DEMAREE: When UK Elite Camps were Very Elite

Coach Billy Gillispie and his staff ran what was called an elite basketball camp this past week. They were expected to have a number of high profile recruiting targets nationally, and Mason County's Darius Miller, locally, in attendance. The camp is reported to be a big step up from what has been at UK in quite some time. But let me, with Sam Bowie's help, take you back to the Joe B. Hall era.

This is a feather in the cap for Gillispie for facilitating, by comparison to yesteryear, what should be termed as the beginning of a rebirth of an elite basketball camp. Does it compare to the ones in Joe B. Hall's day?

Basketball camps in the Joe Hall era were special, and specifically 1978, when he and then lead recruiter Leonard Hamilton put together a camp, which raised the eyebrows of the basketball world, nationally, with a wink, wink, nod, nod reaction.

Picture such names as Sam Bowie, Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Clark Kellog, Dominique Wilkins, Isaiah Thomas, Steve Stepanovich, John Sunvold, Derrick Hord, Dirk Minniefield, and Charles Hurt to name a few, all in the same camp in '78.

"With all this talent surrounding me, there was definitely a fear factor involved," Sam Bowie expressed. "I had read about all of these guys and now I was playing against them, wow! I had played against a lot of lesser competition during my high school career." He had just been awarded as the best high school player of the year nationally, by what was then viewed as the basketball bible, Street and Smith.

Bowie said – "I didn't know if I was worthy (no pun intended) and could live up to those accolades. In that camp there was very little emphasis on fundamentals because everybody knew how to play, so we mostly scrimmaged."

Bowie said his high school team Lebanon Cedar High School in Lebanon Pennsylvania played Lexington Lafayette High School featuring Dirk Minniefield, in Freedom Hall as a part of a double header. He said he scored 40-points and his team was beaten by 30-points. Lafayette coached by Jock Sutherland won the state tournament that season.

The other game was Shelby County led by Charles Hurt, playing the Derrick Hord led Bristol High School of Bristol Tennessee. Shelby County, who won the game handily, won the state tournament the following season.

"We thought we were going to also get James Worthy since he was the cousin of Leonard Hamilton," Bowie said. Worthy went to North Carolina. The recruitment of Ralph Sampson was a weird one because right up to signing day, it was believed that UK him in the bag. He went to Virginia.

That was a golden era for basketball camps at UK. It is questionable as to whether that can ever be relived at UK. However, Billy Gillispie is not going to be caught not making the attempt. What he had going on this past week is the first step to recapturing that phenomenon.


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