Summertime is camp time. For many NBA players, it’s a time to give back to young players.
This time, it’s more than just basketball.
At the Seeds of Peace international camp in Maine, the focus isn’t on drills or making baskets, but on inspiring the next generation of leaders to deal with conflict. The camp, in its 15th year, attracted about 180 teenagers from the U.S., Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and India this week, as well as several NBA players, including the Pistons’ Ish Smith, Henry Ellenson and rookie Luke Kennard.
For the campers — some of whom had never played basketball and didn’t know who the NBA players were — the basketball drills were a break from Seeds of Peace’s main objective of facilitating dialogue between different cultural groups about conflicts and making change. The participants were selected by their countries’ governments as leaders and rewarded with the trip to Otisfield, in southwest Maine.
Smith said the experience was an eye-opener for him.
“When you see how impactful you are because you can dribble a basketball, it’s pretty special,” Smith said. “Our game has gone global and just because we can do some things on the floor and play some basketball is how many look up to us.
“For me, I learn more from them than they learn from me. It’s been a great experience.”
The Pistons players, along with former Celtics player Brian Scalabrine and the WNBA’s Sue Wicks, participated in discussions and worked on some of the drills, but the takeaways for them were more from off the court.
Seeing the level of conversation, problem-solving and conflict resolution left a lasting impression, especially with those who aren’t too far from the same ages – Ellenson is 20 and Kennard is 21.
“We can’t really compare to some of the situations they’ve been through and knowing they’re just a few years younger than us,” Kennard said. “Being here and listening to them and the conflicts they’ve been through, it’s inspiring.
“I want to listen to them more than talk to them. It’s inspiring to hear their joy and laughs they have. It’s an honor and an experience just to be here with them.”
Arn Tellem, vice chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment, is a board member for Seeds of Peace, but also attended the camp in the 1960s, when it was a boys camp. Tellem, a former agent, brought many of his former clients — including Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Joel Embiid and LaMarcus Aldridge — when they were rookies, as an introduction to their service in the community.
Even for the boys and girls who weren’t familiar with the players, it was good to spend time with star athletes.
“If you saw the enthusiasm on their faces and to see what it means to spend time with an NBA player, you realize all the good things and the potential the NBA to do all over the world, and that’s why these programs and others like it are so important,” Tellem said.
It also made an impact on Ellenson, who mad a memorable moment while eating with the campers as they shared their experiences.
“These kids are from different parts of the world and there’s hate between different cultures in their countries. In the dining hall, each table was doing a dance,” Ellenson said. “They got Luke and Ish and me up dancing and it shows how together it gets these kids and seeing from a different perspective — instead of just stories they’ve heard of each other and experiencing it.
“It was one of the most fun things ever. We wish we went to summer camp instead of basketball camp.”