Coppin State University’s new Physical Education Complex has become the hot spot for college athletes looking to stay in shape during the summer. But during the past week, the $136 million center was filled with a great amount of not-quite college-aged kids.

They were all participants of the 2010 Charles “Choo” Smith Summer Basketball Camp.

One might assume a “bull in a china shop” effect ensuing when more than 100 youths, some as young as 6 years old, are given free rein to such an open environment. Not so.

Grouped by age, each kid worked on basic skills such as shooting, defense, free throws, rebounding, posting and pivoting and off-hand layups.

Choo, a former Original Harlem Globetrotter and native of Baltimore, sees a lot of himself in the camp participants. That’s why he puts so much energy into molding each of them individually.

“Nothing is too simple to me,” says Choo. “I’m never afraid to go over the top and take risks, because that’s what I believe it takes to be on the next level.”

That’s how he came up with the ‘Four L’s’ (Love it, Learn It, Live It, Lead It), a motto that he uses to encourage the camp participants, Choo added.

“It’s so important to love and be passionate about everything you do, and then it becomes natural to learn how to do it better,” he added, explaining the Four L’s. “Once you learn, you have to live what you learn, and then finally you have to lead by example.”

The “Four L’s” are visible in everybody who works with Choo, including youths and adults.

Jawuan Wilson, a 16-year-old even-keeled teenager, has been with the camp since its inception in 2006, when the camp was stationed at New Town High School. Wilson’s mother, Vicki, excited about the change she saw in Jawuan after his first year, decided to volunteer her services.

“I’ve enjoyed watching how he’s grown, and not just basketball-wise,” said Vickie Wilson, who couldn’t hold back a few emotional tears when overhearing Choo explain the” Four L’s” to the AFRO. “It really touched home because I’ve witnessed how my son has progressed through each of the four phases and now he’s at the point where he’s evolving into a leader both on and off the court.”

Wilson can’t imagine her son working with anyone else but Choo, who considers Jawuan as one of his best pupils in the camp’s five-year history.

“ was about 10 years old when he first started the camp. He was a pudgy, mild-mannered kid, but he was always excited about the game. This year, he’s dominated his age group and now every school in the area is after him.”
The coaches – (including Arthur Lewis, Omar Smith, Kevin English and Lamar Pennick) – are also inspired by Choo’s ability to mold youths with sound fundamentals.

Arthur Lewis met Smith just after playing junior college basketball, and instantly learned to exude positive energy into every endeavor he takes on.

“We have fun here,” said Lewis after balancing a ball on the back of his hand and punch-passing it to Choo. “Just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. You just have to love doing the right thing.”

Lamar Pennick, also a coach and former college basketball player, appreciates how the camp narrows the gap between life and basketball.

“We try to keep the game simple, but we also teach the kids how to play chess, read the daily paper and keep up on current events,” Pennick said. “We emphasize the development of communication skills.”

In addition to talented ball players, Smith also has won the support of business/marketing tycoon Mel Butler, who personally admired Smith’s commitment to the youths of Baltimore.

“There are few who are genuine about their passion and vision for young people,” said Butler, who now holds the title of chief operations officer for Smith’s camp. “I decided that this was a worthy cause when I found out that he was conducting a camp that he paid for out of his pockets for four years.”

While watching Choo and Arthur exchange Globetrotter-style basketball tricks among one another, Butler mentioned a few events scheduled to help support the camp, including the first annual Choo Smith Celebrity Charity Golf Tournament on July 26. Butler—who has 40 years of marketing experience both nationally and internationally, including ties to the founding of Baltimore’s first ethnic festival, “Salute to Soul Festival,” precursor of the African America Heritage Festival—wants to help attract more positive attention to what he considers as “Baltimore’s best kept secret.”

“’It’s amazing that we have an Original Harlem Globetrotter running a youth camp right here in the backyard of our own city and almost no one knows about it,” Butler said.

Choo said he hasn’t done much to promote the camp in the past because he wanted to keep it on a more personal level, so that original campers could return and continue to grow and mature under his guidance.

“But we’re at the point where we’re ready to evolve to the next level,” Choo said, “one step at a time.”

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