NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal, Dominique Wilkins, Shawn Kemp, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green encouraged and inspired about 100 of the nation’s top high school hoopsters attending the Reebok Classic Breakout camp at Philadelphia University July 9.
“Never give up,” O’Neal, who earned his Ph.D. in education in 2012, told the students. “For me, it was about a boy from rural New Jersey fulfilling a dream.”
O’Neal, an NBA superstar and four-time championship winner, said he was cut from his high school basketball team his freshmen and sophomore years and, finally, at seven feet tall, made the team as a junior.
The young, aspiring players in the Gallagher Athletic Center listened attentively as the NBA players gave advice and encouragement and talked about how the game has evolved. The Reebok Classic Breakout, taking place for the seventh year at PhilaU, is a live period evaluation camp with scrimmages and games, where the top DI coaches in the country come to get a look at—but cannot approach or talk to—young players they may be recruiting in coming years.
“This is your time to shine,” said Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins. “Every year, you have to slowly build who you are as a person” and a player.
Shawn Kemp told the high school players, “Challenge yourself to do better. The NBA is not about fun, it’s about how much time you go out in the summer” and work on your skills.
The NBA stars encouraged the young players to take full advantage of the opportunity they have participating in the Reebok Classic Breakout, learning and practicing skills, going up against some of the top high school players in the nation and gaining life skills and advice as they navigate toward their hoop dreams.
Isaiah Thomas, who has played his three seasons in the league for the Sacramento Kings, said he attended the Reebok camp for three years while in high school. “You never know who’s watching you once you get on the court,” Thomas said. “This camp helped me out so much, playing against the top players in the country.”
In addition to encouraging the high school players, the current and former NBA stars had some fun both ribbing and complimenting each other. “I had Shaq on a fast break once and he threw me about 20 rows up the stands,” Kemp said to laughter.