(Photo Credits: @MizzouHoops)
As I watched a bevy of campers dribble their basketballs, score some baskets and show off their big smiles throughout the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center Boys & Girls Club gymnasium in East St. Louis, Illinois, there was sense of joy that filled my spirit.
Over the past week, our head men’s basketball Cuonzo Martin brought us, the whole basketball staff, to various communities in and around Missouri and Illinois to host basketball camps in the specific areas of those states that are often neglected, and are in need of some much-needed and well-deserved attention.
As a group, our Mizzou Hoops staff hosted two camps in St. Louis, Missouri. Two more the following day in East St. Louis, Illinois and a final camp in Kansas City, Missouri. Each of these sessions were held at different Boys and Girls Club locations in those three cities.
Coach Martin, who is our head men’s basketball coach for those who do not know, grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois. Hence, it was evident that when Coach Martin arrived to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, he relished the opportunity to give back to all the young kids who are in a similar position to the one he once was growing up. If you do not know the history of East St. Louis, to put it bluntly, it is one of the more impoverished and challenging areas for a child to grow up in all of America. Those who can make a life for themselves coming from that area have achieved more than most any other normal person could overcome in a lifetime. To me, this is why the time we spent with these kids was so much more about just developing a camper’s between-the-legs crossover, form shooting via a jump-stop, or two-hand rebounds. Rather, these three days hopefully offered each kid a few hours of levity as well as tons of positive energy and life lessons being poured into them, which might resonate with these youngsters down the road as they develop into young men and women.
At the conclusion of each camp Coach Martin parted some words of wisdom upon the kids. The one consistent theme that was present throughout: integrity. Telling the truth, especially at the age many of these young kids are, is not always easy. Coach Martin acknowledge himself that he had struggles with integrity as a kid. I think that is why I appreciate Coach Martin’s words so much since he admits that he is not perfect and has his own struggles with these concepts on a daily basis. But, he always strives to live up to his values the best he can everyday.
As I wrap-up, I’ll be the first to say that growing up in Palo Alto, California, which is a hotbed for technology and the epicenter for Silicon Valley, might very well be the polar opposite experience to that of a kid who grows up in a community like East St. Louis, Illinois. Therefore, this experience was also critical for my personal development. I say that not only as an aspiring basketball coach, but far more as a human being. Coach Martin’s decision to host these camps enabled me to travel to places where I’ve never been before while also getting an opportunity to interact with kids who have far greater challenges to deal than I looking back on my childhood.
My perspective on life, as a whole, has exponentially widened over these last three days. That might be the greatest gift someone, like myself, could have hoped to garner from this entire experience.