Former Bennett High School basketball player John Thomas has brought the 411 Weekend back to Buffalo after a four-year hiatus – but there’s a bit of a twist.
The structure is different. 411 is now a camp instead of an All-Star game, focusing on teaching young basketball players about leadership off the court.
“I’ve always wanted to come back, but I wanted to find a different way to impact the community and reach out to the kids,” Thomas said. “I think we did a lot by bridging the different basketball generations with the All-Star games, but we wanted to do something a little different to put more focus on the kids.”
Thomas has brought in members of the Buffalo basketball community for the camp, including former St. Bonaventure and Niagara assistant Rob Lanier, and former Syracuse guard Malik Campbell.
Despite running the annual All-Star game in Buffalo from 2002 to 2012, the past few years Thomas has focused on basketball in the city where he lives, Atlanta. This year’s camp allows the former Samford player to connect with a new crop of players in his hometown.
The festivities began Friday when Thomas and the rest of the staff spoke to the players at a roundtable. Saturday, they’ll be working with 30 players from all over the Greater Buffalo area from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Masten Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s leadership through basketball, but at the same time a lot of these guys want to be successful on the court,” Thomas said. “We’re just showing them different ways to become successful.”
Thomas made it clear this camp isn’t about showing off skill. It’s about passing on knowledge to the future of Buffalo basketball.
“One thing we really want to get across is using this opportunity as a mentorship,” Thomas said. “A lot of us grew up at the Masten Boys and Girls Club. A lot of us played Division I basketball. Some of us played professionally. At some point we have to turn around and share some of those experiences with younger people.
“Whether they reach those levels or not, we never know. At least we can share with them what helped us get to that point.”