Monday, July 2nd, 2007 at 1:34 pm  |  36 responses

Live from the Kobe Skills Academy

Nima Zarrabi in the building with the top shooting guards in the country

By Nima Zarrabi

Santa Ana, CA—The shock, sadness, bewilderment and flat out misery is still well and warm within the hearts of Lakers fans. As far as they’re concerned, the earth spun off its axis on the day Kobe Bryant told the world he wanted to be traded from the Lake Show.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope within them, as they anxiously await the next report from Ric Bucher and the other alleged “insiders” at ESPN, that Kobe will stay. They frantically call the sports radio talk shows and suggest trades that could keep Kobe happy. Garnett, O’Neal, Bibby, Chauncey—everyone’s name has been mentioned. Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom’s respective games are chopped up daily. In the midst of all this hysteria, Bryant and Nike held the first ever Kobe Bryant skills academy here in Orange County this week—a development camp that featured some of the top high school and college “two guards” in the country. This camp as well as several others, represents Nike’s remix of the summer camp circuit. Rather than holding one big summer outing with the top players in the country, Nike is doing several camps held by position with others featuring Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Vince Carter.

The three day camp started last Monday and was held at the lovely new gym at Mater Dei High School with the focus on individual skill development. There were many on-court instructors as well as speakers such as Joe Bryant. The college players and high schoolers were separated with each group having to go through two-a-days.

I showed up on day three for the final college workout and had already been briefed that Kobe wouldn’t be in attendance. He apparently had been there on the previous days to survey the action—I’m presuming it was during times that the few media guys who were there didn’t have access. And understandably so, surely Kobe doesn’t want to answer any questions while his career hangs in the balance. All I wanted was the chance to ask him about the look on Dr. Jerry Buss’ face in Spain when Kobe looked him in the eye and presumably borrowed a line from Shaq saying, “I’m out.” Anyway, the word I got back was that Kobe likes to hang back and watch his instructors go to work and then pull a player to the side and offer some words.

As I walked in, the college players softly strolled off the bus and into the gym—the workouts here have not been easy as evidenced by the limps and grimaces. After some intense stretching, the players broke into groups to work on moves in the high post. One of the guys who stood out immediately was Arizona sophomore-to-be Chase Budinger and not because his trademark red locks have become bleach blonde, thanks to many days on the beaches of SoCal. The reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the year has a very attractive package: 6-8, can shoot threes, good handle, great passer and he competes. Some observers still say he’s got that “laid back beach attitude”, a reference to his days as a volleyball star, but the majority of that has to be centered on the fact that things just seem to come easily to him. Another guy who stood out from the pack was Davidson’s Stephen Curry. Despite being the shortest collegian in attendance, Curry was making it rain from various spots on the hardwood. It’s no shock that his father is former NBA marksman, Dell Curry, a career 40 percent three-point shooter in 16 NBA seasons. Curry also gave a good defensive effort and was somehow active under the boards.

Following the drills, the players participated in a full court scrimmage that allowed no dribbling. This was extremely interesting. It was a true test of stamina and on court positioning. The player who was going to end up with the best shot was the one who did it via movement, not handle. It was a phenomenal drill that should be used by all teams.

The final 15 minutes of the session was the 5-on-5 scrimmage. The teams were broken down into white and black jerseys. Black team: Budinger, David Lighty (Ohio State), Chris Lofton (Tennessee), Josh Carter (Texas A&M) and Wayne Ellington (UNC).
White team: Curry, Marcelus Kemp (Nevada), Gerald Henderson (Duke), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), Bryce Taylor (Oregon).

The top matchup to watch came from the two top NBA prospects here, Budinger and Henderson. Both guys went at each other hard, but clean. Each displayed a good amount of skills but clearly Budinger is the better shooter while Henderson is stronger and more physical. Henderson is absolutely shredded—his body fat looks like it’s in the 5 percent range. Because of the lack of point guards, Budinger played more of a distributor role on his team and was impressive, also finding ways to score. Curry continued to shine during the scrimmages as did Nevada’s Marcelus Kemp. Kemp was granted a medical redshirt and will thus be entering his 6th college season this year. His game is a bit unorthodox, but he finds ways to score and is aggressive on the defensive end. He wasn’t as athletic as most of the guys here but he makes up for it with hustle. Kemp averaged 18.5 points per game last season and hopes what he’s learned here can help Nevada make another NCAA run. “When I first got the call about this camp, I was really excited because Kobe is my favorite player,” Kemp said. “It’s been a great camp. I’m going to see a lot of double teams next year, so I’ve been working on kicking it out more. I also have learned some new moves and improved my shooting with new techniques.”

Kemp was also impressed with Bryant, who sought him out directly during one of the sessions. “He was here more than I thought he would be,” Kemp said. “The first day he spoke to us as a group and talked about leadership and work ethic. The next day, I guess he was watching me play and he pulled me aside and showed me some new moves I could use that would help me score a little easier. I was star struck. You have to understand, that has been my favorite player for a while.”

