College basketball players can have long summers.
From practices to practices to classes, it can make the season seem light years away.
Several members of Nebraska’s men’s and women’s basketball teams took a break from their daily grind on Thursday and reminisced about what it’s like to play for the love of the game.
The Nebraska Hoops Tour held a free camp at Grand Island Senior High on Thursday afternoon for boys and girls in grades three through eight. With over 200 campers from 23 different communities, the camp was a resounding success according to former Nebraska basketball player and Grand Island resident Tom Wald.
“It helps to have relationships. I have an affinity for college basketball. I played for the Huskers in the 90s against Fred (Hoiberg, the men’s basketball coach) when he was at Iowa State,” Wald said. “They came up to us and said ‘hey, can we do something like this.’ He and Amy Williams (head coach of women’s basketball) came to Grand Island a few months ago and thought, what if we put together a camp in GI?
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“From there, it was a lot of community involvement. … We even had someone from Arizona here today. I don’t know if they were visiting family or something and stopped. It’s been a tremendous outpouring of support for the Huskers, men and women. »
Nebraska female point guard Allison Wediner grew up in Humphrey. Starting eight games as a rookie, Weidner said a lot of kids who grew up watching her come out to support her at home games at Lincoln.
Some of those same kids came to Grand Island to see Weidner again on Thursday.
“It means a lot,” Weidner said. “I had a lot of fun with these children. They’re really energetic and it’s fun to see the small town kids who know me and supported me from my high school career through college. To see this continued support in my college career is great fun.
The goal is for the camp to become an annual event. Thomas Viglianco, who helped train NBA players Isaiah Roby and Bryce and Trey McGowens, helped organize drills, stations and competitions.
He said having Nebraska basketball players not only helps campers become more skilled, but helps the Huskers get more exposure in other parts of the state.
“At the end of the day, they’ll be Husker fans,” Viglianco said. “They’re going to come to Lincoln and watch games and stuff. The better interaction they can have with players, especially at a young age, they will become better fans. They will follow more sports. It’s a win-win situation for the community and for the Husker brand.
The camp started with an introduction from each Husker player, then the campers split up into three different gyms, so they could compete against other kids their own age. From 1 on 1 and 3 on 3 to various shooting competitions, the campers were supervised by Husker athletes.
However, Viglianco said that was not the real reason for the camp.
“Really, this kind of camp is about getting the kids here and having fun,” Viglianco said. “Interact with the players, smile and laugh and get to know the kids. It’s a big problem, especially at this age. Sometimes we forget that as adults and college players what it means to have that when you’re in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade because you still want to pursue something and still be motivated.
With so soon after the camp was announced, Wald said he was pleasantly surprised at the number of campers. The marketing included a radio spot earlier in the week and a few fliers circulating on Facebook.
Wald also said he believed this was the first time a camp of this magnitude had visited Grand Island.
“It’s really important for the community, in my opinion, to have a connection with the university here,” Wald said. “Lincoln and Omaha are the population centers. Here in the middle of the state we have a lot of great people who maybe don’t have as much access.
Wald was responsible for finding the location as well as the dates and times that worked with the players. He contacted GISH Head Coach Jeremiah Slough who then contacted GISH Activities Director Cindy Wells to set him up.
Derek Apfel of Apfel Funeral Home was in charge of fundraising. Pinnacle Bank, Roe Buick and a few other sponsors donated their resources.
Finally, the players were rewarded for their efforts by NIL.
“It was a three-pronged effort, and I think we divided it and conquered it,” Wald said.
Nebraska women’s center Alexis Markowski addressed the reality of being a student and an athlete Thursday, but said the camp actually helped bring her team together.
“They bring smiles to our faces, and it’s so much fun,” Markowski said. “Our schedules are so busy. I had class from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and I drove here. We want to give back. That’s why we do what we do.
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year played high school basketball at Lincoln Pius X, and she said it meant a lot to help young people in Nebraska.
Nebraska male guard Cale Jacobsen also grew up in Nebraska, playing high school in Ashland-Greenwood. He called Thursday a “special” experience and said camp was something he would have done as a kid.
“Just working with them for a few hours and seeing all the energy and enthusiasm they have about the game is really cool,” Jacobsen said. “Hopefully we can turn them into a few hoops.”