It is not every day in Somerset that one gets to witness, up close and in person, an individual standing nearly 7-feet tall and weighing 270 pounds.
Even rarer when one sees a child that barely reaches that man’s knees blow past him to toss a ball at a basket, as the very large individual laughs in mock-disbelief.
Those gathered in the Rocky Hollow Recreation Center on South Central Avenue were treated to just such a rare spectacle Wednesday, on the first day of the DeMarcus Cousins Nike Elite Skills Basketball Camp.
Cousins, of course, is a name well-known to University of Kentucky basketball fans (which, it may be said, are fairly plentiful in this part of the country). The center on coach John Calipari’s first Wildcat squad in 2009-10, the Alabama native known affectionately as “Boogie” was drafted as a top 5 pick by the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, where he’s averaged 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds his first three years in the league.
Cousins joined fellow UK stars Jeff Sheppard — a guard from 1993-97 — and Julius Mays, who joined the team this past year for his senior season after transferring from Wright State, as instructors at the camp for youth.
“I loved basketball camp. I went to basketball camp as a kid and it was the highlight of my year every single year,” said Sheppard, who acted as sort of the vocal organizer throughout much of the day. “I love putting on basketball camps. ... To be able to teach (the kids) about basketball, a little bit about, and let them meet Julius and DeMarcus and spend some time with us is just a great thrill.”
The camp has two-a-day sessions — a morning event from 9 a.m. to noon and one in the afternoon from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. — where kids can compete, shoot around, ask the UK legends questions in a rare sit-down forum, and get their photo taken.
Cousins was unavailable to speak to media on Wednesday, but Mays shared some thoughts with the Commonwealth Journal on his brief but memorable time at UK and how he’s preparing for his basketball future.
“It’s great to get to come back (to Kentucky) and visit a place I’ve never been like Somerset,” said Mays. “I get to interact with some of the kids and the fans. It’s a great feeling to be able to give back.”
Mays said that being at UK was “one of the best experiences (he’s) had on and off the court,” and found “new family members” in his Wildcat teammates. Now he’s been working out for some professional squads, hoping to get a chance at the next level.
“I worked out in front of almost all the teams at the (NBA draft) combine in Brooklyn,” he said. “My possibility of getting drafted is really not likely, but hopefully I get the call and work my way in through training camp.”
The camp — held through Friday — had about 150 kids in the morning session and 100 in the afternoon, with about 100 sponsored participants. Parents and guardians hung around the edges of the gym, watching not only their kids but their own favorite UK players from yesterday and today and — as is the state’s favorite pastime — talking a little UK hoops to anyone who would listen.
An organization called BBN Legends is the one actually putting on the camp. President Adam Goldstein noted that the company does camps like this one as well as autograph sessions and other events featuring top ‘Cats, and helped bring Cousins to Somerset earlier this year to visit local schools. Now, Cousins was able to come back to work directly on the court with local children.
“This is the first time DeMarcus has done a camp here (in Somerset),” said Goldstein . “We did the same DeMarcus Cousins skills camp last week in Sacramento, and last year, we did it in Lexington. This is the second-annual (camp) here in Kentucky.”
Sponsors included Wendy’s, CoreTrans, Quick Care, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Jack Kain Ford and Hometown Pharmacy.
“It’s been great here,” said Goldstein. “One of the things that’s kind of different is ... a lot of the other camps, the three players who are UK guys don’t always come to each session, but it’s unique here that Julius, Jeff and Cousins are going to be here every single day. Cousins will come here not the whole morning or whole afternoon but in the middle of the day so he can be here about an hour-plus, for both the morning and afternoon each day.”
Sheppard, who lives in the area, is no stranger to the Pulaski County community, but enjoys coming to participate in events like this and share what he learned and did at UK with both fans and the next generation of hoopsters.
“I know the fanbase loves Kentucky basketball,” he said. “Rocky Hollow and the City of Somerset have one of the best facilities in the state. I’m jealous; I wish we had a facility like this in Laurel County. So it’s a great place to have the basketball camp. We’re thrilled to be here in Pulaski County.”