Willie Lucas and Jacob Shoemaker both walked into their respective Gene Bess Basketball Camp sessions for the first time as kids. They were eager to learn fundamentals and get better at the game they love while getting lessons from Three Rivers men's basketball coaches and players.
This year, their roles have reversed and the two are now camp assistants, leading drills and teaching players new skills to help grow their game.
Lucas, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season after dealing with a leg injury for most of last season, attended the camp every other year from the time he was 8 years old until he became a player.
Lucas lived in St. Louis when he first heard about the camp and decided to join for the first time.
“My mom is from (Poplar Bluff) and she knew about (Three Rivers) Coach (Gene) Bess and them, good program. I decided to join one year and I liked it so I kept going to it,” Lucas said.
Shoemaker, a 2019 Oran graduate and incoming Three Rivers freshman, made his first trip to the camp before starting his senior year of high school.
When Shoemaker attended the camp, it was the camp’s final year in the Bess Activity Center. Now, in the Libla Family Sports Complex, the campers, coaches and players have a lot more room to work with their respective groups.
“It’s so much more open in here,” Shoemaker said. “Everything sounds different, looks different. It’s beautiful in here.”
For the players, now that they’re part of the team, helping out with the camp is a chance for them to give back and benefit the kids who show up.
“It feels great, man. It feels like I can help somebody else who helped me when I was a kid. It’s just a great feeling. I love helping kids and being a part of the program,” Lucas said.
Bess looks at the efforts of his players as a way of performing a public service for the community.
“I’m always glad to bring in my new players to this camp because it gives them a chance to work with kids, and it’s really a public service is what it is,” Bess said. “We charge a little something for the camp, but it’s just barely expensive. And it’s good to see our players work with kids. It helps them to understand our system better.”
While teaching the kids and leading their respective groups, the players like Lucas and Shoemaker still have to participate in some of the drills while leading the camp. Still, it’s not quite as demanding as it was when they were campers.
“It’s a little bit less intensity when you’re teaching. You don’t have to be running around the whole time,” Shoemaker said. “It’s kind of cool to see. You’ve been in their shoes. It’s cool to see it.
“It really helped me out when I was in the player position, so I loved having the opportunity to give it back to people.”
Added Lucas, “When I was here, it was more people here, so it was more action and louder. Now, it’s the same thing but it’s harder for me because I’m the coach now, so I’ve got to help them learn how to pay attention more, just be basketball players.”
The camp can get stressful at times, though. Lucas has been leading the youngest group at the camp, and he has to make sure they stay focused on the drill they’re doing so they can get the most out of their lessons. If they’re repeatedly not listening or distracting the rest of the group, they might have to do five pushups.
“It’s just tough love, showing them that basketball is not all about fun all the time. It’s about being serious and being smart and focused the whole time,” Lucas said.
The first week-long session of the camp ends Friday. The girls’ camp is next and begins on July 8. The second session of the boys camp is held July 15-19.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic