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NBPA camp more than just hoops - Jun 22, 2006

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Knowledge is power, and keep it real. Those are the messages this week as 105 of the nation's top high school basketball players are developing their on-the-court skills -- but more importantly learning life skills at VCU's Siegel Center.

The camp, sponsored by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), is using skits and small discussion groups to talk about the realities of life with the players, many of whom hope to someday play in the NBA.

"Sometimes it doesn't work out," camp director Tim McCormick told the young men about making it to the NBA. "It's important for you to understand that you may not make it. You have to prepare for when you are done playing. You will stop playing someday, and you'll have to find something else to make you feel special."

Rick Rinaldi, a career development specialist with the NBPA, is a living example. Rinaldi was the sixth leading scorer in the nation when he came out of St. Peter's College. He played in the NBA and later in Europe, but ultimately an elbow injury ended his professional playing days.

"I didn't prepare myself [for that day]," Rinaldi said. "I had a degree, but I didn't have a plan. I worked labor, managed a car wash and was a driver for FedEx. I have forgotten a lot of the menial jobs I had, on purpose."

While campers are exposed to shooting, post play, defensive philosophy and other playing skills and drills, the schedule is heavy with life-skill sessions. Topics include peer pressure, respect, education, image, substance abuse, high-risk situations and sexual decisions.

The sessions and discussions are being led by professionals and former and current NBA players including Ralph Sampson, Purvis Short and Antonio Davis, president of the NBPA.

"Learning life skills is important since college kids are leaving earlier for the NBA," Davis said. "We're trying to teach these kids they have other options. While they are here, they need to soak it up like a sponge."

Zach Minor, a sports consultant from Manhattan, N.Y., is one of the professionals in the education effort. Minor's group, Zinc Life Skills, uses acting as an educational vehicle.

Minor told the players: "You got a life . . . a life more than the game. I want you to dream, but you have choices, decisions and consequences."

The NBPA camp also offers a unique component in allowing parents to attend. One of Minor's skits focused on a parental relationship in which a player disrespected his father. In another skit, a player suggested the only thing of importance was his skills on the court.

"There are no guarantees in life, only opportunity," Minor said. "Respect your parents, they are the ones who got you here."

Players, on average, leave the NBA at the age of 27, campers were told yesterday morning. Men, on average, live to the age of 74.

"What are you going to do for those 50 years?" a professional asked.

It then was time to play some basketball.  

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