LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Before they were Falcons, Knights and Rebels, a good number of the boys’ and girls’ basketball players currently occupying roster spots on area high school teams began as Blazers.
Renaissance Academy boys’ basketball Coach Sid Cooke has been instructing youth players from around the area and the greater San Gabriel Valley long enough to count alumni of his camps and travel ball program at just about any local game he attends, whether it’s at Crescenta Valley High, La Cañada, St. Francis or Flintridge Prep.
In his latest clinic, the Blazers Holiday Basketball Camp that began on Monday and concludes today, Cooke aimed to prepare the next wave of incoming high school players with a solid groundwork in the basic building blocks of the game.
“We just try to give them something they can take with them and their high school coaches can do the rest,” said Cooke, who has run the camp for the last four years, while the Blazers travel program for boys, which has now expanded to six age-level teams, goes back nine years. "[We stress] fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals and efficiency and understanding where to be and why you’re doing it.”
Upward of 50 players from sixth to eighth graders, mostly boys, but with a few girls sprinkled in, filled the Renaissance gymnasium for Wednesday morning’s two-hour session, which included a detailed tutorial on footwork techniques.
Campers took turns driving the lane where an adult coach moved into defensive position to meet them near the basket. The object of the drill was to dribble to the basket and plant with a jump stop to take away the space of the defender and establish position to either make a basket or get fouled in the act of shooting. After a few right-handed runs through the drill, the campers were asked to repeat the task with their left hand.
A few minutes later, the focus shifted to driving, pulling up and showing a shot fake before pivoting inward for a short, fall-away jumper.
“A lot of kids don’t understand why you’re jump stopping, why you’re taking space or the angles you’re taking,” Cooke said. “You can get out of trouble if you use the right angle.
“A lot of them aren’t getting this [kind of instruction]. We’re growing because we emphasize certain things and the parents see that that’s what they need. They like what we’re doing as far as teaching and breaking it down.”
The session closed with a motion offense and screening drill before the campers were able to cut loose in some scrimmages.
Campers Andrew Tsangeos, 14, and Kyle Cheung, 14, feel better prepared to make the jump to high school basketball after working with Cooke.
“It really focuses on ball handling, even for people who are bigger and taller,” Tsangeos, who has worked with Cooke for four years, said of the camp. “If I go against another guy who’s as big as me, I can be faster and a better ballhandler than him and get by him easily.
"[Cooke] gets us in shape and runs us a lot so whenever I go up against someone else, I’m so much faster, they can’t keep up.”
Cheung, an aspiring point guard, said Cooke has already helped him hone his ball handling skills in just a few short months.
“It breaks down your fundamental skills one on one to get everything tight before high school,” Cheung said. “He’s gotten everything I’ve taken from other coaches and improved on it.”