Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Local kids learn fundamentals of basketball in a three-day camp

In the beginning, there was silence.

The children filed into the gymnasium at Crescent Elk Middle School on Wednesday morning, dropped off by their parents and wished goodbye. They filled their time by sitting around, talking with friends, waiting impatiently. Aidan Malone, 7, a rising second-grader at Pine Grove Elementary School, burned some energy by running laps around the gym. "I can run so much," he said.

Blaine Lopez, head coach of the Del Norte High School boys basketball team, produced two mesh bags filled with basketballs and encouraged the kids in the gym to have at them. Within minutes, the familiar cacophony of dribbling and shooting and passing reverberated off the gym walls.

The chaos had commenced.

Two weeks prior, Lopez and assistant coach Cris Rice (who is also the

Del Norte girls golf coach) green-lit the inaugural Junior Basketball

Camp, a three-day instructional clinic for kids about to enter grades 1

through 4.

"I'm hoping, basically, to teach the basic fundamentals of

basketball," Lopez said. "(Rec league) coaches don't have very much

time. We're teaching basic dribbling and passing skills."

Thirty girls and boys as young as 5 and as old as 9 signed up, and many of sign-ups occurred Tuesday, the camp's first day.

"It's a great number (of kids)," Lopez said. "There are lots of opportunities for one-on-one (instruction)."

Each kid had plenty of room to work with as well. Middle-school and

rec league teams occupy area indoor courts most winter days and nights;

outdoor practices are difficult to schedule due to cold or inclement

weather. Lopez and Rice were using court space that would be otherwise

unoccupied in the summer.

In the first 15 minutes of the clinic, none of the campers touched a

ball. They ran lines, worked on their footwork and listened to Lopez and

Rice - sometimes - as the coaches worked on developing good habits.

"We're trying to stop them from doing the bad stuff they do, like

travel and double-dribble," said Rice, whose son, Aiden, participated in

the camp. "They let them get away with that (in rec league games)."

Much of the coaching done with young children goes beyond even the

fundamental and into the procedural. Where to stand, when to run, when

to walk, when to pass, when to shoot - what to do.

Basketball is a fluid game, with quick transitions between offense

and defense and a much smaller space to operate within compared to

football or baseball. At the most basic level of play, represented by

the basketball camp, it is sufficient and necessary to explain multiple

times what the lines of the court are.

"It's a little challenging sometimes," admitted Brice Lopez, a rising

junior at Del Norte High and Blaine Lopez's daughter. Brice and her

sister, Blaire, a recent Del Norte High graduate who will attend Lane

Community College in Eugene, Ore., in the fall, were conscripted as

volunteer assistant coaches and friendly faces to the girls in the camp.

The group's best skill? "Probably enthusiasm," Brice Lopez said. "They're funny."

How much do the 30 assembled campers enjoy basketball? It varies.

Malone, bedecked in an Angry Birds T-shirt, is not sure how much he

enjoys basketball but determined that his favorite part was "when I get

to block people or block their shots if they have the ball."

Nine-year-old Bella Stone, a rising fourth grader at Mary Peacock

Elementary, had been playing a few years before setting foot in the

Crescent Elk gym. Her experience shone through in the passes she made,

the shots she took and the way she responded to the coaches.

"I like it all," Stone said of basketball. "There's a lot of running

in it. I like shooting the best. A lot of people (I know) play ... it's

fun to do this."

Blaine Lopez, a roving physical education instructor with the Del

Norte County Unified School District, knows which buttons to push with

the kids that care about basketball and which to push with the kids

trying to figure out what it's all about.

"That's one of the things, even if they didn't play basketball

before, it's a good way to get exposure," Lopez says."Some are going to

love it and some aren't. They get to find out if they like it or not."

And as long as they have fun doing it, what does it matter?

Reach Robert Husseman at