BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Summertime can mark a critical time in the development of any high school athlete.
The Rams basketball squad is no different. Several Mt. Vernon players returned from a weekend camp held at the University of Mississippi. Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said the experience was a positive one for him and the players who made the trip.
“I think it's good for (the players) because they get to see a little different side of me,” Gamber said. “I get to see a different side of them. I think that part is really important.”
Last year the Rams traveled to Tennessee’s camp in Knoxville where former Mt. Vernon player Kent Williams is on the coaching staff. Gamber said he wants to alternate between the two summer camps in the coming years.
“I thought it was a lot of fun from my side of it, and I hope it was for the kids side as well,” Gamber said.
The Rams arrived in Oxford, Miss on Friday afternoon. The group of seven players (Braden Fitzjerrells, Jake Pike, Bryce Hunter, Luke Wilson, Shakari Hawkins, Doug Gardner and Dylan Reeves) got a chance to watch the Rebels during a practice session after their arrival. Mississippi star Marshall Henderson was part of the practice, and Gamber said his personality was on full display during the workout. The junior averaged more than 20 points a game last year for the Rebels and helped them upset Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
“What you see on TV as far as attitude and excitement is kind of what you get in real practice,” Gamber said. “He acted the same way.”
The team also played several games throughout the weekend. Their on-court action started Friday night and continued through four games on Saturday. The players got a chance to walk around the Mississippi campus throughout the weekend and shared an evening meal in downtown Oxford Saturday night.
“I wanted our guys to kind of see the town of Oxford so we went and ate downtown on the square, and we walked around the square,” Gamber said.
The weekend wrapped up with a pair of Sunday games.
Pike, Fitzjerrells and Hawkins were all fixtures in the varsity lineup a season ago. Gamber said this event gives them a chance to not only hone their skills but emerge as team leaders.
“I thought that was a positive from Ole Miss was seeing how our guys kind of interacted with one another and how they push one another,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon is in the middle of its summer workouts. Players have been meeting at Changnon Gym throughout June for open gym activities. Gamber said the trip south breaks up some of the repetitive routine of the summer. The event also allows Gamber to see some of his players in a competitive environment, which helps him understand their strengths and weaknesses going into the second portion of the summer.
“We get to play against teams that we don't see during the year,” Gamber said. “The officials are officials we don't see throughout the year. It's really nice to get away from that standpoint. It's nice to spend time as a team that's not as serious as a situation as you have during the season.”
Mt. Vernon has one big summer event left for basketball. Players will travel down to SIU at Carbondale where they will see some mid-week action.
Players will spend the majority of the month of July working out in Changnon Gym as Gamber will use most of the team's contact days then. The coach said he likes to spend the month of June traveling with players and committing the month of July to honing their skills.