When UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland arrived at Palisades High School on Monday morning he was greeted by throngs of wide-eyed youngsters anxious to meet him, shake hands and, most importantly, show what they could do on the court.
Howland kicked off his annual week-long youth camp in the Dolphins' gymnasium by addressing the participants and stressing that while he hopes they all have fun, he also wants everyone to learn.
"Fundamentals are really the key to basketball," Howland told his attentive audience. "It doesn't matter how old you are. A lot of what I'm teaching out here is the same as what I teach my players at UCLA."
The day began with all the campers in the gym shooting around, then Howland and his staff went over the rules and what was expected of everyone. After an evaluation period, rosters were made based on players' age, height and ability level to even out the teams.
The SEC Division (grades 1-2) consists of Kentucky, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn and Tennessee.
The PAC-10 Division (grades 3-4) has UCLA, Arizona, USC, California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State.
The NBA Division (grades 5-7) has six teams: the Lakers, Suns, Bulls, Spurs, Pacers and Celtics.
The youngest group stayed in the gym and the other two divisions headed for the outdoor courts. They started with layup drills, then teams began playing full court five-on-five games.
Doug Erickson, UCLA's Director of Basketball Administration, said there are 230 kids enrolled in this year's camp compared to 195 last summer.
"It's a great turnout," he said. "You always like to see that attendance is up."
Assisting Howland at this year's camp are Pali High boys varsity coach James Paleno and girls varsity coach Torino Johnson, who guided the Dolphins to the City Section Division II championship in March.
After having coached UCLA every year since Howland started his camp in Pacific Palisades in 2006, Paleno was surprised to find out he is coaching the Lakers this week. He wasn't sure whether to consider the move a promotion or a demotion.
"Ben has always had me coach UCLA but we lost in the semifinals to Arizona last year so maybe that has something to do with it," Paleno joked. "I guess I can view this as a step up because I'm not only coaching in the NBA, I've been appointed Commissioner too."
Paleno's squad of 10- to 12-year-olds got off to a fast start, winning its two games against the rival Celtics and Spurs, thanks in large part to the contributions of its four girls: Lilly Auerbach, Caroline Phillips, Maya Schneider and Samantha Spanier. Rounding out the team are boys Brendan Sharpe, Wesley Burton, Jackson Demet, Aaron Galef and Will Goldberg.
Johnson is coaching the Pacers and his team also won its first two games, defeating the Bulls and Suns. He predicted a Lakers-Pacers final on Friday pitting Pali High's head coaches against each other.
"I've already started a scouting report on them," Johnson said with a grin.
Also helping out at the camp are five former Dolphins, all of whom played for Paleno: point guard Edward Estavan (Class of '99) is coaching Arizona State; point guard Brian Barner (Class of '07) is coaching Auburn; point guard Zaiid Leflore (Class of '98) is coaching Washington; shooting guard Isaiah Sago (Class of '00) is coaching Stanford; and post player Vejas Anaya (Class of '97) is piloting the Suns.
"It's always a lot of fun to see how much they improve from day to day," Howland said. "It all starts with the basics and that's what we stress. We like to invite some of our [Bruins] players to come and demonstrate certain skills and they always enjoy it."
Throughout the week campers will learn the basics of the game--shooting, passing, ball-handling, rebounding and defensive stance. They will also participate in three-on-three and five-on-five games and numerous skill competitions. Camp concludes Friday afternoon with championship games in all age divisions and a brief awards ceremony.
Click here for more images of Ben Howland's Basketball Camp.