WARREN — Greg Kelser has been holding basketball camps since he was 20 years old.
Now 56, the Michigan State University grad and former Detroit Piston is in his 36th year of using camps as a way to teach youngsters not only about basketball, but life, as well.
Kelser, currently an analyst for MSU and the Pistons, brought his week-long “Shoot for Your Goals” basketball camp to Warren Mott Aug. 4-8. That marked the first time the camp, which is free to youths in grades sixth through ninth, took place outside the city of Detroit. The former Spartan, who starred on the 1979 NCAA championship-winning team, annually holds camps in Grosse Pointe, West Bloomfield and Southfield. Cost for those camps is $225 per camper.
Kelser, a graduate of Detroit Henry Ford High School, partnered with Walmart, Warren-based Winning Futures and Detroit-based Powerlink facilities management services to put the camp on.
“We got the idea of moving the camps around maybe six or seven years ago so that all the communities that wanted to experience the camps would have more immediate access, as opposed to having to travel (extended distances),” said Kelser, who opened the camp to 100 sponsored youths from various communities.
“We start our camps off at (Detroit Cass Tech) every year. We know the inner city kids benefit from the camp, but we know kids in the suburbs will, too. And here we are. We’ve got a great group of kids. They’re learning and they’re working hard. They’re engaged fully, and we’re appreciative to have some type of impact on their development.”
The camp took place from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. each day, with campers receiving basketball instruction from Kelser and other coaches. Participants were also required to have an hour of classroom instruction where they received mentoring from Winning Futures staffers, and were educated on goal setting and life skills.
The mission of Winning Futures, a nonprofit organization that works with middle and high school students throughout southeast Michigan, is to focus on the life skills of character value identification, goal setting, career preparation and strategic planning, according to www.winningfutures.org.
Campers are provided with breakfast and lunch each day, as well.
“What we’re trying to do for these students is show them you have to have some balance in your life,” said Kelser, who as a youth attended camps hosted by Pistons great Bob Lanier, and ESPN analyst and former University of Detroit-Mercy men’s basketball coach Dick Vitale.
“Athletics are great,” Kelser said. “You can enjoy competing, but you also have to have that same joy and drive in the classroom, because it’s the education that will take you far in life, in my estimation.”
Detroit native and former UD-Mercy men’s hoops standout Earl Cureton brought his daughter to the camp. He said she and some other campers were not very enthusiastic about attending the camp at first, but leave every day with a smile on their face ready to come back the next day.
“It’s a great way to bring academics and athletics together,” said Cureton, who had a 14-year professional career that included three seasons with the Pistons. “You talk with the kids about the parallels between academics and athletics — a teacher and a principal essentially have the same roles as a coach and a referee. They’re all trying to help the student or player and keep some order.
“That gives (campers) something to think about. Preparation for a test is the same as practicing leading up to a big game. Tying them together gives the kids a greater understanding.”
Kelser said the campers are very attentive to the instruction. Whether or not they’re receptive to it will be revealed over time, he said. Kelser said it takes time for a positive message to sink in but that when it happens, that’s when he knows the camps have the impact he’s hoping for.
Kelser said he encourages the campers to give back to their community when the time comes. He said that while parents are the biggest role models, it’s important for children to have positive figures in their lives outside the home.
“It’s all an effort on everybody’s part. My parents were great. They were my biggest role models,” Kelser said. “But there were so many people outside of my parents who made a solid impact on my life. That’s all we’re trying to do (with the camps). We’re just an augmentation of what parents are putting out there. They’re not with their children every second of the day, so you hope that in those gaps that your children are around positive role models.”