Terps’ Jackson, Obi visit SMCM basketball camp
Md. players drop by Chris Harney Basketball School
Justin Jackson wasn’t feeling much love during an autograph session with University of Maryland men’s basketball teammate Sean Obi on July 19 at the Chris Harney Basketball School, which was at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Autograph seekers, which presented everything from basketballs, shoes and even a cellphone — “I don’t want to get you in trouble,” Obi said. — to the two Terrapins, were so in awe of receiving photos from Obi that many of them forgot to ask for one from Jackson as well.
But Jackson and Obi were pleased to stop by the camp, which is now in its 13th year, and offer encouragement to the 100 campers ages 7 to 18.
“I remember myself in that same spot being in a summer camp and if I had a message for the kids it’s just to keep your head on straight,” said Jackson, who appeared in all 33 games and averaged 10.5 points and a team-high six rebonds per game. “It’s always important to strive and be the best you can be. I was just trying to reassure them that they have an opportunity and they have a chance. A lot of kids sometimes don’t think they have a chance and that can discourage them, but at the end of the day you have to just keep working and believing.”
Obi transferred from Duke and will suit up for the Terps for his final year of eligibility next season.
“It’s always a privilege to be able to talk to kids who aspire to play at the college level and I’m more than happy to help kids the best way I can,” Obi said. “[They should] keep believing and do what they love and work hard in school and work their very hardest at it.”
Obi started playing basketball in 2010 when he moved to the United States from Nigeria and missed all of last year following offseason knee surgery.
“Coach always tells us, ‘Focus on things you can do and do it well to the best of your abilities,’” Obi said. “Don’t be who you’re not. Don’t try to be Steph Curry, it’s very important to stick to the fundamentals. Try to be yourself and learn every day.”
The week-long camp is run by St. Mary’s head men’s basketball coach Chris Harney.
“Number one we want the kids to love basketball more than the first day they came to camp and we want them to really appreciate what’s great about basketball, which is a group of people working together to achieve a goal,” Harney said. “The second thing is we want to make them better players and improve their skill by teaching them the basics and fundamentals.”
Tripp Bagarus, a rising junior at Huntingtown High School, has attended the camp the last eight years, this one is his first as a counselor.
“I started coming here and I just had a lot of fun,” said Bagarus, who played for the Hurricanes’ junior varsity squad his first two years but hopes to make the varsity team this year. “I started to really love the game because of this camp. I’ve been to a bunch of other camps, but this is my favorite camp because it’s fun, you learn and all of the counselors get into the games and it’s always fun and competitive. Every single year I’d learn a new thing and I’d gradually get better.”
Players Kyle Wagner and Rebecca Allen are each repeat participants.
“I would do other camps, but [others] recommended this camp. My parents thought it was really good and it is,” said Allen, a 5-foot-9 rising freshman at Leonardtown High School. “People can work one-on-one with you. I always love playing basketball and I think I’m getting better at it. I’ve definitely gotten better at my left-hand layup and I’m hoping to improve my three-point shots.”
“It’s fun and we learn stuff and I want to get better so I can try and go to college and the NBA,” said Wagner, a rising sixth-grader who attends Spring Ridge Middle School in Lexington Park. “I wanted to improve my defense and I’ve done that and it’s fun. There’s a lot of people to play with instead of playing alone.”
Jackson and Obi were accompanied by first-year Terrapins student-manager Alex O’Neill, a 2015 St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate.
“Being able to work with and interact with the players every day and help aid in our success and truly be a part of the teams success is amazing,” said O’Neill, who transferred to Maryland from College of Southern Maryland. “I always wanted to go to Maryland because I love the school and getting this job is just icing on the cake.”
O’Neill, who was also a manager under former SMR head boys basketball coach Patrick Behan, said aspiring players “have to be able to learn and accept they don’t know everything. They need to be coachable and be able to go to the gym and practice when not everyone is doing it.”
Harney said Day 1 of the camp — another session ran this week — is spent evaluating players.
“We push [the advanced players] to reach their ceiling and then we may have a beginner player and we help them almost like training wheels on a bike to learn the game and not be intimidated if they’re making mistakes,” said Harney, who has almost a 3-to-1 ratio of campers to counselors. “We try and coach them to a level that’s higher than where they’re at. We don’t want this to be a roll-the-ball-out-and-playgames-all-day-and-teachnothing kind of camp. We want this to be a teaching camp.”
University of Maryland men’s basketball players Justin Jackson, left, and Sean Obi talk to the players at the Chris Harney Basketball School at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.