Local youth hoop camp, featuring NBA coach, includes important lessons on life

By Steve Gunn
LocalSportsJournal.com

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – The kids who participate in the “I Am Basketball” youth camp learn a lot from some real experts.LSJ Logo incert

They learn some finer points of basketball from Dale Osbourne, an assistant coach with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, who has made a special trip to Muskegon for the past two years to lead the camp.

JT Johnson listens to direction from Portland Trailblazers coach Osbourne during Saturday's clinic. Photo/Joe Lane

JT Johnson listens to direction from Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Dale Osbourne during Saturday’s clinic. Photo/Joe Lane

They also learn about making the right choices in life from people like Nate Johnson, who once spent 12 years in prison before turning his life around.

All of those lessons have left a definite impression on Jajuantae Trotter, a 16-year-old who’s about to begin his senior year at Muskegon Heights Academy.

Last year Trotter showed up at the “I Am Basketball” camp with an electronic tether around his ankle. He had been, in his own words, “out late at night hanging around with the wrong people.”

He caught the attention of Osbourne, a fifth-year coach with the Trail Blazers, who took a special interest in the boy, offered him advice and encouragement, and invited him to stay in touch over the course of the year.

That interest made a difference.

This year Trotter showed up at the camp without the tether and with a whole new attitude. He said the words he heard last year, from Osbourne and the other adult volunteers at the camp, stuck in his mind and gave him a new outlook.

Jahilil Trotter takes instruction from Osbourne. Photo/Joe Lane

Jajuantae Trotter takes instruction from Osbourne. Photo/Joe Lane

‘I had been out late at night hanging around with the wrong people,”

“(The basketball camp) was a good experience,” said Trotter, a varsity basketball and football player who participated in the basketball camp at Reeths-Puffer High School on Saturday. “Coach Osbourne, he told me to stay on a good path and to stay focused on what I want to do. He told me to stay around good people and to put God first. He told me to keep my grades up.

“It’s worth it,” Trotter added about the camp. “You can learn a lot of stuff from a top NBA coach. You can learn something from people who have been in trouble and want to do good.”

Osbourne was thrilled to see the difference in Trotter, from one year to the next.

“He showed up last summer, and I just said, ‘Listen, life’s about choices,’” Osbourne said. “I told him that I hoped to see him back this year, and to stay out of trouble, keep his grades up and listen to mom and dad.

Brooke Anderson tries to find light around the defense. Photo/Joe Lane

Brooke Anderson tries to find light around the defense. Photo/Joe Lane

“I was so happy to see him walk through that door this year without that tether thing. I talked to some coaches here and they told me he has stayed out of trouble. His attitude seems much better, and he told me everything is much better at home. I’m proud of him. If you can reach even one kid, it’s worth it.”

The “I Am Basketball” camp is a third-year Christian-based event, sponsored by the I Am Basketball League, a local summer league comprised largely of former college and high school players from the area.

About 60 kids between the ages of eight and 18 participated in the camp, which ran Thursday through Saturday at Reeths-Puffer High School and Middle School.

The league’s board of directors decided to start the camp because most of the members know what it’s like to grow up in tough circumstances.

“All of us have had hard lives,” said Joe Kelm, a member of the board. “We grew up in hard areas. That breeds sympathy, understanding and caring for what these young people are going through.

Nakarri Churchwell is giddy after getting a signature on a very large shoe. Photo/Joe Lane

Nakarri Churchwell is giddy after getting a very large shoe, autographed by an NBA player, which was provided by Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Dale Osbourne. Photo/Joe Lane

“There’s danger on the Internet for kids these days. Drugs are readily available anywhere. Alcohol is too available to minors. Sex has become so prevalent in our society. There’s a risk around every corner, and so many homes are broken. A lot of kids don’t have role models to help them learn how to deal with life’s problems.”

That’s a motto that struck a chord with Osbourne, a busy NBA coach who generally does not participate in youth basketball camps.

Osbourne was already acquainted with I Am Basketball board member Yosef Johnson, owner of the Muskegon-based Ultimate Athlete Concepts, and accepted the invitation to come to the camp when Johnson called.

“It started last year,” said Osbourne, who got his start in coaching as an assistant for the Grand Rapids Hoops under former Reeths-Puffer and University of Michigan basketball star Mark Hughes. “They gave me a call, told me their camp was faith-based, and I said sure, I would come do it.

“I’ve been coaching for 30 years, and God had always put it on my heart to do a faith-based basketball camp, to use basketball to bring people in, and talk about God, family and education.”

Osbourne said he was so impressed by the camp last year that he went home to Oregon and started a similar camp through his own church.

Muskegon resident and area educator Rodney Anderson Sr. instructs campers. Photo/Joe Lane

Muskegon resident and educator Rodney Anderson Sr. instructs campers. Photo/Joe Lane

“I went back to my pastor, who’s a big basketball guy, and said ‘let’s do it.’ I was inspired by these guys here. They always thank me, but the truth is that I have been blessed by them.”

When the kids at the camp weren’t going doing basketball drills with Osbourne and the local coaches who volunteered to help, they were listening to another set of experts – men who made bad choices in their lives and paid a heavy price.

Nate Johnson, director of a local inmate re-entry program called 70×7 Life Recovery, told the kids about the 12 ½ years he spent in prison for narcotics activity and armed robbery. He told them he became a Christian in prison and successfully turned his life around when he was released.

But he said he wasted a lot of time, because he made wrong decisions during his youth. He encouraged the kids at the camp to be aware of the dangers and avoid the types of problems he encountered.

“I took what I went through and turned it around and used it, but I started going at 32 what I should have been doing at 18,” Johnson told the young players. “We just want to encourage you guys, as you finish up high school, and for the rest of your lives, you will be presented with choices. Make it a habit of listening to parents, family members and mentors and make the right decisions.

“Choices are coming whether you want them to or not. The crowd may be going one way, but you can go the other way. You can go as far as you want.”

Alton Casey, who was recently released from prison, also accepted an invitation to address the kids.

“I just did 20 years,” Casey told the youngsters. “I’ve been home about 10 days. You don’t have to do that Keep making great choices. School, athletics, being obedient to your parents – be true to that. Right now there is no ceiling to your possibilities. Make the choice to be the people you want to be. Life is only one shot.”

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