This time of year, basketball camps are as plentiful as churches in the Charlotte region. Complimentary T-shirts and high-profile guest speakers make their rounds, and scores of young ballplayers gain experiences that literally stay with them for a lifetime.
But only one camp wields T-shirts with the words “No basketball without books” emblazoned across the back. Only one camp has more anti-drug messages than an after-school special. And definitely only one basketball camp requires participants to take vocabulary tests.
Achievements Unlimited Basketball School.
For the third consecutive year, AUBS, led by Charlotte Bobcats President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield, is being held at Ardrey Kell High School. This week, about 220 youths showed up to receive intense basketball instruction mixed in with off-the-court knowledge that Whitfield hopes will put them in position to win, with or without a professional contract.
“We have fun, and I think our (camp) coaches do a great job teaching the fundamentals of the game, but we also want kids to know that less than 1 percent of them will play in the NBA or the NFL,” said Whitfield, a Greensboro native who conducted the first Achievements Unlimited camp in his hometown in 1985.
“So we want kids to know that they need to get that fall-back. We tell them, ‘Get that education so you can qualify for a college scholarship, and stay drug-free so you can take care of your body and give yourself a chance to maximize whatever talent you’ve been given.’
“After 28 years, I’m as enthused as I’ve ever been about our school. And to see our counselors enthused and to see all these smiles on these kids’ faces, that’s what it’s all about.”
Each day, celebrity guests address the campers. On July 10, Charlotte Bobcats guard Matt Carroll relayed the story of his road to the NBA as an undrafted player. Carroll said he feels a personal duty to talk to young players about staying focused, on and off the court, and sees Achievements Unlimited as the perfect vehicle for his message.
“I remember the first time I got to see an NBA player and have him talk to me,” Carroll said. “It was like, ‘Wow. I want to be like him some day. I want to get to the NBA.’ And I took what people said to me back then to heart. That’s why when I talk to the kids, I want to tell them something that’s real. I want to tell them that it wasn’t easy – I wasn’t like LeBron (James) and got drafted, but I found a way. And I tell them, ‘If you stick with it and take it serious and start working toward your goals, it can happen to you.’
“This is just a special camp,” Carroll continued. “What I love about it is that it’s not just about basketball; it stresses the importance of being well-rounded, that you’ve got to have a balance in your life. If you don’t have your grades right or everything else in your life going pretty good, then you’re not going to be able to have the basketball going well, too. It’s good for these kids to receive that message at a young age.”
Twelve-year-old Charlotte resident Mershaun Shabazz has gotten the message.
“I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here, like why it’s important to have good grades,” Shabazz said. “This is my first year here, but I definitely want to come back.” q