Wilson girls basketball coach Brian Baker has noticed a lack of team camps for girls in Western New York.
He opens the school gym during the offseason for open sessions and his team participates in the annual Niagara County Community College Shootout in July, but opportunities are still scarce.
“Girls basketball is improving but too many kids specialize in one sport now,” Baker said. “Basketball isn’t the first choice but it’s getting better.”
So Baker a few years back started researching ideas for the summer, came across a camp run by the University of North Carolina women’s basketball program and decided to give it a shot. He’s always loved Chapel Hill and the campus (even if he’s a Duke fan).
“We went two years ago and it was such a great experience we wanted to go back,” Baker said. “I wanted the kids to be able to experience firsthand what a big-time basketball town is like.”
Nine girls from Wilson, Morgan Faery, Anna Frerichs, Sarah Lewis, Maddie Mocarski, Shea and Skylar Munnikhuysen, Amanda Murray, Julie Reagan and Sarah Yousett, and one from Albion, Caitlynn Snook, traveled with Baker to North Carolina in late June to sharpen their skills with one of the legends of basketball.
Longtime Tar Heels head coach Sylvia Hatchell sits fourth all-time in wins among women’s college basketball coaches with 990 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
“The whole UNC women’s coaching staff was there each day,” Baker said. “This camp is like no other. It is organized and the staff is over-the-top friendly and welcoming. Each kid leaves having one of the most unique experiences most people will never get to do.”
They played games in the Dean Smith Center, home of the 2017 national champion men’s team, and in Carmichael Arena, where the women’s team plays and where Michael Jordan played in the early 1980s.
They met teams from other states, including California, the Carolinas, Florida and West Virginia, staying on campus in the dorms. There was also downtime to explore and tour campus.
Each day consisted of multiple sessions of games and competitions for the players, clinics for the coaches, seminars on things like study skills, time management and conditioning, and all-you-can-eat food at the cafeteria for meals ... or late-night snacks.
“Pizza and cookies at midnight make you play better the next day,” Baker joked.
The girls won the award for best shooting team in their eight-team league. There were two 1-minute shooting contests each day, and at the end of the camp the team with the highest totals won.
The Lakewomen won some games and lost a few against their out-of-state counterparts in the team portion, all while learning how to adapt to different styles of play.
One aspect often overlooked is the shot clock. The National Federation of State High School Associations, which “serves as the pre-eminent authority on competition rules for education-based interscholastic activity programs,” does not mandate its use. The choice is instead left up to each individual state association.
New York is one of seven states, along with California, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington, that requires a shot clock in both boys and girls contests. Maryland uses a shot clock for girls only.
“That limits some of the zone defenses because a team will hold the ball for 3 or 4 minutes in one possession sometimes,” Baker said.
Playing against unfamiliar competition can also serve as a wake-up call. There are thousands of athletes competing for the same goal.
“There are more skilled players in this world,” Baker said. “If you want to compete at a high level you must do the work. If your body language or attitude is poor these college coaches won’t recruit you.”
The players not only learned throughout the week, but Baker did as well.
“I attended two clinics for coaches and they were very beneficial to learn from a top Division I program,” Baker said. “I like playing different teams because I learn from the other coaches. I’ll take an inbounds play, an offensive set or even a defensive concept from other schools. I watch how players respond to adversity or success.
“I try to network as much as possible because you never know who you will meet. The more I can learn as a coach the more I can help the girls be successful.”
Baker’s already established a successful, winning tradition at Wilson. He could foresee this trip to Chapel Hill becoming another one.
“As long as my friends, family, supporters, parents and the Wilson community continue to believe in our kids, I will always lean to the side of letting the girls have the best high school experience ever,” Baker said. “Even if I have to help pay, it’s worth watching the kids enjoy the moment.”