COLUMBIA — After a long day of basketball, Kim English showed up.
English, a Missouri basketball player, played with the boys and girls at the Missouri Basketball Youth Camp held at Mizzou Arena.
During the first half, English sat on the bench with the children who weren’t playing. He joked around and took some pictures with them. At halftime, he told the children he would be playing in the second half. English, also acting as coach of the team, told them his simple game plan for the second half.
“Get the ball to me and watch the magic happen,” he said.
English had a tough day shooting though, missing two jump shots and a wide-open layup. He did contribute with a few rebounds and multiple assists. His team won the game.
“Tough defense,” English said, explaining his struggles. “I was 0-3 shooting, but I’ll take the win any day.”
The camp, put on by MU's athletics department, was to teach children the fundamentals of the game, while allowing them to compete and have fun at the same time. The days started at 9 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. Playing basketball for nearly six hours is something most of the children weren’t used to.
“It felt pretty tiring,” Matthew Bagby said. “But breaking for lunch and sitting in lines made it easier.”
The players sat in a straight line with their team whenever Gary Link, who ran the camp, explained to them what they’d be doing next. Link is a special assistant to the athletic director and also does color commentary for Missouri games on the Tiger Radio Network. Link has helped with the youth camp for about 15 years and said coming to Mizzou Arena is a unique experience for most of the children.
“We treat them just like a Missouri Tiger,” he said, noting that the young players do many of the same drills as the Missouri men’s team.
Link likes coaching the children because of their eagerness to learn. At that age, they haven’t developed bad habits yet, allowing the camp instructors to teach them proper fundamentals. Link also enjoys the children’s desire to play the game and have fun.
“The energy and enthusiasm (of the children) is fun for me,” he said.
That energy and enthusiasm was noticeable right from the start. Before doing any basketball activities, the young players went through an upbeat warmup. They gave each other high-fives as they did their warmup running. While waiting in line for his turn to run, one boy jumped on the back of another. It seemed that he was so full of energy that he couldn’t stand waiting in line, even if it was only for a few seconds.
After warming up, the children broke down into six teaching stations, each focusing on a specific skill: passing, dribbling, layups, shooting, defense and rebounding. The energy level of the players fell during this time, but they were more focused because it was time to learn.
Bagby said the stations were his favorite part of the camp.
“I learned to follow through on my shot and bend my knees,” he said. “I also learned you have to bend your knees on defense.”
The teaching stations were followed by a knockout contest. The players were divided up so there was a game at each hoop. The winner from each hoop came together to play one final game while the other children circled around them to cheer them on.
“Make it! Make it! Make it!” they all cheered every time someone took a shot. Link told the children that sportsmanship was the most important thing in basketball and they should root for every participant. Everyone cheered when a basket was made.
The day ended when English came and the final games were played. The only advice English gives to young children is to just have fun.
“It’s important not to drill them too much when they’re really young,” he said. “If they still love the game when they’re 13 or 14, then I’ll start to give them real basketball advice.”
“It’s all about giving back to the kids,” English said, explaining the importance of a recognizable MU player being at the camp. “(This camp) allows them to see us not on TV and realize we’re just regular people. They think we’re bigger than we really are, but anything that makes them happy makes us happy.”
Mike Anderson Jr., head manager of the MU men’s basketball team and former MU player, helped coach at the camp and said he has fun helping out young children.
“We can teach them the right way to play and really get them off on the right track,” he said.
The camp drew kids from all over the state. Greyson Brown, 10, is from Richland.
“I came here to have fun and play basketball,” he said. “But my favorite part was probably meeting Kim.”
“I really like Mizzou,” said Bagby, who is from Kansas City. “I came here last year, and I really liked it, so I decided to come back.”