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Notes From Summer Camp

This was sent to us by David
Wright, and it's about his experience working at camp. Enjoy! Nice work David!

I hate summer jobs. I could never find one in my chosen field, so I always wound up in retail. Not very appealing. To be honest, I worked the Duke basketball camps because I may never again get the chance. Real world, real job. Working camps isn’t a real job. I did them to have a fun three weeks in Durham, teach basketball, see some old friends, make some new ones, and meet some famous players. As you will see, I met some interesting people, including Trajan Langdon and Grant Hill. I also learned a good deal about the Duke program through observation of and interaction with its players and coaches. I hope you, the readers, enjoy this personal view of the basketball camp scene at Duke, in the summer of ‘99.


For the coaches that work them, basketball camps are generally about two things: teaching and networking. The latter usually occupies more of their time than the former. There is constant chatter about who is working where and who will fill the various coaching vacancies. Business cards are exchanged as frequently as handshakes. If you’re not a coach, or even a player, like me, sometimes you find yourself on the outside looking in.

Imagine my surprise when I ran into the AAU coach of a former teammate of mine, Melvin Whittaker. The coach, Daymond Lindell, recognized the school I was from and mentioned his relationship with Melvin. We spent the rest of the week trading stories about a mutual acquaintance.

My last year as team manager at Mount Saint Mary’s College was Melvin’s first year there. He was a quiet and introspective young man, understandable considering he just spent three years of his life in jail for assault. By getting to know Daymond Lindell, I got to know Melvin Whittaker better. He told me stories of Melvin as a young teenager, before his court troubles. In retrospect, these conversations were the best part of camp. I was able to gain a better understanding of someone whom I had only a brief chance to get to know.

As if one surprise were not enough, I ran into another coach, a year younger than me, who went to high-school just north of my home. DJ Wootson graduated two years after I did (1995). He played for two seasons at Cecil Community College and now plays at Georgia State University for the legendary Lefty Drisell. We talked about the basketball scene back home and traded barbs about each other’s high-school. I never expected to meet a hometown guy at a camp in North Carolina.

As for networking, Wootson is like a young Jedi master. Through his hard work with the kids, and regularly holding his own against the Duke players in pickup games, he found himself in the good graces of Coach Johnny Dawkins and Jeff LaMere, the Director of Basketball Operations. The last time I talked to DJ, the Duke staff was looking to get him an invitation to work Michael Jordan’s camp in Chicago. Not bad for a 20 year old from William Penn High in little Delaware.


A number of current and former players come back to Cameron during the summer camp sessions. Jeff Capel, Antonio Lang, Nate James, Chris Carrawell, and Trajan Langdon showed up during the three sessions of camp. James and Carrawell were on campus for summer school and Matt Christensen actually coached campers for every session. Jeff Capel was there to work out with his brother and play in the evening pickup games.

Trajan Langdon visited twice and, judging by the kids reactions, it was like Michael Jordan had shown up. On the last day of the camps, which was also the day of the NBA draft, Trajan spoke to the campers. He talked about his own life and what they, the campers, can do to improve as a player and a person. This is a young man who, on the most important day of his life thus far, takes time to speak to 480 kids. Less than twelve hours later he is a lottery pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That kind of dedication and caring are qualities that the Duke coaching staff looks for in a prospective player.

The Duke player I most enjoyed meeting was Phil Henderson. I didn’t know much about him before I came to camp. All I knew was that he was a heck of a scorer in college and that he didn’t get his degree, which is supposedly why the 1990 Final Four banner doesn’t hang in the rafters. What I do know is that Phil Henderson is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Henderson spent three weeks as a coach, working with the kids. He was one of the most popular coaches among the campers not only because of his notoriety, but also because of the ease with which he interacted with them. Unlike most coaches, Phil often spoke to the kids on an informal level after the day’s activities were through. It’s a given that players like Grant Hill and Tony Lang, and to a certain extent Trajan Langdon, cannot take three weeks out of their schedule to work summer basketball camps. However, there are plenty of other current and former players who were around for just pickup games. The fact that Henderson worked the camps shows the love and respect he has for the game, something often lacking in today’s player. My lasting impression of him is the effort he made to make every camper’s day brighter, whether it was by shooting around with them or just talking to them about anything. Personally, I think Phil Henderson represents the essence of Duke Basketball.


One of the unique things about the basketball camps at Duke is Coach K’s accessibility to the camp staff and the campers. I’ve worked camps at Big Ten and Atlantic-10 schools where the head coach only showed up to give out tee-shirts, or didn’t show up at all. At Duke, Coach K speaks to the campers twice a day, telling them stories about his players or giving them advice. Coach K’s favorite story is about Tommy Amaker. The story goes (keep in mind that this is second-hand): When Amaker was a freshman, the Blue Devils played Detlef Schrempf and Washington in the NCAA Tournament. As it turned out, Washington won the game following Tommy’s last second missed shot. On the late night flight back to Durham, Coach K decided to walk up and down the aisle to check on his players. All of the players were asleep, except Tommy Amaker. Coach tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he was okay. Tommy nodded and said that he was fine. He then asked Coach K if he could meet with him tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Coach agreed and then returned to his seat. The following morning, he came into the office and who was sitting there, early no doubt, but Tommy Amaker. He sat down in Coach’s office and said to him, "I just want to thank you for everything you have done for me this year. I would like to ask you something. What can I do to get better as a player for next season?" To hear Coach K tell it, that simple question endeared Tommy to him forever. Here was a kid who had just missed the biggest shot of his life. Most people in his place would have been feeling sorry for themselves, but not Tommy Amaker. Instead he was concerned with how he could improve himself for the next year.

What makes Duke Basketball so special is found in that story. Above all, the coaches at Duke care about their players. In light of recent scandals at other schools, I am more appreciative of the type of program run by Coach Krzyzewski. The coaching staff is dedicated to helping the men become better players and better people.


-- David Wright, 22, is a 1999 graduate of Mount Saint Mary’s College. He worked for Mt. St. Mary’s Basketball and Head Coach Jim Phelan for four years. Mr. Wright has also worked basketball camps at a number of ACC, Big Ten, and Atlantic-10 schools. This fall he will begin work towards a graduate degree in journalism at Temple University and, following that, hopes to work for a metropolitan newspaper or specialty sports magazine. Mr. Wright has written for the DBR before. His interview with Steve Wojciechowski, entitled "Wojo is home again," can be accessed in the archive section.