A young boy named Leonardo Araujo is alone in his driveway, hoisting up sweet, lefthanded jump shots that nestle into the basket time and again.

But he is not really alone.

Through the miracles of technology and the ingenuity of the Mavericks Academy youth coaches, Araujo and a growing group of youngsters are able to participate in the basketball camps that have become a staple of the franchise during the summer months.

The COVID-19 crisis might require some outside-the-box thinking, but it cannot stop the teaching that is helping kids learn basketball and life lessons.

It’s all done virtually and kids like Araujo can give a thumbs up when they hear their name mentioned by the coaches.

In a normal summer, there would be camps of 200 kids convening at various athletic facilities around the Metroplex. With the coronavirus, that’s not possible.

So the Mavericks have improvised by organizing virtual camps. Broken down into groups of about 20 campers, all armed with a basketball a bottle of water and a cellphone, they listen, learn and play with the assistance of the Mavs Academy staff – led by Brad Freeman, Ben Hunt, Ronard Patterson and Kelli Robinson.

Some conduct shooting drills, some work on ballhandling or other aspects of the game. With all 20 campers on the same computer screen thanks to the ZOOM meetings technology, the coaches can teach, critique and advise each kid individually.

It’s making the best of an imperfect situation.

“The biggest challenge is missing out on the interaction with the campers,” said Hunt, a former college standout at Texas Wesleyan, where he was on the 2006 NAIA national championship team. He also played for the Perth Wildcats professional team in his native Australia.

“A big part of what we do is developing relationships with the campers and the families. That’s how we’ve been going strong for 27 years in the summer. That’s the toughest part for us because that’s where we feel we have the most impact when we can guide them, coach them and help them.”

To help overcome that, the coaches all are involved in the meeting and all can give feedback to individuals that they are watching. The kids feel like they are getting one-on-one instruction.

Virtually all of them hear their name called out at least once and usually much more during the course of the hourlong clinics.

Advice is doled out in a very positive-reinforcement way. Improvement is pointed out.

The logistics of the camps are impressively put together. Each coach has a job. One is on a headset, controlling the computer screen, others have ability to coach whenever they see an opportunity contribute suggestions.

The leader of each individual clinic is in his driveway at home or another basketball court and showing drills that are designed to help kids learn how to get better at the game.

Work is stressed. Getting the drills down, then repeating them to make them become second nature, is vital. The campers recognize the need to apply themselves, which can’t help but carryover into other areas of life.

“That’s the biggest thing we get from feedback,” Hunt said. “The biggest question the kids get from their parents is: how was it? Did you have fun and what did you learn today? We know those will be asked by the parents. We hope they say: Yes, I had fun, I learned how to do a step-back. And then, for us, that’s important, they can take that away and work on that.

“We try to mention the campers name. So they know we’re watching them specifically. So that’s an important little thing.”

There was another hurdle to overcome with the virtual camps. Since they aren’t done with a whole group inside of a large gym in Plano, Rowlett, Dallas or Arlington, they aren’t scheduled for the heat of the day. They usually are done at 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

“That was a very important part of the planning,” Hunt said. “Avoid anything really after 10:30.”

The virtual camps are every bit as much of a team operation as a real camp with 10 times as many kids involved. They did three test camps with Mavericks’ ball kids to make sure they could get it right, both with the technology and the interactions with the campers.

Those led to the first official camp on June 15.

During those pilot camps, the coaches learned that water breaks were dead time, so they have figured out ways to use the water breaks for several minutes worth of teaching about various things, with each coach getting their chance to inject knowledge to the campers.

Camps still are divided into age groups to keep the level of coaching appropriate for each division of players. The first week of camps were free, and some still will be, with most others being offered for $50. Go to mavs.com/community/basketballacademy to register.

Another thing the Mavericks are learning from this abnormal summer is that some tools they are utilizing may be helpful when things become more normal in the future.

“It will be this way for this summer,” Hunt said. “We don’t know where it will go after this. But there certainly are programs that we added virtually that we can implement and be part of programming moving forward, regardless of what the new normal looks like.

“And while we love the in-person coaching clinics, we could have virtual coaching clinics, as well.”

The bottom line is that the universal language of basketball can bridge a lot of gaps, even ones created by the coronavirus.

“Any way we can be part of the community and have engagement is huge,” Hunt said. “To have our campers go away today and work on the stop and pop or the step-back, they’re moves that aren’t easy, but once you work on those and master them, the satisfaction of that is what it’s all about.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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