It’s a rarity to see a basketball camp on the Harbor conducted by a current NBA player.
But when you consider the fondness former Washington State star and current Minnesota Timberwolves guard CJ Elleby holds for the area, camping here was a no-brainer.
Elleby, who has multiple former Hoquiam Grizzly graduates in his immediate family, held court on Wednesday and Thursday at the Hoquiam Youth Basketball camp on the freshly-waxed floor of Hoquiam Square Garden.
“Hoquiam is a place I’ve been coming to since I was a child and it’s a place my mom, aunt and uncle grew up. It’s just been a staple of my life,” said Elleby, who signed a deal with Minnesota last week after spending his first two years with the Portland Trail Blazers. “We would come out to Ocean Shores to roast marshmallows and cook hot dogs by the fire. We went clam digging with my grandpa. When we were younger, me and my brothers would go to the skating rink every time we’d come here. … We’d go to Hum-Dinger all the time because it’s my favorite spot out here because it’s the best burger in town. I don’t know if anybody in Hoquiam disagrees, but it’s my favorite.”
The 22 year-old Elleby spent the better part of two days running campers through drills, holding Q&A sessions, putting on a dunking exhibition and staying as long as possible to make sure every camper that wanted one got a selfie and an autograph.
The camp was put on by the Elleby Family Foundation and the Grays Harbor Rotary Club free of charge for boys and girls grades 2-8. More than 80 participants attended the two-day camp that featured instruction from Elleby and Hoquiam girls basketball head coach Chad Allan as well as multiple former alumni volunteers, providing campers with ample opportunity to better their basketball skills.
According to Elleby, the Hoquiam camp was a prime example of what his family’s foundation seeks to accomplish.
“This is what the foundation is about,” said the 6-foot-6 Elleby, who stayed over an hour after camp ended on Thursday to continue to shoot around and hobnob with campers and volunteers. “We started it to impact youth in the ways that we know how and continue to grow in that area. It’s all about the kids and we did it for them. All the staff came here for them. The focus is all about the kids that are looking for a mentor and looking for guidance.”
Elleby also stated that going to camps conducted by former NBA stars in the Seattle area inspired him to do the same. His memories of those camps are what he wants to pass on to budding NBA hopefuls on the Harbor.
“They’re going to remember the Hoquiam High School Camp and hopefully they got a little bit of energy out of it and maybe it inspired them to further their basketball skills and work harder at that or something else,” he said. “It’s kind of like a deja vu feeling because when I was a kid the guys names that ring bells like that are Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson, and those are all guys I got to (session with). … Without them, I wouldn’t have these ideas … they inspired me to do it.”
Allan said it’s rare when a former professional player conducts an instructional camp in the Grays Harbor area, but doing so provides a huge benefit to youth in the area.
“It doesn’t happen very often, especially on the Harbor,” he said, adding the camp came together in a lightning-quick two weeks from idea to execution and featured campers from across Grays Harbor County. “I feel the instruction from the Hoquiam coaches and the Hoquiam alumni that came out to help out at the camp was top-notch. So each kid got a lot of individual stations to work. But what rubbed off was the character, personality and the way CJ carries himself, it was just infectious. That kind of positiveness being around the sport is just infectious. That’s what we liked and it just benefited all of us the most.”
In a question-and-answer session after Thursday’s camp, Elleby addressed the importance of academics and being a well-rounded student as being paramount to his success.
“We all want the outcome of ‘I want to be an NBA player,’ but what does it take to get there?” Allan said.” (Elleby’s) message of ‘I had to make sure my homework was done the night before. I had to make a schedule for myself,’ and what does it actually take and academics is a piece of that. And he is well-rounded in his interests and I think kids need to see that as well. I think understanding the academic piece, it can be a limiter if you don’t have that.”
But it wasn’t just the campers benefiting from the camp, it was Elleby as well.
“Seeing the smile on my grandma and being able to come here and meet the people she’s friends with, I think that’s a big part of it, and being able to network here and make connections with people that maybe I don’t know but know my family,” he said. “It’s good because I’ve always been coming to this community, but to actually meet the kids that are growing up here and some of the adults that are coaching the kids, it’s great to me.”
“All camp he was wandering around, touching base and working with the kids, answering questions and staying until the end to sign autographs,” Allan said. “It was a true service to our community and an inspiration as well. He’s got a lot of followers as he’s moving on.”
Elleby said he hopes more local camps are in the near future.
“I hope to do it again soon,” he said. “Hopefully, we can grow it in many ways.”