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Youth basketball camp a success on many levels

Anthony Morris seventh-grader JeffersMiddle School Waukegan works his ball-handling during drill 847 Hoops Camp. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA PHOTO

Anthony Morris, a seventh-grader at Jefferson Middle School in Waukegan, works on his ball-handling during a drill at the 847 Hoops Camp. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA PHOTO

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847 Hoops Camp

Hinkston Park in Waukegan

Year 3

The camp had 44 players sign up its first year, 63 last year, and around 95 this year.

Co-directors Aron Khurana and Darren Barndt

Aron Khurana — 2005 Lake Forest grad; played for coach Barndt. Played at NCAA Division 3 Claremont McKenna College. After working in New York, Khurana was transferred to Chicago.

Darren Barndt has been the head sophomore coach at Lake Forest High School, but will taking time off to devote to his family this winter. Barndt has coached at all high school levels as an assistant and head coach.

847 Hoops is a free basketball camp whose mission includes providing players who cannot afford some of the other options in the area access to quality basketball instruction. At the same time, the camp brings together kids possessing a variety of basketball skills and experiences while coming from a diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Over the years, guest speakers have included several area high school coaches, former area high school players, and former professional athletes.

Matt Vogrich, Lake Forest High’s all-time leading scorer and a reserve on the Michigan team that lost to Lousiville in the championship game of the NCAA tournament this spring, spoke on Tuesday.

Chuck Ramsey spoke to campers on Wednesday about how to approach tryouts and the skills coaches value at the high school level and beyond.

Bob Love, ex-NBA star with the Chicago Bulls spoke Thursday.

Former Chicago Farragut prep star Ronnie Fields, who never made it to the NBA and is playing minor league hoops was scheduled for Friday.

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Updated: September 27, 2013 2:40AM

They say the eyes never lie.

So, if you want to know how much people appreciate Aron Khurana and Darren Barndt for running a free, one-week youth basketball camp in Waukegan, just look at the eyes of the people on hand each night for practice at Hinkston Park.

No, not the players’ eyes. The kids are there to play basketball. They don’t know and don’t care about registration fees and/or costs or, in this case, no costs.

It’s the parents’ eyes that tell the story of the 847 Hoops Camp that is now in its third year — thanks to the yeoman efforts of Khurana and Barndt, and a host of gracious sponsors. Appreciation and gratitude is written all over their faces as they sit in the bleachers or on the floor watching their sons have the time of their lives.

This year’s camp, that concluded on Friday, drew 95 youngsters, all of whom are in grade school. Besides the two founders of the program and several other adult hoops coaches, high school basketball players served as volunteer instructors, and big-name guest speakers came in each night to talk to the kids about the sport of basketball and the game of life.

The camp may be free for the kids, but it’s serious hoops. This is not babysitting. It’s learning the game and learning to work together and learning to follow instruction.

And because it’s basketball in a corner of the state that is hoops crazy, it’s also about having fun.

“We want to make sure that, no matter how much we expand or how much the faces change, we stay true to our two-part mission,” Khurana. “The first part is to make a fun summer camp experience and high-quality basketball instruction a right to every kid in the 847 area code no matter their background.

“The second is to bring kids from different towns together around the game of basketball to help build some friendships and common understanding around competition and fun.”

The camp is well-organized, although the huge number of participants year has meant a big of cramping of drill stations. The interesting part is that there are plenty of instructors at each drill station to keep things moving.

“The other place we’ve grown (besides enrollment) is our staff, “ said Khurana. “That’s been really beneficial. We have over 15 people working, including Coach (Darren) Barndt and Coach (Chris) Faggi (Barndt’s assistant at the sophomore level). We also have two of my former high school teammates, two of my college teammates, and two of my friends from high school that were also pretty good basketball players as well.

“We’ve also had a lot of high school volunteers. So even as our numbers have grown, we still have a really good kids-to-coach ratio. That makes it easier to manage for sure.”

“All of these kids can pick up a ball and shoot,” he added. “We’re trying to give them instruction on things like shooting under duress, using ball fakes, coming off of screens, to help them compete at a high level through middle school and high school, and for some of them, on into college.”

The 847 Camp exists, too, because of sponsoring individuals, companies and organizations.

“We’ve had financial contributions from a lot of places,” said Khurana. “The Nelms family has been our biggest supporter all three years. They really provided the foundation for getting this thing started. I played with Dan Nelms at Lake Forest before he went on to play with Stephen Curry at Davidson.

“Chris Quon was one of my best friends growing up. He sadly passed away, but his parents, through the Chris Quon Foundation have been our second-biggest donor. My college as well as former teammates from high school and college have chipped in. We’ve had businesses, including the one I work for, Credit Suisse, and a lot of families from Lake Forest, Waukegan, and elsewhere in Lake County contribute as well.

The donor base has really spread out, and that has helped us to establish a war chest of funds to deploy as we continue to grow.

“Brogan’s here on Grand (Avenue) in Waukegan has supplied our camp every year with free trophies. On Friday, every participant gets a trophy, but we’ll also have awards for hustling, rebounding, and our 3-on-3 championship.”

In short, just like the game of basketball and the game of life, the 847 Hoops Camp truly is a team effort.

“It’s just a very rewarding thing to do, but one of the best parts is seeing people step up to the plate,” said Barndt. “We’ve had parents whose kids came in past years want to help out. I’ve had former players come in and want to coach, which is a real complement.

“We had probably 18-20 different high school kids here this week helping out, and we’ve had complements from parents about how positive and upbeat they’ve been. I think that reflects on the Lake Forest High School program in general, especially with how negative the sport can sometimes be.”

As for the future, rest assured that there will be a fourth annual 847 Hoops Camp next summer.

“We did a camp down in Humboldt Park (in Chicago) last year. I’m not sure whether we’ll do that again this year, but we are talking about expanding again next year,” said Barndt. “That’s something we still have to talk about as a group as far as our mission and whether we want to do something more substantial.

“Our primary focus of course is Lake County kids. Whatever background they’re from, we want to provide something that’s fun, where they can learn, and get some tidbits on making good decisions.”

Attending this camp, of course, was one of those good decisions. You tell by looking in their eyes.

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