I also got a chance to sit down with Henderson and Ellington, two old friends who played high school ball together and are now warriors within the Duke v. North Carolina civil war. It was nice to see that they’re still close—when I asked Henderson how the camp went, I witnessed this exchange.

Henderson: “Meeting Kobe was a great experience…”

He stopped after hearing Ellington snicker at his response.

Henderson (now completely focused on Ellilngton): What, I can’t say that? Man. Why you trying to get into the interview? If he wanted to interview you, he would have sat next to you and interviewed you!

Laughs all around.

When I asked Ellington if he still gets to hang out with his old friend in the offseason, he gave a serious look and said, “I don’t mess with him, man.” More laughs.

I didn’t get a chance to get back to Mater Dei for the night session which featured the high schoolers. However, word on the street was that Pennsylvania’s Tyreke Evans was the best player of the bunch and that little Rotnei Clarke of Oklahoma was “getting buckets” on people.

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  • Zack Kinnoin


  • James

    2nd god damn it i cant get first

  • http://yahoo.com DP

    Henderson is going to be a beast next season. Now that he has went through the bumps and bruises of the rookie campaign, look for him to have a breakout season. Duke is still not going to be great in my opinion, but they will good. Henderson and Ellington will be lottery picks in next years draft though. play wit it.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Tyreke Evans, huh? I hear he’s good. I wonder when SLAM will give that kid some coverage…

  • http://www.forillalive.com Skillet Forilla

    KEMPS EVERYWHERE! BEWARE!! In the years 2028, the Sacramento Kemps will win the L. Trust me.

  • Ron

    Philly was out there hard. Gerald and Wayne are stars and Tyreke reminds me a lot of Kobe when he was in high school. Too bad Ty will have to wait a year before he goes to the L.

  • http://myspace.com/bodiebarnett jbn74sb

    Kobe giving leadership advice? That’s like Shaq giving fitness and diet advice. Wait…

  • Garett

    “The reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the year has a very attractive package.” How much access does the media get?

  • http://www.myspace.com/mikebone Simmy Sosa


  • http://espn.com Reggie Evans

    McDonald’s should definitely sign Budinger to a contract once he turns pro. He could be Ronald in a basketball uniform. Ronald would have game.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Hey, Bodie’s coming around…

  • KB24


  • whooo!

    i can understand kids wanting to learn from kobe’s game from a skill set, but the others make me laugh. nash is perfect, of course. but amare? unless you’re a freak athlete like him, what could he possibly teach you skills-wise? or imagine vince giving advice to kids to settle for jumpers and not attack the rim!

  • John Machac

    How can kolbe teach a “skills” set? When he doesn’t know any? None of my kids would go and learn nothing. I’m a FOOTBALL guy any way!

  • miguel024

    hey you can’t just name drop fellow duck bryce taylor like that and then not mention how he fared! he must not have showed off his atheleticism yet, the same hops that had him stuffin on horford and the gators in the elite 8

  • John from Miami


  • James

    jbn74sb thats just too funny

  • http://slamonline.com Nima Z

    For the record: Slam usually gets solid access, but don’t get it twisted Garett. Seriously. Miguel, Bryce Taylor had a good outing. He was flying around and filling the lane. Don’t sleep on Amare–(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcbdYFOwNOk)
    Peep the handle, son. I heard some great things about the Vince Carter camp. Word was that VC was really good with the youngsters and actually ran with them in scrimmages. Don’t hate.

  • H to the izzo

    I wonder whay brand that all those college players programs are sponsored by?

  • http://www.customizedchopshop.com Greased Up Deaf Guy aka Clay Davis

    is shawn kemp coming back?

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    Yo Ryan. Why am I gettin’ banned? Were there any spesific reason? I never throwed any profanities.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    No idea, Sesa. Some of my comments don’t get posted sometimes, too, and you know I * out all my profanity. I think it’s just technical glitches. Or maybe it’s because you misspelled “specific”…

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    Thanks Ryan and Thank you for not hatin’

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Me? Hate?

  • http://www.therednozecompany.com farman asaidali

    probably sponsored by nike since kobe is H….

  • http://espn.com Reggie Evans

    imperious: marked by arrogant assurance

  • http://www.customizedchopshop.com Greased Up Deaf Guy aka Clay Davis

    marcelus kemp is vanwilder…………………………………………………..chase is luke walton 2.0

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I don’t even think Luke Walton can dunk. Chase dunks like a motherf*cker.

  • H to the izzo

    Chase is Luke 75.0

  • http://espn.com Reggie Evans

    He has a great name for punny headlines: His rookie year – “Budding Young Star”,When he becomes a free agent- “The Chase is On”

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Putting Kobe on the cover would be easier if we knew what uniform to put him in.

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com Max Airington

    You could go sans shirt a la ESPN….

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Reggie: You are fired from headline writing.
    Max: “No ESPN Mag” is the new “No H0mo”

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    Luke Walton is a great passer in the triangle no doubt about that.
    But He’s also a tweener, He can’t guard a faster Small Forward and He can’t guard a stronger Power Forward. What’s his position actually?


    And when he gets traded “This Bud’s For You”…?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyNMz_LxEoA Boing Dynasty

    The Bench.