By Randy Renner
The youngsters participating in this week’s Thunder Youth Basketball Camp at Oklahoma City’s Casady School have gotten a rare treat. Visits from not just one Thunder basketball player but two.
Wednesday rookie center Mitch McGary stopped by and Thursday rookie small forward Josh Huestis dropped in to give the campers some hoops tips and share some memories.
“It feels like just yesterday I was in the same situation going to camps like this. It’s amazing that now I have a chance to give back,” he said. “I always looked up to the people who came and talked to us at the camps and now the fact that I have an opportunity to do the same thing and try to make a difference in kids’ lives, it’ just indescribable.”
Speaking as someone who’s been there Huestis said it’s really important when dealing with kids who are just beginning to refine their basketball skills to make camps like this feel like fun, not work.
“To me at this age, it’s all about falling in love with the game first. I think when they’re young like this too much drilling and making it super-organized might burn them out,” he advised. “So just help them fall in love with the game first and then if they wanna keep pursuing it they will.”
Huestis developed that love for the game early on and it’s something that drives him still. That’s another reason he loves to play defense and it was something a couple of the kids even asked questions about.
“One of the best questions I got, a couple times actually, was why do you like playing defense? Why is defense important? And I told them offense doesn’t always offense doesn’t always go every single day, shots don’t always fall all the time, but defense is something you can do every single day. It’s all about hard work and what you can do to help your team win.”
Huestis sounded like he was channeling Eddie Sutton when he said that because I heard the legendary for OSU basketball boss say that very same thing I don’t know how many times when I would talk to him about the importance of playing defense.
It’s a philosophy Huestis clearly understands and readily admits his offensive game isn’t on a level his defense is.
“Defense was how I got playing time (at Stanford), I realized offense wasn’t what I was brought there to do so I wanted to be somebody who could come in and defensively lock somebody down and rebound because that was what would get me on the floor. And once I saw how that affected the game and got me more time I really adopted that mentality.”
Huestis showed off his defense and rebounding skills last week during the Orlando Summer League, he also showed a few offensive flashes, mostly on putbacks and baseline cuts. His 3-point shooting was, well, something he needs to work on.
Overall it was a good experience for him and a wakeup call about what life might be like in the NBA.
“It was my first NBA-type atmosphere and I was able to figure out a little more about the speed of the game. I really enjoyed it.”
The biggest surprise for Huestis wasn’t really the speed of the game, it was the size of the players.
“In college I could step on the floor and always be one of the bigger guys and one of the stronger guys but you get out there on the NBA floor and everybody’s a grown man, everybody’s big. So I think that’s the hardest thing to get used to.”
And if he thinks the guys at summer league were grown men just wait till he goes up against Perk. And Serge. And KD and Russ.
“I’m really excited and anxious to be able to play with them and learn from them.”
But on this day, with training camp and those battles with superstar NBA teammates still 10 weeks or so away, it was Josh who was doing the teaching, not so much the learning.
“I’ve always wanted to be somebody who could affect lives. Basketball is great and everything but at the end of day I wanna find a way to change the world and if I can come in here and reach one kid even then that’s fine with me.”
And sometimes, all it takes is just one.