"It's All About The Game"

Big Ben's first big summer






Robert Stephens, Featured Writer

Young man ventures into summer hoop development.

September 25, 2014 - While the world of summer basketball focused on USA Basketball and the decisions of franchise players to play or not to play, much younger players competed and developed. On that youth level, EYBL the Nike elite basketball league traveled around the country with the championship playing on ESPN.

Alternatively, The Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas featured some of the top teams in the country not affiliated with Nike. Under Armour, the new player on the block featured their own set of teams and hoop tournaments on the national level (One of the camps, the NBAPA Top 100 was covered by editor Ron Bailey for HoyaReport.com). The lists of tournaments is a never ending smorgasbord of games for the basketball enthusiast.

Ben Amon-Kotey or 'Big Ben', oustide of Georgetown's McDonough Arena with hardware earned this summer.

This does not include the summer league team leagues that are available for your pleasure. In the DMV, D.C.'s Lamond Recreation Center and Maryland's St. Andrews, DeMatha, High Point, Gaithersburg, were just a few spots where you could enjoy high school basketball.

Before I continue this article on youth basketball generally and a talented, developing player specifically, let’s not forgot the John Lucas International Middle School Camp at Houston which featured 37 players over 6’4 going into the 8th grade!

Benjamin Amon-Kotey is a 7th grader at Cabin John Middle School in Montgomery County. A year ago “Big Ben” as he is known in his circle of the hoop world came to me and said he wanted to play basketball. I had to think long and hard knowing what it takes and having already been thru this process with my own son, but relented and took on the challenge.

The first camp Ben attended was at Churchill High School under the direction of head coach Kevin Jones of St. Andrews in Potomac. The camp was typical of most such events, breaking the athletes into specific age groups, this time groupings between ages 10 to 12. They had film sessions, fun games, and organized team games.

Ben felt comfortable at the camp socially because it was comprised of students at his school and his neighborhood. The counselors were found to be compassionate and related well with the young players. Ben was there for two weeks, with a timetable of 9am to 3pm.

DeMatha’s camp under the direction of head Mike Jones was a step up in competition. The camp. held between 9am and 4am for a week, broke their athletes into a 12 and under league. Play was intense and there was a sense of urgency to achieve.

The coaches, some of them players from the school, interacted well with the players and entertained them during down time with their athletic abilities. It was here that Ben had a taste of competitive basketball out of his social environment. This would prepare him for the latter stages of the summer.

While at DeMatha's camp, he was able to meet new people and play against talented players mostly from P.G. County where DeMatha is located and Washington, D.C. There was a specific highlight that brought a smile to Ben on the final day.

Georgetown University featured the most talented group of players Ben would face during the summer. One of the reasons was the age group - 13 and under - plus Ben found himself playing the point guard position more then he played so far during the summer. Of course I was delighted that he was forced into playing the position that I know he is best suited for. Boatwright and Napier, UConn’s championship guards didn’t help us; That’s when you explain they don’t come along that talented that often.

Ben’s team lost in the Final Four by one but beat a team that featured a 6’4 rising 8th grader to get to the semi-final round. Ben also won the most coachable award to my delight.

The Georgetown camp, run by head coach John Thompson 3rd occurring between 10a to 7p, was a well run machine, involving a lot of movement and coordination from the players. Some of the campers spent the night in the dorms and the food was served in the school’s cafeteria giving the athletes a look at college life. They were also able to mingle with the Hoya team which was a highlight to see players that they had seen on television up close. Kudos to Othella Harrington who was assigned to Ben’s age bracket. He was great with the kids!

Amon-Kotey (2nd from right) at Kevin Nickleberry's camp, with Nickleberry and other award winning campers.

Bullis Prep's camp in Potomac was also a challenge for Ben, who competed in the 13 and under division. Telling is the height difference between that 12th and 13th year.

Ben played well and was recognized for his defensive play. In full disclosure the first thing I focused on with Ben was the importance of defense. Ben has a good motor so his defense is an important part of his game, and readily took the challenge to become an above average defender which bodes well for him. Bullis head coach Bruce Kelly was hands one with the kids and I was impressed with his energy with the athletes.

Howard University’s basketball camp featured another dynamic under Bison head coach Kevin Mickleberry: Speed! It was the fastest camp during the summer which was down Ben’s alley as they say, featuring breakneck hoops baseline to baseline. One of the reasons why was the abundance of guards that were present at the camp.

The Howard players interacted very well with the players and I was impressed with their enthusiasm as well. Ben went three rounds with some of the best campers, coming away with the free throw shooting award, where he went three rounds and a perfect five of five in the final round.

Ben was there for one week and the camp ran from 9am to 4pm. Ben had a favorite moment at Howard’s camp.

“After one of my games coach Travis (asst. coach Lyons) came to me and talked to me about finishing at the basket. That meant a lot to me and I am going to work on that this fall. I really enjoyed the quickness of the Howard camp. I had to pay attention to my handle”.

So where did Ben hone his skills? Lamond Recreation center in Northwest D.C. under Lyndon Debellote, a mecca for young people developing their skills is where. Debellote takes young underdeveloped athletes like Ben and helps them develop their games.

A lot of coaches want the finished product and make no bones about it. saying “He’s not ready for me yet”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that one. That’s why we need the Lyndon Debellote’s in the world.

I overheard him when Ben showed him his championship and free throw awards say to one of his co-workers, “That’s where I get my satisfaction from when they go out and have success".

Of course now the AAU world has made some overtures toward Ben, but for right now, he's just keeping it simple. Things are fine!


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