Showing them the ropes

It’s easy to watch elite basketball players like LeBron James or Andre Drummond dominate on the court and assume they were just blessed with naturally high levels of athleticism and basketball abilities.

However, these NBA stars started out young and undoubtedly honed their skills through endless hours in youth camps that boosted their raw talent to a higher level.

Although the next LeBron James isn’t likely on his mind, Alpena girls basketball coach Dan Arsenault hopes his annual girls basketball camp will help bring his varsity squad back to higher levels of competitiveness.

His camp started on Monday and ends today at 2 p.m. Arsenault has run summer basketball camps since first being hired as an assistant coach under Jenny Poli, but this is his first camp as head coach.

“(Off-season camps) are a great way to introduce our younger Alpena kids to basketball and to teach them the basic fundamentals of the sport,” Arsenault said. “If they are excited about basketball, and are in the gym and playing at a young age, it can, hopefully, lead to success in our program.”

Arsenault’s camp featured two separate age groups. Players in grades 3-5 practiced from 9-11 a.m., while 6-8 graders drilled from noon to 2 p.m.

A total of 75 players signed up for the $60, four-day course, with a little over 30 in the younger group and about 40 in the older group. All proceeds from the camp benefit the Alpena High School basketball program.

Camp training activities focus on a wide variety of basketball techniques, each of which is designed to hone specific skill sets appropriate to each age group’s experience level.

Drills practiced by the younger groups are designed to hone basic dribbling, passing and shooting technique. More advanced players execute drills that focus in on on-the-court communication in team play.

All drills are designed to improve each player’s skill, no matter their level of experience.

“Usually, the seventh and eighth graders have played at the junior high level while the fourth, fifth and sixth graders have experience in TBBA,” Arsenault said. “A majority of the third graders have no experience with organized basketball. Here, they will learn some basic fundamentals and learn how fun and exciting basketball is.”

Arsenault’s training routine is directed by a variety of volunteers, including girls on the high school team. Each volunteer helps referee games and demonstrate skill drills.

“The girls have fun helping out with the camp every year. The younger players look up to them and it helps increase their level of interest,” Arsenault said.

Although today is the last day of the camp, Arsenault has planned a grand finale with a competition that is designed to reward each girl for their dedication.

Each age group will be split into teams that will compete against each other in a short basketball tournament.

All participants will receive goodies and treats, such as candy bars, while game winners will earn the chance to win real prizes.

This token of appreciation is designed to engage players and boost excitement about continuing their basketball days at a higher level.

“The more kids we have in the gym and the more kids are excited about basketball, the better the program is going to be,” Arsenault said. “It’s a great exercise for the kids as it gives them an opportunity to learn teamwork, cooperation, the value of having a strong work ethic and being rewarded for that.”

Eric Benac can be reached via email at ebenac@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.