MELISSA – Nearly 100 campers descended on Melissa High School for boys basketball camp on June 25 and soon after, scores of balls were flying toward the nets during warm-ups. The scene repeated three more mornings as third-year varsity Cardinals head coach Eric Benton and his staff led this annual event for 1st- through 9th-grade boys.
Assisting Benton were MISD coaches Lawrence Williams, Jacob Arvin, Chad Crossland and Paden Whetzel, with additional support provided by just-graduated standout Melissa forwards Josh Wood and Cole McCraw.
In his office with a fresh cup of coffee before day 2 got started, Benton said this marked the first time in his nearly ten years as a head coach that he’d split campers into three age groups — not two. Not only that, but all three sessions were held simultaneously during one three-hour window each morning.
“I’ve always split them in half and had younger kids in the morning and older kids in the afternoon,” he said. “But we have enough gyms that we can make it work and I’m fortunate to have really good coaches and a couple of great kids that played for me that’ll come help. … They’re all rockin’ at the same time.”
Benton also said that from year to year, they often tweak things.
“What I didn’t change is our agenda,” he said. “We’re following the same schedule every day, with some games and competitions, some station work.”
Benton had just finished up another week at his alma mater Baylor University where he was again in charge of one of Bears head coach Scott Drew’s basketball camps.
Learning baseball is different from other sports.
“I can play basketball by myself if I have a basket in the driveway,” Benton said. “I can be out there for hours and hours and I can have mom or dad turn the car lights on and shine them on the driveway — if I don’t have lights. And even if I don’t have a basket I can still go outside and dribble the ball like [1970s NBA star] ‘Pistol Pete’ Maravich.”
One of the things Benton is most proud of with his camp, every kid is going to walk away with a ball.
“We give every kid a T-shirt and every kid a ball,” he said. “So even if a little guy doesn’t have a goal at his house, he’s at least got a basketball that he can bounce around on the back porch or dribble up and down the street.”
Since Melissa’s tennis and boys hoops camps coincided this year, Benton didn’t get to assist head tennis coach Brad Crawford again — on those courts without air conditioning.
“He does such a good job,” Benton said. “And he’s just fun to be around. I’m not sure I’m envious of what the temperature is going to be today out there versus what it’s going to be in the gym, but I had a blast last year helping him.”
Each morning of camp, Benton spoke briefly to the entire camper corps in the school’s main gym. After introducing a few agility and ball-handling drills, he sent the groups off to their respective venues: 1st and 2nd-graders to the middle school, third through fifth graders to MHS’s auxiliary gym while sixth through ninth graders stayed put. Benton moved around the three sites as his assistants carried out the training.
“It’s fun just working with the kids,” said Arvin, Benton’s second-year varsity assistant. “They want to get better, they want to have fun. And summertime is the perfect time to do that. … It’s a good experience for me to learn how to coach these kids so when I’m working with the older kids maybe I can use something I learned.”
Coaching younger kids, he said, develops patience.
“The older kids know what’s expected of them,” Arvin said.
Whetzel, a middle school football, basketball, track and cross country coach, has been with MISD for two years.
“The coolest thing is just watching those kids with no background in basketball - completely starting from scratch - develop however much they can in four days,” he said.
So do these kids want to drill fundamentals or jump right to being Stephen Curry?
“They want to be Steph Curry,” Whetzel laughed. “Who doesn’t though, you know?”
Benton said he has to occasionally update his NBA-star references when introducing a new drill. Mention of Larry Bird on Tuesday drew mostly blank looks, though two or three kids seemed somewhat familiar with “The Hick From French Lick’s” 1980s exploits.
With day 4 in the books, campers headed out to enjoy the rest of their summer, each with a soon-to-be utilized new basketball.