"What's the theme of the day?" screams coach Jake Kind through his loudspeaker to hundreds of campers standing on a basketball court in a rural, southwestern region of Jamaica.
The enthusiastic group hollers back in unison, ready to jump into drills and get to work.
That's how each morning of the 7th Annual PMBL Treasure Beach Youth Basketball Camp begins, with Kind, co-founder of the non-profit camp, pumping up the crowd with his patented clap and dance routine after offering a valuable new mantra to carry through each day.
The five-day camp, taking place in the large parish of Saint Elizabeth each August, is free to the campers and funded primarily through donations gathered by the founders and coaches. The week offers hundreds of Jamaican youths of all ages, ranging from 4 to 20, a chance to participate in a sport that generates tangible interest throughout the country, but lacks much opportunity for further development.
This particular day's theme of 'communication' was offered by Mark Lindsay, 12-year NBA Referee and 4-time coach/counselor at the camp. Communication would be key for all involved, with attendance growing to a record-high 1,068 Jamaican campers this year. There was much to coordinate for the 50-plus 'coaches' donating their time and resources to make a difference in some young peoples' lives.
"The camp is about teaching kids how to incorporate skills that we learn through basketball, and translate them into being successful human beings off the floor", said Lindsay, NBA referee since 2007 and head ref of the 10-team tournament organized on the camp's final day.
"We use basketball to facilitate that human interaction and human connection."
That human connection was evident throughout the entire camp, perhaps by none more so than 7-year-old Elijah Henderson, an aspiring baller with a tight handle and smooth stroke from deep whose unbridled enthusiasm and bright-eyed smile perfectly captured the essence of all of those in attendance.
Elijah, who singled out Stephen Curry as his favourite player, provided one of the more heartwarming moments of the week during a sprinting drill that proved too complex for 4- and 5-year-olds to grasp. After watching several kids struggle to find the lines they were supposed to tap, Elijah took it upon himself to chauffeur the confused campers back and forth, shouting encouragement until they completed the drill. It was an example of selfless leadership that even Steph would be proud of.
Say hi to Elijah! He's a camper and a big NBA fan. Check out the link in our bio for our NBA.com article about this year's camp! Do you agree with Elijah? Who are your favorite players? . . . . @stephencurry30 @kingjames @kyrieirving @kd35ground @klaythompson @dloading @nba @nbacares #nba #basketball #jamaica #love #fordakidsmon #onelove #youthbasketball #sportforsocialchange
When asked about the strongest part of his on-court game, Elijah endearingly replied "Making the team win."
Capturing those moments that go beyond the sport itself is something that hits at the core mission of PMBL.
"The kids live in an area that is relatively underserved and they grow up relatively underprivileged," Lindsay said. "So the sincere appreciation for us and for life in general makes it a win-win situation for everybody involved."
Starting Small with Big Dreams
The camp was founded in 2013 by Kind, Ben Kay and James Schluchter of Philadelphia, and Zack Schwartz of Charlotte - friends who shared a love of basketball and the ambition to help those less privileged. They teamed up with Jason Henzell, owner of Jake's Hotel, to provide the facilities at Breds Treasure Beach Sports Park and get the word out to locals. From there, word of the camp spread organically.
"The first year in the morning session we had 20 coaches and 35 kids," said Kind, also the founder of the Philadelphia Man's Basketball League, a competitive recreational league based in Philly.
"Those kids went home and told their friends: 'there's a group of coaches here giving out gear, they're enthusiastic and having fun'; and 50 kids came back in the afternoon… By the end of the first year we had around 225 kids. And some of those kids are now coaches"
Schwartz's sports equipment manufacturing company, UCS, helped provide a massive shipping container full of portable basketball hoops, balls, athletic gear and other equipment. This year's gear was highlighted by brand new AND1 shoes and jerseys given to each camper.
"You see kids, they're still wearing the same shoes we gave them the previous year, and their toes are popping out," Schwartz said. "It's a gift that they don't always have here like kids do in America. Over the seven years we've donated over 5,000 pairs of sneakers."
The organization also pitches in to provide daily bus transportation and meals for the campers. This year they expanded beyond the scope of camp to help the greater community, providing carpentry equipment and musical instruments to support programs at local schools.
"We're not just doing a basketball camp, we're bringing social change through sport."
Even the coaches whose lives revolve around basketball shared this ambitious outlook. Jared Ralsky, currently working as a scout for the Brooklyn Nets, turned off his talent radar for the week to help out and have some fun with the campers. Ralksy shared a bond with several kids from Kingston, including 12-year-old Leka Reid, one of the more advanced players at the camp who was moved up into an older age group.
Other notable coaches donating time this year included Survivor, Ghost Island winner Wendell Holland, music producer Mike Hertz (who manages rapper Lil Dicky), and reality TV personality Amit Neuman.
Future of Jamaican Basketball
For many, the Treasure Beach Youth Basketball Camp is an opportunity to simply be active, make friends and have some organized fun away from the challenges of the real world.
But for those with a more serious eye for the game, PMBL represents an excellent if not rare opportunity to hone skills and learn from a hoops-savvy staff that includes college players, coaches and officials. In recent years the Jamaican government has gotten involved to help subsidize the travel and accommodations for some of these young players, including a large contingent making the trip from Kingston.
"With the younger kids, we're really teaching the grassroots fundamentals." Kind explained. "Knees bent, butt down, back straight, palms up."
Ben Kay, Director of Men's Basketball Player Development at Rider University, runs sessions for the older age group.
"Coach Ben is taking the older kids through a real college practice, elevating their game so they can compete at a higher level. We've had two kids make it to the Jamaican National Team, which is something we're really proud of."
The week's culminating tournament, primarily consisting of older players who were not among the 1,000 campers, features teams from throughout the country.
While there's no question the non-profit's priority is supporting the community, some bubbling talent visible throughout the week makes it hard to ignore Jamaica's potential as a basketball resource - if afforded proper focus and development.
The country's basketball legacy, especially related to the NBA, begins and ends with Knicks Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. Ewing played 17 stellar seasons in the league after spending his childhood in Kingston.
Rumeal Robinson of Mandeville boasts the second-longest NBA career for a player of Jamaican descent, playing for six teams over six seasons after helping lead the University of Michigan to the 1989 NCAA title. Jerome Jordan, Samardo Samuels, and most recently Omari Johnson all enjoyed a brief NBA stint within the last decade. The list is admittedly short.
But as the PMBL Treasure Beach Basketball Camp grows, the country's love for the game should grow along with it, along with the positive energy.
"I use the acronym for the NBA as 'Never Be Average', that's my motto in life," Lindsay summarized. "So this is about using basketball as a vehicle and catalyst to spread love, inspire hope and to give kids opportunities to see the best version of themselves."