As chants of his name filled UCSB’s Thunderdome on Wednesday, the roughly 650 kids in attendance got all the more excited. “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”
And when Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant finally came out to greet his guests at his basketball skills camp, the kids screamed at the top of their lungs as if Bryant had just hit a game-winner. The NBA Finals MVP made his way through the throngs of campers, giving high-fives and smiles along the way.
The Kobe Basketball Academy is in its fourth year and is being held in Santa Barbara for the first time. Continuing until Sunday, Bryant and his hand-picked coaching staff will guide the campers, ages eight through 18, through all the intricacies of the game of basketball. “I want this camp to be different,” Bryant said. “I want everybody to be a part of it. I want the kids to learn and to have our coaching staff teaching them things.”
The kids will be taught the flex offense, the Princeton offense, and of course, the famed triangle offense, among many other things. “It doesn’t really matter what age group they are, these kids can learn these things — especially at that age, because they’re sponges,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s favorite part of running his camp, he said, is teaching the kids and watching them execute what they’ve learned on the court. For that reason, he plans on being very interactive with the young players and even their parents, who were invited to watch from the bleachers.
“I love doing this,” the five-time NBA champion said. “I’m going to be like the Energizer Bunny out there for these kids. I’m gonna bounce around from court to court and give the kids pointers. A lot of them have questions, and I encourage them to just come up to me and ask. I’m not ‘Kobe Bryant,’ you know, I’m just ‘Kobe.’ And if they have questions about the offense, they can ask and we’ll talk it out. I’ll walk them through it and parents as well.”
Bryant also found time to talk about NBA free agency and the impact it will have on the NBA in the coming years, and he also offered his thoughts on the World Cup. An avid soccer fan, Bryant said that he’s looking forward to the final match between Spain and the Netherlands.“It’s hard for me to see Spain losing,” Bryant said. “They have a lot of talented individuals, but when they all play together as a team, it’s tough to beat them.”
But the real story is the camp, and other than the basketball skills - when asked what he wanted the campers to gain from this experience - Bryant offered one word. “Fun. I want them to have a good time,” Bryant said. “That’s where sports start. I want them to enjoy themselves, and not get bogged down by this or that. These kids are going to learn a lot of things at this camp — they’re going to learn them without knowing that they’re learning them, and they’re going to have a good time doing it.”
Bryant also said that the camp stresses ball movement, communication, and being a good teammate. To ensure that those skills get taught, Bryant hand-selected the coaches for each age group, including his old high school coach Gregg Downer.
Bryant is used to the Santa Barbara area after having participated in Lakers training camps here in the late 1990s, and hopes that he can bring his camp back to Santa Barbara in future years. “It’s just so pretty out here,” Bryant said. “I hope we can work something out long-term.”