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Lady Wildcat youth camp more than basketball

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WILDCATS: Indiana Wesleyan women’s basketball assistant coach and youth camp director Amber Osborn shares her thoughts about the day with campers toend Wednesday’s session in Luckey Arena.
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LAST SECOND HERO: Indiana Wesleyan women’s basketball coach Ethan Whaley starts campers off in the “Last Second Hero” drillnear the end of Wednesday’s camp session.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Just about every college and high school in the area has basketball camps during the summer. Few, though, can match the wealth of experience of the Indiana Wesleyan University girls’ camps.

Camp director Amber Osborn is a former WNBA player, and her boss, women’s head coach Ethan Whaley, has worked boys’ and girls’ camps for a decade. The Wildcats players also are around to share their personal insights and experiences including the NAIA Division II National Tournament last winter.

“It’s been a blast,” Osborn said while taking a break from leading drills. “It’s really enjoyable to be able to teach basketball to these young girls, and an opportunity for our coaching staff and players to give back to the community  — you know just to have fun and teach them some skills and develop their fundamentals. And they’re working really hard.”

The Little Lady Mini Camp for ages 5 to 7 and the Lady Wildcats Camp for ages 8 to 14 has 55 participants and concludes today with competition day. The last session is devoted to 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 games and campers will receive various awards.

Whaley is conducting his second girls camps and previously was involved with the boys when he was part of IWU men’s coach Greg Tonagel’s staff. While he said there are some differences working with girls, the objective  — teaching fundamentals  — is the same with both groups.

“Both guys and gals come in at 9 a.m. really sleepy and it just takes a little different tactics to wake the girls up than the guys,” Whaley said. “Our girls (IWU players) are really really good about connecting with the campers and very intentional about investing in them basketball-wise, but also getting to know them and giving them some pointers and some tips about life and basketball.”

Many of the girls are from around Grant County and Wabash County and many have attended previous IWU camps. Carly Lange, a Wildcats junior forward, said he recognized some of the campers working as ball girls at home games last season.

“They will come up to you and remember your name and I will remember them and it just shows this camp is about more than learning to dribble a basketball,” Lange said.

“Funny story, last year I had the fifth graders and now I have them as sixth graders and I get to know more about them,” she added. “Last year, it was basic questions like what is your favorite color and now we’re getting into stuff with their siblings and I like getting to know them. Hopefully, I can inspire them and maybe become a basketball player or just be the best they can be.”

Osborn started working camps at age 15 with her father in her native Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, the same hometown of current IWU men’s players Evan and Seth Maxwell. The camp allows Osborn to impart her knowledge from playing for Boston College in the NCAA Tournament and professionally in the WNBA and overseas.

“I’m really appreciative that coach Whaley lets me run the camp,” Osborn said. “They take care of all the behind the scenes stuff and I get to be the voice of the program during this week.

“For me, this is natural and something I really enjoy taking the opportunity to do,” she added. “For coach Whaley to allow me to be the voice and take over and influence the girls at getting better at basketball and loving it more than when they got here is what it’s about.”

Whaley said while teaching skill and fundamental development is the objective, the camp also wants to shape young girls off the court.

“We want to be invested in the community and we want to give back and we want to make the people around us better, and camps is a great way to do that,” he said. “We’ve got kids from all sorts of backgrounds - some great homes and some not so great homes - and we hope to be a light, offer encouragement and lift them up through basketball. That’s what we call using our platform to help others and lift them up.”

New to the camp this year is Janae Gibson, a first-year assistant coach and all-American basketball player at Grand Valley State (Michigan). Most of the Wildcats players including freshmen newcomers and transfers were on hand to assist in the drills.

Maddy Fuqua, 13, an eighth grader at R.J. Baskett Middle School, has attended camp each year and said she enjoys the interaction with the coaches and players. Each year, she said she comes away from camp a better player.

“All the leaders are so loving and they help me learn,” Fuqua said. “We do different stuff every time I come. We really have been working on protecting the ball and getting up shots and making jump stops this week.

“They also teach that you’re not just playing for yourself but for God and others and to encourage your team,” she added.