Memories of Summer Camps

Posted: June 12, 2019 in Coaching, Humor, Memories, Sports, Things I Love
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It’s June, and that always meant a month chock full of basketball. We had Monday and Wednesday night league games, shootouts, our PV Youth Camp, and of course our annual pilgrimage to WVU Team Camp, the Gary Williams Team Camp before that, or even the Bob Huggins Camps at UC and the Ohio U Camps under Billy Hahn back in the late 80s and early 90s. All were always great times.

As you might expect, stories abound from those days . . .

One year we arrived in Morgantown on Friday, got registered at camp, and I got all the guys checked into their hotel rooms. About an hour later my hotel phone rings, and I pick up.

“Hello?”

“Coach, this is T-Bag Medley. I have a question.”

Yes, he gave me his full name.

Because you know, it could have possibly been T-Bag McGinnis or T-Bag Mertz or any other number of my friends named “T-Bag” that happen to refer to me as “coach.” You can’t make this stuff up, kids.

Anyway, I told the guys and for the rest of the weekend and probably forevermore “T-Bag” would be known by his full name of “T-Bag Medley.”

Good Lord.

One time at WVU I heard some of my players being too loud in the hotel lobby. I went out there (pretty upset with them since their were other people in the lobby) and found a couple of my guys in the little room with the snack machines and stuff. They were talking loudly so I ripped into them pretty good, and as I did I noticed a player named Boom slowly disappearing behind one of the machines until he was completely behind it.

Me: “Boom! Why are you hiding behind the machine?”

Boom, in a small, trembling voice: “Because I’m scared.”

Keep in mind this was from a senior and 3-year varsity player. All I could do was laugh and walk away.

Some of my players hadn’t spent a lot of times away from home or in hotels, as was evident one day when one of them took me aside and whispered, “Coach, while we were gone today somebody came in and cleaned up our room. They made our bed and everything. It was awesome!”

The kid was tickled to death, like he’d hit the lottery or something. Couldn’t have been happier.

McCloy vs. 911 Wings.

Draise vs. 911 Wings.

And I’ll never forget a yearly tradition at Hugg’s camp at WVU – the yearly Eating of the 911 Wings. You see, there was a place called Kegler’s that had the hottest chicken wings on the planet. They were so hot they were called 911 Wings. Although we didn’t force players to try one we always told them it was a PV basketball tradition, a Rite of Passage if you will. Almost all the players tried at least one. Those wings were absolutely brutal. To watch them take a bite, then nod their head like it wasn’t that bad, only to see the heat kick in and tears come to their eyes, well it was memorable to put it mildly.

I like to think of it as the ultimate team-building exercise.

Note: 2017 grad Jay Riley could order a plate of those damn things and not bat an eye. Kid had an iron stomach. Or maybe no taste buds.

Once while we were out eating at a restaurant I had a player order extra futons for his salad. The waitress just looked at him blankly and asked, “You mean croutons?” as the table erupted in laughter.

I used to take my teams out to the University of Maryland for the Gary Williams Basketball Camp. It’s a long story but I used to be the Commissioner of the camps there for Gary from 1989 to 2002.

The kids who attended Maryland Camp came from the Washington DC area as well as Baltimore, Philly, New York City and schools all along the east coast. To say my Southern Ohio boys were out of their element was a bit of an understatement. Still, my guys hung out with the city boys, stayed in the dorms with them, and more than held their own on the basketball court. To me it was a win-win all-around. You know, expanding cultural horizons and all that. Not to mention it made my guys better playing against such good competition.

Which brings me to a story that Gary Williams, legendary former coach at Maryland, still tells to this day. Remember that it was 1992, and “trash talking” was in its early stages. Understand that trash talking hardly ever led to violence on the court, it was just a part of the game for players from the playgrounds of the inner-cities. My team, however, was not used to it. It hadn’t made its way to our neck of the woods yet.

With this in mind, my Ohio boys had been in a particularly intense contest with a team from Philly, which we happened to have won. Afterwards, in a corridor outside the Cole Field House floor, words were exchanged between an opposing player and one of my guys. After the other player challenged my player with some unkind words, a punch was thrown.

Somebody got throttled, and he wasn’t from Ross County.

Gary Williams, the aforementioned Maryland coach, happened to be in the corridor and jumped between my player and the other guy who was, well, on the hallway floor. At that point, as Gary will tell you, the following conversation took place:

Coach Williams: “What are you doing, man? Why did you punch him?”

My guy: “Coach, where I come from we only talk like that for a minute. Then we start to hit.”

Gary thought that was the greatest thing he’d ever heard, and he could hardly wait to tell me about it.

Another story at Maryland involved a certain player of mine whose name I’ll leave out to protect the not-so-innocent. This guy liked the ladies, and it just so happened a girls rugby camp was going on the same week as our basketball camp. During our lunch break I was in a car, and as we drove I noticed him flirting with a young lady.

Sorry, but this was too good to pass up. As we passed I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and said this:

“Hey man, we should be getting those STD test results back any time now. I’ll let you know if you’re clean.”

I’m telling you, the look on his face was priceless. Hers too.

Then we drove away.

My last story from Maryland didn’t involve my players, but instead involved me. You have to remember that Cole Field House was a legendary basketball arena. All the ACC greats played there, guys like Len Bias, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Kenny Anderson, Billy Cunningham, Christian Laettner, Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Joe Smith and David Thompson. In 1966 the famous National Championship game between Texas Western and Kentucky took place in Cole. Texas Western had an all-black starting line-up and Kentucky was all-white. Led by the legendary coach Don Haskins, Texas Western beat the Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky 72-65. Bottom line, it was a storied, historic arena. Knowing that makes the following story more relevant . . .

It was the last day of camp, the parents had arrived to pick up their kids, and I was announcing the championship game. The contest was nearing its conclusion when I said the following:

After the game all parents and visitors need to go to the tunnel end of the gym so they can watch the awards ceremony.”

Believe me, I said this with all sincerity and honesty. Never gave it a second thought. But then, all of a sudden, future Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams is looming over me screaming:

“Does this look like a GYM to you, Shoe? Michael Jordan did his first cradle dunk here! Lenny Bias played here! An all black Texas Western team beat an all white Kentucky team on this court in 1966! This is COLE FIELD HOUSE, MAN!”

I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. At this point I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, which only made Gary angrier. I mean, he was serious but it was so funny at the time I couldn’t help myself. In the meantime any coach within 10-feet was slowly backing away as to not get caught in the line of fire. As far as Coach Williams was concerned I’d insulted the sacred grounds of Cole Field House by referring to it as a “gym.”

Believe me, to Gary Williams that was sacrilegious, man. 

Being the good guy that Gary was we laughed about it together later, but at the time I thought I was gonna get coldcocked by one of college’s all-time greatest coaches. Whew.

Believe me, there are more stories that will have to wait and be told another day. But bottom line, these few stories are what’s great about coaching. Not all the great memories are from time spent during a game. They’re from practices, camps, on the bus, and when we together as a team far away from game night, developing relationships that will last forever.

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships.

Gimme a holler.

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