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BASKETBALL: Laettner camp helps area programs

More than 60 area youths area participated in the four-day Christian Laettner Basketball Academy held at Bemidji High School gymnasium. Shown left, Logan Vikre, Walker and Justine Day, Bemidji participate in a ball handling drills to start the afternoon of basketball camp. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Former NBA player and member of the 1992 USA Olympic team Christian Laettner is in the Bemidji area with his camp, the Christian Laettner Basketball Academy, for the third time in as many years.

Laettner, a very popular basketball figure best known for his buzzer-beater shot that propelled Duke over Kentucky in 1992, could probably set his sights on bigger markets. So why does he keep coming back to northern Minnesota?

He says the kids are easy to teach.

“I just love the way that the kids are up here,” Laettner said. “The respect and good behavior that they show is what keeps me coming back. I don’t want to work with kids that are not well-behaved.

“I cannot stress how easy the kids make it to teach them.”

The Bemidji basketball program does not need much of an explanation as to why he keeps coming back, as it benefits from having a player of his experience helping the youth program.

“It is great to have someone that is recognized like Christian,” Bemidji High School boys assistant coach Travis Peterson said. “Some of the kids are too young to know who he is, but the parents know. That name is really familiar with my generation.”

Peterson said that it is good for the kids to see that other coaches stress the same fundamental skills that Bemidji coaches do in practices and camps.

“It is great to have outside coaches come in,” Peterson said. “A lot of the things we do in his camp are things we do every day in practice. So it is good for kids to hear that other coaches teach the same thing.”

Laettner praised the youth basketball programs in Bemidji, saying it is easy to work with the kids when other coaches have already stressed the fundamentals.

“I am really impressed with Bemidji because the young kids’ game is not bad,” Laettner said. “You can see that someone is working with them. Someone is telling them to pass the ball and move. It is not a bad breed of basketball and I am just here to help out a little bit.”

Laettner’s Academy has grown over the years and he will be very busy this summer as he will be in various cities around the country.

“I have been to Blackduck, International Falls, Baudette and Bemidji a few times,” Laettner said.

“I was in Sioux Falls last weekend. I have two weeks in Jacksonville, Fla., another in Buffalo, N.Y., and one week in Dickinson.”

The Academy has grown so much that he has started to turn down locations because of scheduling issues. The growth has also made Laettner think twice about his pursuit of becoming a coach at a high level.

“I am having to reconsider that,” Laettner said of wanting to become a coach. “My basketball academy has grown to the point where I am pleased with where I am at.

“I still have a coaches agent looking for me, but I don’t know if I would take it or not,” Laettner said. “I am just having so much fun doing this. When you coach 20-year-olds, seeing them do well does not warm your heart like when you see a seven-year-old do something that you told them to do.”

The camp started Monday and will begin at 1 p.m. each day through Thursday at Bemidji High School.

“Anyone who was not able to make it yet is welcome to register and participate through the rest of camp,” Laettner said. “Dan Hovestol will be out there accepting applications. We have got space and a beautiful facility, so we can take on some more kids. We would love to see them.”

It is open for boys and girls of all skill levels between six and 18 years of age.

For Laettner, teaching fundamentals and helping players grow is important, but his biggest goal is to make his camp fun for the participants.

“If they can take just two or three things away from what I taught them, that makes me happy,” Laettner said. “What I want the kids to remember most is that they had fun. When I was eight years old, I wanted to go back to the camps where I had the most fun.”