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2023 Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp Has a Record 105 Participants

By Tim Gardner

The 2023 Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp held July 17-21 at the Old Rock and adjacent auxiliary Newland Elementary School gymnasiums was the largest in number of campers during its 40-year history. 105 male and female players from the third through the ninth grade of school, attended.

From the beginning of, and to the end of camp each day, throughout its five days, campers were exposed to intense basketball instruction and motivation that benefited both beginners and experienced players. The camp is designed to teach players fundamentals, help them develop and hone individual skills offensively and defensively such as ball handling, shooting, passing, rebounding, playing defense, and boxing out, while also instilling the confidence in them that they should acquire in order to help increase their basketball potential.  And the camp has always stressed a Christian-based atmosphere.

Burleson, the camp’s namesake and director said it was one of the most outstanding camps in its 40 years in terms of a high talent level of many campers as well as promising basketball potential from all others who attended.

“I was impressed with every camper this year,” Burleson said. “Some campers showed excellent basketball skills and all others displayed much potential in becoming good players as they have the necessary physical and technical tools to also eventually be really good players.  Every camper also showed a deep love for the game and a strong desire to improve as players. I believe that my camp should be a fun and learning experience for each participant and both objectives were achieved at this year’s camp.  It was certainly one of our best camps ever.  And I’m most proud that it was our biggest ever in terms of the number of participants.”

Avery County native Tommy Burleson, a former high school and collegiate All-American and National Basketball Association (NBA) standout, addresses players attending his 2023 basketball camp in Newland. He has sponsored the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp for 40 years.

The camp was founded in 1983 by Burleson, the legendary 7-foot, 2-inch basketball star, and Avery County native and current resident.  Burleson’s highlights include playing on the 1972 United States Olympic Team, the 1973 World University Games team that claimed the Championship Gold Medal, being a three-time All-American at old Newland and Avery County High School, and a two-time collegiate All-American at North Carolina State University, which he helped lead to an undefeated (27-0) season in 1972-73 and a 30-1 record and the national championship the following season (1973-’74). After earning a degree in agriculture at N.C. State, Burleson had a professional playing career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Seattle Supersonics, Kansas City Kings, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. He was the third player chosen in the 1974 NBA Draft and was named to the 1974-75 NBA All-Rookie Team.

The playing floor in the Old Rock Gymnasium where part of the camp is held, is formally named “Tommy Burleson Court,” as is the gymnasium at Avery High, in honor of Avery County’s most famous athlete ever.  

The only year since 1983 that the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp has not been held was in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Every year it has been held has been in collaboration with the Avery Parks and Recreation Department.  It has always had many players from Avery and surrounding counties as well as from several states attend.

This year’s camp, of course, consisted of a majority of players from Avery County, others from Watauga and Mitchell counties, as well as from more parts of North Carolina.  Some out-of-state campers, including those from Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, also attended.

Each camper was given a trophy and a camp-t-shirt.

The last day of the camp (July 21), all-star games were held among various campers and camp staff.  Many awards for the various games and the camp over-all were presented for both boys and girls including:  Most Valuable Player, Best Offensive Player, Best Defensive Player, Most Improved Player, Best Blocking Out Player, and Best Sportsmanship.  

In addition to Burleson, the camp’s instructors annually include Avery Parks and Recreation staff members and features some of the most well-known and successful players and coaches in college basketball history. Area coaches and standout players have also completed the nucleus of the camp’s instructional staff, giving participants insight and training from those who know what it takes to improve their games.

This year’s featured camp clinicians and lecturers included two more basketball legends besides Burleson–his teammate at N.C. State, David Thompson, and Hugh Durham, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history and a former collegiate standout player.

Thompson, a small forward, is widely acclaimed as the greatest player in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) history and one of only two players from the conference to ever be a three-time National Player of the Year and a three-time consensus All-American (Virginia’s Ralph Sampson is the other). Thompson joined Burleson in helping N.C. State win back-to-back ACC regular season and tournament championships and the national title. Thompson also was the Most Valuable Player in the 1974 National Championship Final Four and was the Number 1 pick of both the American Basketball Association (Virginia Squires) and the National Basketball Association (Atlanta Hawks) in the 1975 drafts of both leagues. He eventually signed and played with the ABA’s Denver Nuggets, which later joined the NBA.  Like Burleson, Thompson also played for the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics.

Burleson (1970) and Thompson (1971) were each named North Carolina High School Player of The Year their senior years of high school. Thompson played for Shelby Crest High.

Durham recorded 634 victories as head coach at the University of Georgia and Florida State and Jacksonville Universities. After a stellar playing career at Florida State, Durham served as an assistant there, before becoming head coach in 1966.  He was the first coach to ever lead two schools—Georgia and Florida State—to their only appearance in the NCAA Tournament Final Four.  He also is the only coach in NCAA history to be the all-time winningest coach (percentage or wins) at three different Division I schools. Durham directed Florida State to the 1972 National Championship game and then Georgia to the 1983 Eastern Regional Championship with one of the biggest upset victories ever (82-77) over superstar Michael Jordan and defending National Champion North Carolina.

Thompson and Durham are members of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Also assisting with the camp for the second consecutive year were Gunner Garrett and Bo Morris, top players for Gate City, Virginia High School. 

The Avery Parks and Recreation Staff of Director Robbie Willis and his assistants Teddy Bare, River Willis, Brandon Campbell, Carson Williams, Austin Lyons, Brooke Brewer and Braydon Johnson also worked in various capacities at the camp.  

Additionally, Avery High head girls coach Allison Phillips also was a guest speaker to the girls attending the camp.

Burleson said of Thompson, Durham, Garrett, Morris, Bare, Campbell, Williams, Lyons, Brewer, Johnson, Phillips, and Robbie and River Willis: “All were very helpful and vital cogs to the camp’s success.  I deeply appreciate them and their efforts.”

In 2024, the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp will celebrate its year Number 41 and run July 15-19. It will again be held at the Old Rock and Newland Elementary School gymnasiums.

“I can’t wait for our 2024 camp,” Burleson added.  “I hope it breaks the record again for most participants ever. It doesn’t matter what their basketball ability is, because every kid gets a chance to play in games during the week and receive much individual attention and instruction. My camp is all about helping young players improve their skills and become better players.  It also provides them with life’s lessons, through stories and motivation. And I look forward to witnessing all that again at next year’s camp.” 

For further information about the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp, phone the Avery Parks and Recreation Department: (828) 733-8266.