One couldn’t help but think that Phil Reed must have been beaming somewhere. The sight of his former basketball players running a hoops camp for youngsters would have almost certainly had the late Southold High School coach smiling from ear to ear.
Shayne Johnson, one of the counselors for the Liam Walker Basketball Camp, said he and his colleagues were “passing on what [Reed] gave to us, so it’s nice. His whole thing with basketball was more about the guys and seeing us as a group grow as a family and everything. I think he’d be proud of us, getting younger kids together and making it happen.”
Drills, shooting contests, scrimmages and some laughs were part of the five-day camp at Southold High School that concluded Friday with the presentation of awards and certificates. Afterward, the camp’s namesake, coordinator and head coach, Liam Walker, declared it “a massive success” on a Facebook post.
Walker, 22, was a Class C All-State fourth team player for Southold and a former Suffolk Times Athlete of the Year. He recently graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.), where he studied business. He didn’t play basketball in college, but he missed the sport. Last year he helped out coaching the Southold summer league varsity team and he came up with the idea of creating a camp for young players.
In this, the camp’s second year, the number of campers (boys and girls ages 10 to 16) rose from 19 to 25.
“It’s a blast,” Walker said. He added: “I think the best part is seeing kids be passionate about something that I’ve been so passionate about my whole life, and also seeing them improving. It’s great when you see, alright, first day, a kid can’t make a lefthanded layup, and then, by Day 5, they’re doing it in a scrimmage and making it. They have that confidence. That’s what I really enjoy about it, seeing kids gain confidence, having more belief in themselves.”
As a player, Walker was confident in his skills. He had a lot to be confident about, scoring 1,180 points (averaging 16.2 per game) in four seasons with the First Settlers.
Walker brought that confidence with him in creating the camp, which combines his two great interests — business and sports. As Walker will tell you, there’s a lot more to running a camp than just rolling out basketballs.
“As much as a camp is fun, it’s also a business,” he said. “I had to rent the gym. I had to go through finances, like figuring out T-shirts, paying coaches, group insurance. There’s a lot going into it, how to market it. I’m putting up flyers, social media marketing. There’s definitely a business aspect to it, too.”
And for help, Walker had former Southold players Aidan Walker (his brother), Alex Poliwoda, Anthony Siracusano and Johnson, ex-Mattituck High School player Jovan Booker and Angelica Klavas, who played for the Southold/Greenport girls team, serving as counselors.
“It’s always great helping out a friend,” Poliwoda said. “He loves it. He looks forward to this every summer. This is the best part of the summer and he does a great job of organizing this and just promoting his camp, and he takes a lot of pride in what he does … He’s a guy who always loved the game as much as anybody on the court.”
The Walkers and the other male counselors from Southold had all played for Reed, the popular coach whose memory lives on with his former players. Reed suffered a fatal heart attack while driving home from practice Jan. 27, 2016.
Now they are putting into practice what they learned from him by instructing a new generation of players.
“He’s definitely left a lasting image on us and we just try to bring that same energy that he taught us to the next generation,” Poliwoda said. “A lot of the drills were based on stuff that he taught us and different skills that he taught us.”
Liam Walker said he tailored some of his coaching techniques to what he picked up from Reed.
“I still think of some of the stuff he taught us, some of the jokes,” Liam Walker said. “I try to be funny with the kids because I know how much that meant to me, just having a coach that was personable. It’s one thing to be a coach and to have that kind of respect, but to also kind of be a friend, that’s an added bonus.”
The counselors recognized the value of mixing fun with instruction for youngsters, who may not have the longest attention spans.
“It’s good not to take it too seriously,” Johnson said. “It’s a kid’s summer vacation, too. They want to have fun. Obviously, they want to learn, so we want to help them learn, but also give them the free time to enjoy it, too.”
Klavas has gained an appreciation for coaching as compared to playing. “It’s so different,” she said. “Oh my God. I give my coaches credit. You have to make sure the kids are paying attention. I was like, ‘We really put our coaches through the ringer.’ ”
Looking out among the campers, all wearing the camp’s gray T-shirts with red lettering, one wondered if the next Liam Walker or Angelica Klavas was among them.
“There’s a lot of talent, both guys and girls,” Liam Walker said. “I mean, there’s kids from Mattituck, Southold, Greenport, and also summer kids, and I just think if these kids keep growing, their basketball programs are going to be really good.
“You really don’t realize how much better you get by playing X amount of hours a day just every day. When you play every day you’re in much better shape, which means you’re going to be going up and down the court faster. Your shot you’re doing every day, so it’s more consistent.”
Although he judged the camp a success, Liam Walker acknowledged there was something — make that someone — missing.
He said, “That’s the one thing that would make this better, if Coach Reed was here, but I know he’s with us, watching over.”
Photo caption: Liam Walker addresses the young players at his basketball camp, which concluded Friday at Southold High School. (Credit: Bob Liepa)