BEMIDJI - Dan Ninham has been the coach of the Bemidji High School basketball team for all of one month, but he already likes what he sees from the Lumberjack boys team.
"It's very exciting," he said Wednesday during a team camp he set up in tandem with BHS girls coach Rick Kehoe.
"There's a lot of energy. The kids are coming with an opportunity to get better in the summer and it seems like they're taking to it well."
Wednesday's clinic featured a guest clinic from Alexandria girls coach Wendy Kohler, who won a state title in 1997 and has advanced to state six other times.
Kohler ran through lots of drills in the four-hour afternoon session characterized by sticky heat in the BHS gym. But for the most part, the Lumberjack players looked receptive and happy to be on the court despite the muggy heat.
It was only one in an ongoing series of summer basketball camps Ninham designed to help build his program. In addition to the high school camps, Ninham has also been conducting clinics for children in grades K-12.
"We're all progressing, all the way down to kindergarten," he said. "You've got to build it, because they'll be coming."
The focus Wednesday afternoon was on the high school teams. Ninham and Kehoe said the idea was to combine the two teams in camp, and the results have been excellent.
About ten of the BHS boys and nearly 19 members of the girls team showed up to get coaching from Kohler Wednesday. And Lumberjacks girls coach Kehoe was impressed with the turnout.
"Most of the varsity squad is here today," he said. "Overall this it's the best summer turnout I've had in four or five years. We have sophomore and freshmen classes that are very dedicated, and seniors who want to get better too."
He estimated that about 28 girls have participated in some capacity this summer.
Senior forward Greta Steever was one of them.
"It's been awesome so far this summer," she said. "It feels like one of our in-season practices. It's getting us all pretty excited for the season to start."
On the boys side, only a handful participated in Wednesday's camp, but Ninham said overall almost everyone in the program has showed up at some point.
"The participation has been tremendous," he said. "The kids have been here literally at sunrise. We had a 6 a.m. practice session the first week, and they were all here."
The sports-specific camp, Ninham said, also compliments the POWER program, the offseason weight training and conditioning program directed by BHS football coach Bryan Stoffel.
For BHS senior Jeremiah Huseby, that makes a difference.
"(Coach Ninham) has taken an interest in the kids lifting," Huseby said. "We never had that before."
He's also noticed a general change in the attitude of his teammates coming to summer practice - there's more structure so it's easier to get excited.
"It's been way different this summer," he said. "There are a lot more activities. It's just more organized (than it had been).
"I think we're all really excited to start the season again and see how we do against the big schools."
The Lumberjack boys will get a chance to see how they do against those big schools next weekend. They've been invited to a showcase at Lakeville South High School, which will feature a handful of Twin Cities-area schools.
"For a new coach coming in, that's nice," Ninham said. "We're not elite right now, but we're progressing. These kids are eager to learn and we coaches are eager to teach."
The camps are scheduled to continue until the end of July.