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Giving back to the girls

LA CRESCENTA — Former Crescenta Valley High star Michelle Greco has been a successful player on winning teams at every stage of her basketball career.

She’s been recognized with various Most Valuable Player and Player of the Year awards at the high school and collegiate levels, and has been a member of championship teams as an amateur and a professional.

In addition to, and in part because of these things, the former UCLA and Seattle Storm point guard has also become a role model for young girls who aspire to learn and play the game of basketball.

Once a year, Greco continually looks forward to playing that part for girls in her hometown community through the Michelle Greco Girls Basketball Camp, which wraps up its ninth installment today at Crescenta Valley.

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“I basically make it a priority [to come back for the camp every summer],” said Greco, who currently spends eight months out of the year playing for Pasta Ambro Taranto of the Italian Women’s Professional League. “Besides playing basketball, I love to coach.

“I really enjoy doing camps, I love teaching young kids and just trying to make a difference, not only in terms of basketball, but in their young lives.”

Greco’s camp bears similarities to other Crescenta Valley summer basketball camps, such as those conducted recently by former Falcons boys’ Coach Jim Smiley and current boys’ Coach Shawn Zargarian.

Over a five-day period, the 35 campers ages 8-14 receive an education in the basic skills and techniques of the game from Greco and her staff, while also learning about the importance of hard work, dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship.

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The notable difference is that Greco’s camp is exclusively for girls, a quality that she says fills an important niche.

“When I was their age, there was never a camp in this area for me to go to, and if I did want to go to a camp, my only options were boys’ camps,” said Greco in reference to the many camps which are co-ed, but typically draw a much greater number of boys than girls. “I think it’s important to give girls the option of knowing they can come to a competitive environment and get better and not have the boys there, which may be a little bit more of a distraction.”

As the only area clinic designed for girls and conducted by a woman, Greco’s camp has drawn girls to loyally return from year to year.

“It’s a really good learning experience and I get to meet friends and have a lot of fun,” said 11-year old Katie Hartwig, attending the camp for the fifth time. “Michelle is a great role model for girls and she cares about the kids and takes the time to teach us.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Hartwig and her fellow campers loosened up after a lunch break with a dribbling game of red light/green light before taking part in a shooting drill.

The strategy-based drill challenged the girls, who vocally encouraged and supported one another throughout, to make as many shots as they could from different spots on the floor within a 50-second period.

Engaged by the fun of the good-natured competition, nearly every participant improved their tally on the second run through the exercise.

"[Greco] is the greatest player that’s ever come through [Crescenta Valley] by far, but much more than that, it’s her personality and the way she deals with the kids [that makes the camps successful],” said Falcons boys’ basketball assistant and Camp co-Director Joe Maniccia, who, along with former UCLA player Marie Philman and former Falcons standout Mike Greco acted as assistants. “She’s so down-to-earth and takes a real interest in all the kids, and when you add the fact that she really knows what she’s doing, it’s a dynamite combination.”

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For the girls at her camp, and anyone who would aspire to follow in her footsteps, Greco, a member of the 2004 WNBA-champion Storm, has one important advisory.

“It takes so much hard work and so much sacrifice, and if you’re not enjoying [the game], it’s difficult to sustain the level of commitment and time that it takes to make it,” she said. “At an early age, you’ve gotta have that love for it.”


  • GABRIEL RIZK covers sports. He can be reached at (818) 637-3226 or by e-mail at gabriel.rizk@latimes.com.

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