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Searching For Spartans

June 21, 2002|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Sports Editor

"Behind the back. Keep it movin'," encourages Central Union High varsity basketball coach Von Gaines, his deep voice echoing off the walls of the Central gymnasium in El Centro.

"That's good," he says. "Good job."

A handful of grade-school and junior high kids run the hard wood, passing the basketball from one hand to the other; behind the back, of course. Some do it successfully, others don't. But all appear to be having a great time.

Gaines, coming into his first season as head coach at Central, also is running his first Spartan basketball camp.

Like most basketball programs throughout the Valley, Gaines and some of his varsity players have come out to teach the fundamentals of the game. Passing, shooting, layups, speed drills. It all goes down here through the end of the week, when camp wraps.

And like most coaches, Gaines also is scoping the future stars of Central basketball, both girls and boys.


When he's asked about this, a huge grin spreads across his face.

"Pretty much looking at 'em for some time down the road," he says.

"I could tell when he was little and at that camp he had it," Gaines adds, creating that future star in his mind.

It seems to work for Gaines. Around five years ago he started coaching an ambitious 11-year-old on his CRU ball team at the Conrad Harrison Youth Center in El Centro.

Back then he saw something special in young Robert Christensen, who's now 16 and playing for Gaines' varsity squad.

"He was down at the rec center pretty much doing the same things he's doing now," he said. "I believe he's going to be one of the best players the Valley's ever seen."

Gaines has similar stories littered throughout his team, and now he said he's already seeing kids at this camp with the same type of spirit Christensen and others exhibited years ago.

"I see a few that have got the same tenacity and will to learn," he said. "I see the same thing in some of these kids."

It's no coincidence that some of these kids also hope to be future Central basketball stars, and as such are giving 110 percent to impress Gaines and his players.

Fourteen-year-old Andrew Grooms, an incoming freshman at Central, has his sights set on varsity, and he's going to bust his butt to get there.

"I'm just trying to go all-out and hustle as much as I can; play the best I can," Grooms said.

Marixol S. Garcia and Keiko Alingas, too, are looking to learn and achieve.

Garcia, 14 and an incoming freshman, wants to play basketball for Central.

She said, "I think it's fun and I get to keep in shape. I keep practicing and try not to slack off," she said. "I'm coming to get better from all the drills we do."

Alingas, soon to be a 15-year-old sophomore, already is a Spartan basketball player. But, she said, this camp still gives her a chance to brush up on the basics and stay in shape during the dog days of summer.

While some of the kids involved in the week-long camp have business on the brain, Gaines and his players maintain one can learn and still have a good time.

Christensen on Wednesday was working out a group of kids under the basket, teaching them to shoot.

"(Gaines) has got me working on their shots. If they don't really know how to shoot, I'm here to teach them," he said. "But we're having fun at the same time."

Still, Christensen like Gaines sees the future: "Some of these little kids are real good, with better jump shots than their older brothers on varsity now."

As Gaines watches his campers and players working in various skills stations throughout the gym, he mulls yet another aspect of the camp experience.

"I'm excited to be able to teach the game that I love," he said, adding, "I tell the kids we want them to learn something new, to better themselves each and every day. I want them to take something new (a skill) home or to their P.E. classes that they didn't know before."

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