Youth sports were biggest thrill and biggest regret

A very successful basketball camp has come to Kauai the past two years and will be making its third trip back this summer. The NBC Basketball Camp will take place from June 16-20 at Island School and can be attended by boys and girls age 8 to 18. The camp has been organized by The W of Kauai, a non-profit organization started by Joshua Burton.

This year’s camp will feature a split into two different sessions. The mornings (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) will be for ages 8 to 12 and is specifically designed for the younger athlete. The afternoons (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) will be for ages 13 to 18 and will focus more on specializing for individual positions.

Cost for the full week of camp is $100, although early registration cost is $75 and will run all the way until May 5. To register online, visit www.nbccamps.com/basketball/camps/island-school/

Basketball was a big part of my development growing up. I began playing recreational leagues in elementary school and got increasingly more competitive as I got older, but I do wish that I’d had a different attitude during my senior year of high school because I’m sure I deprived myself of some good experiences and good memories.

Before I even got to high school, I had already gone through plenty of highs and lows on the court. In sixth grade, tryouts were held for three traveling teams for my town of Livingston, N.J. – an “A” team in the top league and “B” and “C” teams both in a subdivision. After a week’s worth of practices, I was placed on the “C” team. We had a fun group and a great time going around to the neighboring towns during our regular season. We were also really good and only suffered one loss – 36-32 to the Livingston “B” team. (Yes, I remember the score.) We wanted another shot at our friends, so as the playoffs progressed, we were happy to wind up in the title game against them. They were unbeaten to that point, but it was a sweet finale as we avenged our lone defeat and dominated for a 52-32 win.

In seventh grade, I guess I hadn’t improved my game much. I was a cut casualty and didn’t make it that year. Disappointed, I worked on my game and began to improve more rapidly. By eighth grade, I had become more confident and, if I do say so myself, a knockdown jump shooter. (That hasn’t changed.)

Throughout those eighth grade tryouts, I felt myself competing with the elite kids who had been on the town’s “A” team for the previous two years. On the final night of tryouts, one of my sixth-grade coaches commented to me before we got into the gym.

“Play hard tonight,” he said. “You’re right on the bubble.”

I heeded his words, played hard and apparently well enough that I was one of those 10 names announced for the “A” team at the end of the night. It felt great. Cut one year, then considered one of the best players in town the next.

That will go down as the closest thing to a professional season I’ll likely ever experience. At just 13 and 14 years old, we played a 47-game schedule. 47 games! That’s more than college teams play. We put together a 31-16 record that year and played some of the best competition in the state, though we seemed to finish runner-up in just about every tournament we entered.

By the time high school rolled around, I felt like I was prepared for anything. Our school played in a tough conference and didn’t have much historical success in basketball, but our freshmen team went 9-9 for one of the best freshmen records in recent history.

My sophomore year was scrapped because I suffered some ligament damage in my left knee just a few days before tryouts. It cost me the whole season and, honestly, it diminished some of my drive. Junior year wasn’t much of a comeback season. I was playing again, but just junior varsity and only a few minutes here or there. Senior year, I was healthy but decided not to try out. I didn’t really like the coach who had taken over the varsity program and I felt like I wanted to “enjoy myself” during my senior year, whatever that meant, rather than going through his mini boot camps that made up most practices.

I enjoyed that year, but quitting basketball was a mistake. I can say now that any reasons I had at the time, even if they were legitimate, were just excuses to take the easy way out. I knew it would be hard and that I probably wouldn’t play as much as I’d like, so I rationalized the decision by saying the coach was this or that. But being on a team allowed me to experience some of the best moments of my youth and – as you can tell – I doubt I’ll ever forget most of them.

With that, a quick shout out to the Hanakila third and fourth grade team I coach who had their first game of the winter schedule yesterday. Hopefully they’re making some memories they’ll also be able to detail with clarity 20 years from now.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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