MELISSA – Cardinals head basketball coach Eric Benton welcomed 75 young campers to four-day basketball camp at Melissa High School on Monday, June 26. And this wasn’t the only camp on Benton’s summer slate. He’d just wrapped up his sixth year of leading the junior high division of Baylor University head coach Scott Drew’s basketball camp in Waco.

Melissa’s camp was offered to kindergarteners-through-ninth graders, with morning and afternoon sessions offering age-appropriate instruction. Benton opened the first morning session with a “word of the day”: Together — as in that’s how basketball success is achieved, from middle school to the NBA-Champion Golden State Warriors. Benton told campers that if the Warriors — with maybe the four best players in the world on their roster — pass the ball a lot, there’s no reason they shouldn’t.

“It doesn’t matter how much talent you put on the floor if they don’t work together,” Benton said. “… The older you get in our program, you’re going to hear that preached to you a ton. I’ll tell you, if the Warriors and all of the talent they have play this way and have that much success, everybody should play that way.”

With that nugget covered, Benton jumped right to defense, drilling on proper body position before moving to ball-handling drills.

Before the day began, Benton talked about his approach for this, his ninth camp as a high school head coach.

“What I like the best about these camps is that we’re able to find a good … balance between skill work and competitions,” he said, “and then just some things that are plain fun. It gives us a chance to kind of get to know the younger kids in a different light than we get to see them sometimes. Plus, there’s just kind of an unbridled enthusiasm that comes from some of those younger ones, so it’s kind of refreshing for us too.

“And it really gives the older kids the chance to get to know some of the high school coaches on a different level. And it gives us a chance to kind of help them understand just how our personality is and we get to talk to them a little bit each day about certain things that are important to us as a program. … It’s really important to us to feel like we can impart some of those values and some of those principals. We want them to know what we stand for as a program.”

“You definitely want to make sure that everyone has a good experience,” Benton added. “Especially when you have younger kids, the skill level is varied. … I’ve found a way to try to make sure that, regardless of what skill level a kid comes in at, we find ways to help them be better by Thursday than they were on Monday.”

Junior-sized balls with lowered baskets were used for K-through-second-graders but third-through-fifth-graders practiced on standard 10-foot goals. Afternoon sessions for sixth-through-ninth-graders used standard varsity balls with 10-foot baskets.

Assisting Benton with camp were Melissa High School coaches Matt Spann, Lawrence Williams and Nate Helmsley — who just joined the football staff after serving at Aubrey.

Spann was an assistant coach for Cardinals baseball last season and is now Benton’s assistant coach and also serves on the football staff.

“I haven’t got my feet too wet in basketball yet,” he said, “but it’s been great. Basketball is something I feel a little bit more of an expertise in, so I’m really excited about that opportunity. It was a great experience in baseball last year. … This year, I’m just really excited about the depth of (basketball) talent that’s coming for all levels, freshman through varsity. And I’m excited to be a part of Coach Benton’s program.”

Spann said he especially enjoys being around the young campers.

“I happen to have a fifth grader, a third grader and a second grader, so these kids are the kids I’m around 24/7,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s good because we have so many coaches kids here too. You kind of get to build those relationships and our kids get to grow up together.”