What Happens at Camp
By make it better
The Portland Trail Blazers’ annual Nike Hoops Camp encourages all kids ages 7-13 to learn from some of the best coaches around on the team’s very own practice floor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a star on your middle school team or just in the mood to try something new; all skill levels are welcome to come. But you don’t have to leave the way you came.
That was especially true this year when Connor Kinard, 7, showed up for camp. Calling him one of the youngest campers would be an understatement, as Connor qualified for the camp age minimum by a mere week. He also had never dribbled, shot a basketball or grabbed a rebound in his short life, either. Oh, and he also happens to live with Asperger’s syndrome, which is characterized by difficulties in social interaction.
All of that adds up to one long week at camp, right? Five full days of playing alongside tons of older, taller kids in a completely unfamiliar sport? Wrong. A great story and an even better experience for Connor? You better believe it.
“The confidence level that Connor has gotten this week is something that I could have never given him,” said his mother Danielle. “Connor is learning how to be a team player, and that for any kid with Autism and Asperger’s is something that they need.”
By the end of the first day, Danielle wasn’t sure her son would come back for a second. Nobody could blame him if he didn’t. But then came camp coach Bryant, whom Danielle credits as the reason Connor stuck with it.
“He’s one of the youngest kids and one of the shorter ones, and he didn’t come in with much basketball experience; it would be easy to get discouraged,” said Bryant. “But that perseverance that he came back with on day two was a huge turnaround.”
Where he came in tentative, Connor began asking for the ball during games and communicating better with his teammates. He was just, well, one of the guys.
“It doesn’t matter where they start, but it matters where they end up afterward,” said Bryant. “And there’s definitely been that progression. He’s gotten more assertive every day.”
And that’s what the Nike Hoops Camp is all about for Connor and every kid who walks through those practice facility doors. Kids come in with an array of talents, and the camp staff works with each to develop other skills. Ultimately, though, the camper will determine what and how much he or she develops. The kind of determination that Connor showed last week paired with the enthusiasm of willing coaches can go a long way.
“This is a phenomenal place for kids to be,” said Danielle. “These kids are taken care of, and they’re inspired. I know that Connor will be back. He already told me he’ll be back.”