If the A.W. Hamilton Basketball Camp were a sports car, you could say it went from zero to 141 in about four seconds when the state’s final COVID-19 restrictions were removed earlier this spring.
After being unable to hold his popular day camp for children four years of age to rising seventh graders a year ago, the vivacious Scott County High School product and Eastern Kentucky University coach jammed the Royal Spring Middle School gymnasium with that many energetic, young souls every morning last week.
“We’ve done camp here for so long, and not having camp last year was heartbreaking. It’s exciting to get back and do camp and see a bunch of familiar faces,” Hamilton said. “When you look at how many kids came in, 141 kids, that’s a little more than we normally have, so it was exciting for them to be able to get back in here, and exciting for us obviously to work camp.”
Students learned from a slew of current and former EKU stars, including Scott County greats Michael Moreno and Cooper Robb. Student managers Blake Harris of Eastern Kentucky and Taylor Berryman of the University of Kentucky, also SC alumni, were among the faculty.
EKU’s all-time leading scorer Nick Mayo, now a professional basketball player in Japan, was a keynote speaker. Several of the Colonels wowed the youngsters with a dunk contest. Through it all, the kids heard Hamilton’s consistent, contagious encouragement to “dream big.”
There were awards for everyone along with a pizza party on the final day. It transported Moreno back to his days as a tall-for-his-age but still wide-eyed elementary schooler at Coach Billy Hicks’ Future Stars Camp.
“It was the highlight of my summer to be able to play with kids my age and see Coach Hicks,” Moreno said. “He was essentially a legend around here before I was even born. For him to hold camp with kids my age, it was his idea of basically being able to see the talent that was around. We were getting implemented into the rich tradition that Scott County created.”
Hamilton, who has taken EKU from the doldrums to the cusp of NCAA tournament contention in three years at the helm, now spreads the good word about the great game in his hometown every summer.
Assigned all week to work with the five-through-seven-year-olds, Moreno said the high-energy Hamilton the kids get to observe is merely a fraction of what the Colonels witness every day in fall and winter.
“Absolutely tenfold,” Moreno said. “He’s in the top tier of energetic coaches in the country. If we don’t bring it every day, he brings it out of us. He’s going to get the best out of us no matter the situation.”
Summer camps were not a regular part of Robb’s upbringing in the county, and with good reason.
If he wasn’t somewhere playing a game, it meant he was probably resting and recovering from 11 months of doing so.
“I didn’t really do a lot of camps. As a three-sport athlete, I didn’t have a chance to,” Robb said. “But it helps as a kid seeing what you’re looking up to and being able to meet them. Growing up, I didn’t really get to do that. I looked up to the Trent Gilberts and Tony Martinis. I didn’t get to know them until later. It’s helpful to these kids knowing that we’re reaching out to them in such a personal way.”
Two key players who recently transferred into the EKU program, Hazard native Braxton Beverly from North Carolina State and wide-body Iran Bennett from Marshall, both worked the camp. The two played for Hamilton during his wildly successful stint at Virginia’s Hargrave Military Academy.
Even though making it fun for campers was the theme, it was an early chance for the Colonels to build chemistry as they work toward their lofty expectations for the 2021-22 season.
“We’re going to a new conference (The ASUN). We’re super excited about it. There’s a lot of energy around our program,” Hamilton said. “I know we got hit by the transfer portal like everybody else, but we also did really well in the portal. We didn’t want to sit around and cry about it too long.”
If your kids missed the Georgetown camp, and you don’t mind the daily commute, they have another opportunity to learn from Hamilton this summer. He will host a similar week in Richmond from July 12 to 16.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.