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Kids learn team play, enthusiasm and fundamentals of basketball


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000

PEBBLE CREEK -- On this basketball court, the players' size and gender don't matter. They could be girls or boys, 3 feet tall or 6-footers.

Here, the coaches don't yell and stomp their feet if the players travel or miss an easy shot.

"Nobody puts you down," said Patience Landers, an athletically gifted 13-year-old who dreams of playing for the NBA or the WNBA. "That's what's great about it. They teach you about sportsmanship."

At the Wharton High School Wildcats Basketball Camp, children learn fundamentals and team play. About 60 children including Landers attended the camp's first week, which began Monday.

Wharton boys' basketball coach Tommy Tonelli is offering four weeklong sessions through July 14. The first three weeks are for third- through ninth-graders. The last week of the camp is for high schoolers. The cost is $75 per session.

For 31/2 hours a day, the players are drilled on ball handling, shooting and defense. The children also play 3-on-3 and 5-on-5.

Tonelli said the camp, in its third year, is a way to give back to the New Tampa community. "Hopefully," he said, "we'll also develop these younger players to be the future Wildcats."

This week, Tonelli scanned the gym, thumping with the sounds of children dribbling.

"There's some good talent out there," he said, just missing sight of a blond-haired boy rubbing his head where a ball hit him.

Before the drill sessions began, the Michael Jordan wannabe's took about 10 minutes to shoot practice shots before camp coach Leo Haggerty blew a startling whistle and hollered, "Stance."

Across the gym, the children dropped their well-worn Rawlings and Wilson basketballs and jumped into ready position -- legs apart and arms outstretched.

Later, the youngest group of boys and girls stood around Haggerty as he pointed his index finger in the air.

"Where's your finger go?" he asked.

"Over the air hole."

"Where's the ball go?"

"On your finger tips."

"Then lift straight up and goose neck," Haggerty instructed, tipping a ball into the air and flicking his wrist down.

On the other side of the gym, Wharton girls' coach Eddie Henderson walked the students through a drill on how to play defense.

"Don't look at the eyes," he reminded the young players. "Look at the midsection. Where it goes, I go."

Camp volunteer Alan Freeman said he realizes the importance of the drills. The 6-foot-4 freshman hopes to become a Wildcat this year and has used the skills he's learned at the camp over the last two years.

"It's helped me be a better player," the 15-year-old said.

Haggerty said the children will improve by learning the basics and practicing.

Before the youngsters left Haggerty's group, he gathered them into a spirited huddle.

"Nothing is ever accomplished without what?" Haggerty asked.

"Enthusiasm," they yelled, before running off to do more drills.

For more information about the Wharton Wildcats Basketball Camp, call Tonelli at (813) 631-4710, ext. 34.

-- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or

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