I have been writing a weekly blog for almost two years and have covered a variety of meaningful topics such as personal branding, leadership, as well as a myriad of topics related to success.  I have offered behind the scenes views and detailed summaries of every grassroots event I have worked, including the McDonalds All-American Game, Jordan All-American Classic, NBPA Top 100 Camp, CP3 Elite Backcourt Camp and Nike Skills Academies for Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, Vince Carter, and LeBron James.  I have offered insights to several renowned players that I have been so fortunate to work with prior to their superstardom; guys like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Stephen Curry, and Tywon Lawson.  And while all of those experiences were remarkable and certainly memorable, I really believe this is my most significant blog post yet.  Why?  My involvement with the Nike Star Search Camp in Kingston, Jamaica over the past two years has been a life-changing experience. 

Three years ago at the Jordan All-American Classic, I was introduced to Stephen Johnston, the legal guardian of Jamaican native, Samardo Samuels, who currently plays for Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville.  Stephen told me all about a camp that he runs every summer in Jamaica for underprivileged kids and we immediately began to plot a way I could get involved. 

Long story short, last summer (2008), I boarded a plane to Kingston, Jamaica to volunteer to work the 8th annual Nike Star Search Basketball & Life Skills Development Camp held at the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education & Sports, which is one of only two indoor courts in the entire country.  My experience in 2008 had such a profound experience on me I made sure to return in 2009 for the 9th annual camp.  This blog is a summation of both trips.

Before I start, quick trivia question.  What type of defense do most teams in Jamaica play? Mon to Mon!   Yes, I wrote that joke myself, actually thought of it on my plane ride home.  I may quit strength & conditioning and start writing for David Letterman.  For those that don’t get it, Jamaicans say “Hey, Mon!”… a lot.

There are two distinct “sides” to Jamaica.  There is Montego Bay, which is the white sand, blue ocean, resort side of Jamaica (which is actually where I spent my honeymoon 4 months ago).  And then there is Kingston, which is with all respect, an impoverished, 3rd world country.  I have never seen poverty like I saw there.  Most houses were nothing more than four pieces of upright sheet metal with a plywood roof and several cinder blocks holding it down.  I saw kids playing soccer, barefoot, on dirt fields, kicking around a make shift ball.  There were dogs, cats, and goats walking around everywhere.  It was really heartbreaking.

During both of my visits, I noticed everyone in Jamaica is on the hustle; the airport alone is full of folks trying to help you with your bags, give you a ride, or sell you something.  No one stands around begging for money or for a handout; they are all trying to earn their keep by hustling.  Much respect.

The camp itself, both years, was incredible.  Although my time there this most recent visit was very brief, it was well worth going back.  I am going to do my absolute best to return every year.  The interaction I had with the kids and staff was extremely humbling and helped me sharpen my perspective on life. 

Last year, one kid showed up on the first day of camp wearing a pair of beat up dress shoes and no socks, which is what he was going to play in.  I didn’t see anyone with dress shoes this year, but did see several kids who had literally worn through the front of their shoes (I could see their socks).  To try and help in a small way, I brought a huge duffle bag of Nike basketball shoes (ones I had only worn maybe once or twice) to give to the campers, assuming they could fit in a size 11.  All twenty pairs were gone in about 4 minutes.  Lord knows those kids needed them more than I did.

There were about 160 kids in the camp this year, about 20 less than in 2008 (which was the biggest turn-out ever).  That is a lot of kids to fit on only two courts and six baskets.  Four of the six baskets were nothing more than a square piece of plywood with a rim nailed to it.  The floor had more dead spots than a cemetery and was very slippery, and the lack of air conditioning made the gym oppressively hot.  Amazingly, no one got hurt or sick.  Not one kid.  Despite the sauna like conditions, slippery floor, worn out footwear, and very physical play, not one kid got hurt.  A far cry from the NBPA Top 100 camp, where 20-30% of the kids were always seeing the trainer. 

Another point of interest is the campers got up at 5:00am every morning (yes, 5:00am) and ended their day at 9:00pm.  Now that is a full day of camp!  Despite the long day, the kids had an energy, an enthusiasm, and an overall appreciation that was downright palpable.  Granted the players had very, very low skill levels (the only players who have sound skills were in their early 20’s.), but they more than made up for it with their pride and toughness.  And no one ever complained.  The kids were more appreciative of the 1% they have in life than most kids in my area are of the 99% they have.  Seriously, how many kids in the US today would go to a camp with no A/C?  How many would even consider getting up at 5:00am?  Not many.  And like I said, the most refreshing part was, they never complained.

As far as this year’s camp, I spoke to the campers about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities and being competitive.  To see a video clip of that speech, please visit www.YouTube.com/StrongerTeamDotCom.  Later in the day, I did a demo and stressed the importance of creating and maintaining good work habits.  After each time I spoke to the campers, at least 25 of them approached me individually to ask questions and ask for help.  The kids craved improvement.

In addition to the folks of the JBD (Jamaica Basketball Development, Inc.), most notably Mike Minto, Terry Calnek, and Stephen Johnston, the folks at Nike Basketball (lead by Jeff Rogers and Mike Hackman) need to be commended for their unbelievable generosity.  Nike Basketball supplied shorts, t-shirts, reversible jerseys for every camper and shoes for almost half of them.  The smile on the faces of some of the underprivileged kids who just got some fresh Nike gear was priceless.

Being a part of the Nike Star Search Camp for a second straight year reminded me of how truly fortunate I am. 

This camp is making a difference and changing lives.  Please check out www.JamaicaBasketballDevelopment.com for more info and please contact them if you want to get involved and either volunteer or make a donation for next year. 

Please share this blog with any player or coach you know and for exclusive insight to upcoming camps (like the Chris Paul Backcourt Camp), as well as daily coaching points and quotes, follow me on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/AlanStein.

Train hard.  Train smart.  Be thankful.

Alan Stein