Saturday, June 16, 2007
Reprinted from The Times and Democrat
On the basketball court, 13-year-old Alexis McElween handles herself like an experienced veteran.
The 5-foot-7-inch rising freshman at C.E. Murray High School is tall enough to control the boards from the power forward spot. As she displays in more than holding her own during a scrimmage at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center, McElween's ball-handling skills make her a viable option at the guard position.
Truly, McElween has come a long way since making her first appearance at the Lady Bulldog individual basketball camp four years ago as a self-described intimidated 10-year-old whose 4'9" frame put her at a disadvantage against taller, more mature camp participants.
"My first time here, I was getting scared because I was little and I didn't know how it would feel to be on a college campus with college students still on the campus," she said. "So I was kind of afraid."
Under the guidance of camp director and South Carolina State University women's basketball coach Tonya Mackey, McElween has quite literally and figuratively grown as a versatile basketball player. Along with her 30 fellow camp participants, McElween has spent the past three days heading into today's conclusion receiving close instruction on the fundamentals of the game from Mackey, her assistant coaches Aisha Stewart and Tasha Stinson and even former Lady Bulldogs like LaToya Dent.
"When I got to know Coach Mackey and the other coaches that helped her, it didn't make me afraid anymore because the way they said they were going to protect us and teach us how to play the game of basketball," McElveen said.
Each day begins with the campers moving from station to station to fine-tune certain skills such as free throws, defensive positioning, 3-point shooting, dribbling and lowpost offense. According to Mackey, the counselor/camper ratio at the Lady Bulldog individual basketball camp allows for more opportunities for individual instruction at those stations.
"I believe that we have taken time and placed a lot of emphasis on teaching skills on the offensive side and the defensive side," Mackey said. "From ball-handling, rebounding, boxing out, agility, pyrometric, of course the offensive standpoint of shooting and then defensively, teaching the basic fundamentals of slides, closing out, different things like that."
Mackey especially places an emphasis on stressing the importance of defense as most campers arrive more interested in becoming better scorers than defenders.
"When I first came here, I used to foul a lot," McElveen said. "Now, I know how to box out and dribble with my head up.
"You're never too good to learn more about basketball."
Felton Laboratory School student Zoel Stackhouse, 12, heard about the camp from friends and said she's made great strides in her all-around game.
"I learned how to shoot much better than I did when I played basketball at school," she said. "I also learned how to keep my guard up and play defense much better. I wasn't very strong in defensive boards because I didn't know about how to block out somebody without fouling, so that helped me out a lot. I don't foul out as much."
"It makes me better because it helps me with one-on-one work," McElveen said.
Another benefit for the campers is having an opportunity to experience college life firsthand. Campers stayed overnight at the newly built Andrew Hugine Suites and dined on an increased variety of menu items available at refurbished Washington Dining Hall.
"At the university, we're in the business of customer service and we're in the business of serving the public," Mackey said. "It's important that we're able to bring these young ladies on at such a young age to see exactly what it feels like to be on a college campus and to offer them things like living in the new apartments. Also, Washington Dining Hall has a totally new face on it and we're able to showcase what or to put out to the public what South Carolina State has to offer and we welcome the community with open arms."
As the camp concludes today with individual contests (free throws, one-one-one, hot shot) McElween, who plans to play junior varsity basketball next year, is definitely heading back to Greeleyville with a positive impression of the university and college life in general.
"I really like South Carolina State right now because I enjoy staying in the new dorms and it makes me feel like a college student playing college ball and it helps us get to know the environment so when we do get to be graduating seniors, we know that South Carolina State is the one," she said.
T&D Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant Jr. can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 803-533-5547.