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Tradition continues at Taylor Basketball Camp

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LAYUPS: Campers go through a layup drill Wednesday afternoon at the annual Taylor University boys basketball camp in Upland.
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DEFENSE: Taylor junior guard Vincent Miranda leads young campers through a defensive slide drill Wednesday afternoon at the 63rd annual Taylor Basketball Camp in Upland.
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TOGETHER: Sophomore CJ Penha breaks huddle with his team of campers Wednesday morning at the 63rd annual Taylor Basketball Camp in Upland.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

UPLAND – The looks on the faces needed little explanation mid-morning Wednesday inside Don Odle Arena.

It was a tired look, and it was shared by most of the nearly 200 boys in their fourth day of Taylor University’s 63rd annual youth boys’ basketball camp.

The renowned camp’s first session started Sunday evening and concludes this afternoon. What’s happened in between, and what will repeat for each of the next two weeks, is an intensive training session of basketball, fellowship and fun.

Days are long for campers and counselors, but most are rewarding.

“It’s kind of a trademark of the camp, we work them hard,” said Taylor men’s basketball coach Josh Andrews, who is into his seventh year running the Trojans’ program and camp. “....They’ve got the ability to be playing a lot of basketball, upwards of 14 or 15 hours a day with all the activities we do. They spend a lot of energy. They’re tired by the end of the week and that’s a good thing.

Camp days start early and breakfast is served at 7:30 a.m. From there, Taylor’s players demonstrate the drills they will teach their young visitors. After drills, morning half-court games are played, and then full-court games fill part of the afternoon.

Save for a portion of time after lunch, basketball is the only thing on the agenda. But there is a portion of time campers can spend away from the court, and it’s also an important part of every camp.

“One of the things that is unique about our camp is then they have some flexibility in their schedule, our phrase is they get to do a little bit of their own growing while they are at basketball camp, which is so fun,” Andrews said. “You’re (nine to 13 years old), you get to decide what you’re going to get from the concession stand, you decide if you want to swim in the lake, or play mini golf, or play in a horse tournament or a one-on-one tournament or workout with a college player. They just have all these options and it makes it pretty special.”

Options for attending a basketball camp are plentiful during the summer, but Taylor’s draw has spanned more than six decades. The first week of the 2019 camp is relatively small with 192 kids in total, compared to the more than 200 who will show up Sunday and the 250 that will arrive for the final week from July 21-25.

Andrews said the changing of the academic calendar in Indiana and some surrounding states has necessitated Taylor condense its camp sessions from four weeks to three. But the numbers the camp draws every week, year-after-year, say that what generations of Trojan players and coaches are doing continues to have impact on young lives.

“It’s jam-packed. It’s a lot of boys. And what’s cool about that from a basketball standpoint is you get some really competitive leagues because you’ve got a lot of guys,” Andrews said. “From an impact standpoint, us being Taylor, our camp, it’s a lot of young men we’re able to influence so its really cool.

“Our program mission is we want to develop a kingdom of leaders, leadership is critical for us,” he added. “I can’t think of a better environment to grow leadership ability and to test your influence than on these guys. These kids, by and large are hungry to be developed and to see what a college basketball player looks like.”

Rising Taylor sophomore CJ Penha, a 6-foot-6 wing from Pickerington, Ohio, is in his second year as a camp counselor and he said the purpose for he and his teammates is even deeper than just helping the boys grow.

“This is really our start, our preparation for getting ready for the year,” Penha said. “Working from morning to night, growing chemistry with teammates, having fun together with the guys building our chemistry both on and off the court.”

The Trojans have pockets of time throughout the day to do their own drills and scrimmage for the campers on some evenings. But while they begin to develop their own essential chemistry, Penha said their focus remains clearly on the campers.

“I love working with kids,” Penha said. “Probably one of my favorite parts about camp, I just love coaching and love pouring into kids. Teaching them different aspects of the game that helps make them better.”

And it’s that attitude and desire that’s permeated through decades and generations of campers, some from the same family and many from distant places.

Erikson Jones, 16, from Madison, Wisconsin, will be junior at James Madison Memorial High School and both of his parents are Taylor alumni. He is in Upland for the second-consecutive year for the intensive week of basketball and learning from college players.

“I just love being able to play basketball and get better constantly,” he said. “I don’t always get to that at my school or at my house, but here it’s focused and I’m able to really improve.

“(The players) really know what they’re doing,” he added. “and to get that feedback it’s really important and really helpful.”

Indiana Wesleyan men’s basketball coach Greg Tonagel was an interested spectator Wednesday. Tonagel said he came to Taylor four or five times during his childhood and was in Odle Arena to watch his two young sons go through their activities on Wednesday.

“I loved having a week of all basketball, a week with friends,” recalled Tonagel about his camp days at Taylor. “When my children were small I used to tell them stories and built it up so when they were the age to come they couldn’t wait to come.

“I just told them to have fun, it goes so fast.” Tonagel added. “It was 27 years ago when I was here. I’d give probably anything to go back to the time. You don’t have a worry in the world, you’re just having fun being a kid. I just want them to enjoy it.”

Andrews said that getting the kids to enjoy the camp, have fun with the game, was what he hopes leaves the biggest impact with the 2019 class of Taylor campers.

“We hope that kids will say that this is a really fun camp because it’s a game,” Andrews said. “We want a fun atmosphere and a safe atmosphere and for the most part we think we can guarantee both when somebody comes to Taylor basketball camp.

“When these kids leave, our goal is that this is one of the highlights of their summer.”