How good of a time did former NBA player Derek Anderson have at this week’s Top 100 Camp?
“I didn’t want to leave; that’s how cool it is,” he said. “It was uplighting. It was good to see these kids actually get some lessons on how to be better people. It gave me hope that they can change. It was one of the best things I’ve had happen since I retired.”
After opening the camp as the keynote speaker on Tuesday—inspiring the youth with his incredible story from homelessness to college and NBA champion—Anderson stuck around all week, advising the next crop of talent and instructing them on the court. He was especially delighted to see after his keynote address, during which he stressed the power of networking, that some of the campers approached him extending a handshake and asking for pointers.
“All of [the campers] were great, but the best ones were the ones who came up to me,” said Anderson, who’s on tap next to host his Stamina Academy to improve the lives of young athletes. “I didn’t have to introduce myself. They came up to me, ‘I want to learn, I want to get better.’ That gave me hope that they want to be better. They don’t realize what the power of friendship means—the power of having a wrong friend can get you in trouble, the power of having a good friend can get you a better life. So these guys were eager for that. And I loved that; that was the best part of the camp.”
What’s unique about the Top 100 Camp is that several different groups of people experience their own developmental journey throughout the week. There are the rising stars improving their skills, current and former NBA players learning how to become coaches and broadcasters through the NBPA’s player programs, aspiring NBA referees getting a crash course in officiating and the campers’ parents acquiring new knowledge to better assist their children. Just over the course of five days, everyone from teenagers to adults leave with a clearer sense of purpose and direction in their lives and careers.
This week, there were different moments of joy (Riley Demps being honored as the first-ever Rodney Rogers Courage Award by the former NBA player himself who’s paralyzed); support (Chinese prospect Jaiyi Li being called “Liiiiii” by his peers enthusiastically in a group setting); hugs (parents embracing each other after opening up on the obstacles they’ve faced); tears (former WNBA player Adrienne Goodson reacting to being recognized as one of the first two females ever, along with Andrea Stinson, in the coaching program); intensity (NBA players treating huddles like they were NBA game situations); realization (Reggie Shaw alarming the campers about texting while driving, to not repeat a deadly accident he caused); and celebration (NBA players clapping and cheering for each other after accomplishments in coaching and broadcasting exercises).
Even for one of the two Top 100 MVPs, Zion Williamson, who led his team to the title averaging a camp-high 14.6 points per game, his weeklong experience gave him a more realistic outlook on his future.
“The experience is amazing because I’m learning so many things on the court and off the court,” said Williamson, a 6’7″, 230-pounder in the class of 2018 who attends Spartanburg Day School in South Carolina. “They’re giving us realistic numbers about how we might not go pro and anything can happen. So that’s all allowed me to put deeper thought into what I’m going to do if I don’t go pro. They’re saying it’s good to have your education, so you can operate on your own.”
Coming into the camp, Williamson had two goals—the first going out on top, which he did on Sunday. The second was to be able to leave Charlottesville “using the knowledge that I learned throughout the week and applying it to real life.” The lefty, who has similar size and skills to Lakers power forward Julius Randle, said he was motivated the most by Anderson and Rogers. The former Sixth Man Award winner has become a yearly regular at the Top 100 Camp, despite dealing with paralysis from the shoulders down after a dirt bike accident in 2008.
“[Rogers and Anderson] have been through hell and back, and they can still come around here with a smile and say, ‘I want to help kids develop into basketball stars,'” Williamson said. “Even though basketball worked out for them, it didn’t work out as they planned. But they still want to give back to the young talent.”
Another key voice for the campers was Williamson’s championship coach and pro player John Lucas III, who manned the sidelines with former NBA player James White. This year marked Lucas’ fourth straight at the Top 100 Camp, and he shared an important message that his older peers also stressed with the young fellas.
“All the kids think they should be the man on the team, and now you’re playing with everybody that’s just as talented as you. So it’s just getting them to buy into your system, getting them to buy as a team,” Lucas said. “Don’t worry about the rankings, don’t worry about trying to be ranked No. 1 coming out. It’s coming in and saying, ‘Look, if you win the tournament and you have a winning team, everybody looks good. Everybody’s ranking will go up. It doesn’t matter if you score 30 to 40 points a game or anything like that.’ So that’s just what I try to sell, and then telling them I went to this camp and every kid that was ranked ahead of me never got drafted.”
Whether or not the campers hear their name called on NBA draft night one day, they have gained plenty of perspective this week on life, business, basketball and professionalism that will serve them well down the road.
Below is a photo look inside the final days of the camp, highlighting the camper, coaching, broadcaster, referee and parent programs.
Photo credits: Davide De Pas and Ralph Raphael (photo editor is Katelyn Greer)