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IWU camp is more than just basketball

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BIG CAT: Indiana Wesleyan sophomore Seth Maxwell slaps hands with a camper at IWU’s annual summer youth basketball camp on Thursday in Luckey Arena.
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CAMP FUN: Campers at Indiana Wesleyan’s annual youth summer basketball camp demonstrate the game Quick Draw for Wildcats coach Greg Tonagel and the rest of the camp’s participants Thursday afternoon. More than 100 boys ages in kindergarten through ninth grade attended this year’s camp.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Its no secret that basketball players are built during the summer, and more than 100 young hoopers took part in the Indiana Wesleyan University men’s basketball program’s youth camps over the past four days learning some of the building blocks necessary in the game.

But as important as basketball is at Indiana Wesleyan, the program’s culture is bigger than the game itself and that’s another lesson the Wildcats’ coaches and players are trying to share with campers.

“A big part of it is to surround them with some good guys that they get the chance to look up to and spend a little bit of time with. Hopefully the culture of our program, who we are and what we stand for rubs off a little bit on them,” said IWU assistant coach David Osborn, who was directing the campers through competitive games and drills with the help of the players. “That’s a big part of it. Obviously, we’re wanting to expose some of these younger kids to basketball, maybe for the first time, then as the kids get a little bit older teach them something new. Then teach them fundamental stuff.

“The last piece of it is get them to have some fun as well,” Osborn continued. “Basketball even today can be considered a grind, people getting on them. We want them to have a little bit of fun as well.”

And summer basketball, especially at the collegiate level, can definitely be a grind. So the fun inside Luckey Arena and on the auxiliary courts in IWU’s Wellness Center was being shared by both campers and hosts.

“I think for us to be able to stop amongst the business and just work with kids, they remind you why you do this,” said head coach Greg Tonagel. “They come in here full of joy and they’re playing a game simply because they want to have fun. I think we all need that reminder every once in a while.

“Our guys love it and they do a great job,” Tonagel added. “Our guys are immersed with these kids and I think what they’re doing is speaking life into these kids. Our goal is that these kids leave this camp excited, really believing in themselves and they grow in basketball at the same time. ... The endgame is that they’re having fun in their relationships with friends and they’re believing in themselves. Maybe some of them go on to music or something really sparks them academically. The things you learn on the court can be applied to those other areas in life and we hope that’s what happens.”

For the Wildcat players, the 2019-20 version of Indiana Wesleyan basketball is also beginning to take form. Tonagel and company will have several new faces on the team when next season begins, and those players have spent the past week getting acquainted with IWU’s returners as they collectively prepare to do battle in the rough and rugged Crossroads League and beyond.

One of the newcomers, Tanner Rubio, a senior transfer from NCAA Division I Jacksonville (Florida), was the featured speaker during Thursday’s camp session and spoke of how the process of buying into the culture of Wildcat basketball had started.  

“It’s a blessing everyday for the fact that I’m here,” Rubio said. “My previous three years weren’t exactly what I had in mind in terms of spending four years at a university to play basketball. But this place found me and I’m super thankful to be here. It’s a great experience and being around these kids is super humbling. 

“This is a unique group of guys, as far as my teammates go, and they’re helping me out a lot and teaching me the ropes,” he added. “Bonding through work outs. Bonding through after work out activities. ... It’s a unique experience and I just love getting to know these guys.”

Senior Canaan Coffey has been through the summer grind at Indiana Wesleyan now for the last three years and hosting the youth camp is something he looks forward to each summer.

Coffey was also quick to note the experience is certainly about teaching basketball an having fun with the youngsters, but the hope is that campers will take much more away from the week’s activities.

“For the kids this week, one of the biggest things is to keep having fun with the game of basketball at an early age and also try to instil in them a little foundation as to why they play the game,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a fun thing and it should always be a fun thing for you. But ultimately build them into what kind of leader, what kind of teammate you’re going to be.

“Hopefully, that translates to their relationships at home and with their friends and stuff like that,” Coffey added. “That’s kind of our bigger goal, to shape them outside of basketball, and basketball is kind of our platform to do that.”

And for the fresh faces who will wear the red and grey uniforms in the coming season. 

“It all starts right now. It’s still these guys first week here and we already feel like we’re pretty close to them,” Coffey said. “It’s been really fun to get to know these guys and get a couple more upperclassmen with the transfers and then the freshmen coming in, it’s a bunch of solid dudes. It’s been fun to get out here and mess around with them and kind of see their goofy side but also have a couple of workouts and see them get after it, too.”