Blue Star camp going strong
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
For LaGrange High’s DJ Burks, the Blue Star Basketball camp has been a key part of his life for a decade.
Burks began attending the camp when he was a child just learning the game, and now he’s the one doing the teaching as he heads into his senior year at LaGrange.
“I’ve been coming here ever since I could,” Burks said. “It’s been better and better every year. It’s just fun, just a fun atmosphere with the kids, showing them what to do, showing them little things that’ll help.”
This year’s Blue Star camp, which is offered by the LaGrange boys’ basketball program, began on Monday and will go through Wednesday.
LaGrange head coach Mark Veal is the camp director, and his instructors include other members of the team’s coaching staff, as well as some of the players.
One of those players is Burks, who’ll be a senior guard for the 2019-2020 team that opens its season in November.
When Burks joined the LaGrange High basketball program, he made the transition from camper to instructor, and he has enjoyed the experience the past few years.
“I’ve seen some of these kids three or four years,” Burks said. “I like to see them come back. That means they like it.”
Another long-time camp attendee is Garrett Jacobsen, who’ll be a freshman member of the LaGrange basketball team this season.
This week, Jacobsen has been one of the instructors, and he has enjoyed the experience.
“It’s very fun, teaching the kids and showing them stuff to get them better so they can succeed,” Jacobsen said.
Veal, who took over as LaGrange’s head coach before the 2015-2016 season, first began working the camp when he was an assistant coach under Mike Pauley.
So Veal has been helping out with the camp for more than a decade, and he enjoys seeing some of the players return year after year, including Jacobsen and Burks.
“They’ve been coming to the camp for years, I bet you since they were 7 or 8-years-old,” Veal said. “And now having them play at the high school with us is awesome.”
The campers are on the court for three hours each day, and Veal and the other instructors keep them on the go.
Also, Veal has different guest speakers deliver a message to the young players at the close of the camp session.
On Tuesday, Veal also had his players each talk to the campers about their experiences as high-school players.
One of those players, senior Earley Sanders, said “it means a lot” to play basketball at LaGrange.
“It keeps me out of trouble, keeps me busy, keeps me focused,” Sanders said. “To play, you’ve got to take care of your grades in the class room. You can’t be an athlete-student, you’ve got to be a student-athlete. You have to stay focused.”
Added Burks, whose father Dialleo Burks was the former head football coach at LaGrange, “I’ve always had a love for the game. You’ve got to work hard if you want to be something in life.”
Veal believes it’s important to have the LaGrange players play an active role in the camp.
“It’s good for them to develop some leadership skills, and they get to see basketball from a different aspect,” Veal said.
Scotty Alexander, who has been an assistant coach at LaGrange for more than a decade, feels “it’s a character build” for the high-school players.
“We try to work with them on their leadership skills,” Alexander said. “It’s an opportunity for them to see that other kids in the community look up to them. Being a role model comes with the territory, and we’re trying to teach them that.”