90 degrees.

The series of morning drills helped the young athletes build agility, stamina, strength, speed and teamwork skills. The squat and run in place with arms straight out to each side and palms turned a little past the 12 o’clock position seemed rather easy and harmless until both the male and female coaches pushed the youngsters to repeat the activity multiple times.

“Come on, dig, dig, dig, now dap,” said one coach.  Just as the youngsters thought they could straighten up, the coach yelled again: “Now dap again, dap, dap. Don’t stop moving your feet!”

At the other end of the gymnasium, coaches were conducting lay-up drills. Defense and offense drills rounded out the morning session.

Camp organizer Sean Morrison talked with the group immediately after lunch and thanked them for their participation. The young people were instructed to sit in a semi-circle on the floor so that they could see and listen to guest speaker Jon Cabino, basketball coach at Eckerd College.

“Don’t settle for a 2.5 when you can make a 3.0,” said Cabino. His message zeroed in on the importance of academic success and how it goes hand in hand with collegiate athletic programs across the country.

“If you fail a class in high school, you’re out of sports for the next six weeks,” said Cabino, as several young people looked stunned by such a stipulation. “Why settle for a C when you can get a B? Once you get the grades, then you can be the athlete.”

Cabino emphasized that as athletes age, they must continue to polish their skillset to accommodate aging because the never ending brute-force energy they have in their 20s decreases in time, so they have to diversify their athletic ability to play competitively.

Once the afternoon scrimmages got underway, several players began to draw the coaches’ attention with the talent they exhibited, in some cases well beyond their age.

Standouts included nine-year-old London Speights, who dominated the elementary age group; 11-year-old Dominic Polk, who manhandled the basketball; eighth grader Mikera Patton, who charged the basket without any hesitation and eighth grader Omari Sherrod, who is already playing high school level basketball with a lightening quick lay-up that can strike from any direction.

As the sun set on the first day of camp, the attention shifted towards Sunday afternoon when outstanding athletes would be chosen by the coaches to play in the All-Star game.

The youngsters found out just how special the All-Star game is this year when Marreese Speights entered the recreation center right after lunch. Speights joined the coaches and camp participants for a group photo, and stayed to play in the much-anticipated All-Star game.

Sunday’s highlights included Eric Jones burning down the court in 16 seconds during the NBA Challenge. If you looked away for two seconds, you would have missed the beauty of athletic perfection and mental control.

Right behind Jones was high schooler Cortez McKenzie, who completed the course in 18 seconds and eighth grader Omari Sherrod, who dashed through the challenge in 19.

You too can have a chance to take photos with Speights next Thursday, Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. at Campbell Park Recreation Center when he will present Mayor Rick Kriseman with a $25,000 donation to enhance city youth programs.

2016 camp awards

Mr. Elevation (OTE MVP) Jahlon Holland

Middle Age Knock Out Winner Antrez Johnson

Overall 3 Pt. contest Winner Cortez McKinnize

Older Age Skills Challenge Winner Eric Jones

Older Age Knock Out Winner Dollar Davis

Middle Age Skills Challenge Winner Omari Sherrod & Cortez McKinnize

Youngest Age Skill Challenge Winner Jamareis Conyers

Other Standouts

From The Youngest Group Emir Gainer, Alahai Lovette, Dominic Polk

From The Middle Age Group Mikera Patton, Daniel Baker

From The Older Age Group Haron Sherrod III, Elgin Newsome

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