For the varsity boys basketball team, summer success is not measured in wins. In fact, what was learned on our second trip to the University of Texas team camp in Austin was that "loss is more," to coin a phrase. Though the scoreboard did not often indicate it, the team's five-day trip to Coach Tim Moore’s hometown was a resounding success for all involved, in ways realized both on the court and off.
The 12 players who made the trip encountered very strong competition on the court as the Large Varsity division was filled with 5A, 6A, and 7A schools from Texas and Arkansas. The Randolph squad, which included six players who were getting their first taste of varsity play, faced a level of size, speed, and talent they will only occasionally meet in their upcoming regular season. This crucible made for an excellent learning environment for all the players, but perhaps not as beneficial as the real heat they faced after the last camp game had been completed.
Sensing that there was more to learn than what the camp itself could offer, Coach Moore led his team to a public park with outdoor basketball courts. There, the boys were challenged by a motley crew of locals to a game of pickup. Though the skill levels and ages of the locals varied, they clearly had home court advantage. One-hundred-degree heat, metal backboards, and a slippery court complete with chalk graffiti gave this challenge a different twist to the ones faced in the air conditioned practice facilities of the University of Texas. In fact, several of the boys commented that they had not ever played outside or had ever really played pickup before.
The rhythm of pickup is very different from organized games; no whistles, more talk, less structure, toughness required. Watching the boys adapt to the difficult conditions and to the strange opponents, it was evident that they learned more about what it takes to win big games against strong teams than any other experience of the trip. During those three sweltering hours at the park, the team bonded with each other and with their coaches, who played alongside them.
When Coach Moore asked Troy, a rising senior, for his perspective on the trip, Troy said, "This year's group included a lot of new players. I really enjoyed getting to know them and I formed some very strong friendships. That is what team camps are all about. They give you a chance to play some really tough competition and most importantly they give you the chance to bond as a team."
That kind of team bonding experience occurred throughout the trip: at meals at some of Austin’s fantastic restaurants like the Salt Lick, where we ate top-notch BBQ, and Juan in a Million, where we cheered on Troy to finish two and a half super-huge Don Juan breakfast tacos; at Zilker Park, where Pedram showed us that he was also pretty good at soccer, at Peter Pan Mini Golf, where Andrew, Brady and Jake took the team title.
At the University of Texas, the players all saw first-hand what the big time looks like and that a kid just like one of them could make it there if they realize that what it takes is more than just showing up to practice every day. It takes learning to be a part of a team and trusting in your teammates and coaches, it takes perseverance and toughness when things get challenging, and it takes a willingness to work as hard as necessary to make improvements in yourself no matter how good you think you already are.
These were lessons learned on this year’s trip to Texas team camp. Certainly more than what our boys would have learned had we simply gone to Austin and finished 8-0.