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Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp to be held July 15-19 at Old Rock and Newland Elementary School Gymnasiums in Newland

By Tim Gardner

The Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp, one of the High Country’s most popular annual sports events, will be held Monday, July 15 through Friday, July 19 in the Old Rock and adjacent auxiliary elementary school gymnasiums, located at 185 Shady Street in Newland. The camp will run from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon each day. 

Each of its 41 years of existence, the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp has been held in collaboration with the Avery Parks and Recreation Department, and it annually attracts many young players from Avery and surrounding counties as well as from several states.

Tommy Burleson

The camp is designed to teach players fundamentals, help them develop and further master individual offensive and defensive skills, and instill the confidence that all young players should acquire to increase their basketball potential.  Each five-day session will be filled with the kind of hands-on teaching that will make a difference in the players’ game. Campers will be exposed to a high level of intense basketball instruction and motivation that benefits beginners and experienced players alike.

The camp’s cost for early registration is $50 per athlete, with a cost of $60 to register on-site on the first day of camp. It is open to any male or female in the third through the ninth grade of school. All campers will receive a Tommy Burleson/Avery County Parks and Recreation T-shirt.  To pre-register to attend it, phone the Avery Parks and Recreation Department: (828) 733-8266.

All-Star boys’ and girls’ games will be played in the afternoon on the last day (Friday, July 19) of the camp, with an awards ceremony following each game to honor their top players.  Age categories from youngest to oldest play in their respective orders in the all-star games.

“I believe that my camp will be a fun and learning experience for each participant and they will improve as players from attending it,” Burleson said. “It doesn’t matter what their basketball ability is as every camper 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 become better players and having much fun doing so.  It also provides them with life’s lessons, through stories and motivation that they hopefully will remember the rest of their lives.”

Burleson added that parents and other family members of the players attending the camp, as well as other guests, are welcome to attend and watch the camp, including the all-star games and awards presentations. 

The camp was founded in 1983 by Burleson, the legendary basketball star who possesses a sports resume as gigantic as his 7-foot, 2-inch physical frame.

An All-America center at Newland High School and after consolidation, Avery County High, Burleson also was the North Carolina High School Player of The Year his senior season (1969-70).  He is the only high school player in North Carolina history to be named to its All-State basketball team for three seasons (1967-1968, 1968-1969, and 1969-1970).  

Burleson led his high school teams to conference regular season and tournament championships and a third-place finish in the old state tournament his sophomore year (first at Avery County High in 1968-1969).

David Thompson

One of the most highly recruited players in America, Burleson usually had some of college basketball’s most noted coaches attending his high school games in hopes of getting him to play for their school.  He chose to attend North Carolina State University and play there, where he was a two-time All-American at center. He and his fellow-star players, forward David Thompson and point guard Monte Towe, helped lead N.C. State to an undefeated (27-0) season in 1972-73 and a 30-1 record and the national championship the following season (1973-74).  That remains the best two-year record (57-1) in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 69-year history.

Additionally, N.C. State also won the 1972-1973 and 1973-1974 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season titles with unbeaten (12-0) records and league tournament titles.

Burleson was twice chosen to the All-ACC Team, including First Team status his junior season.  He also was twice named recipient of the Everett Case Award, named for a former N.C. State head coach and symbolic of the ACC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Additionally, Burleson was chosen to the 1974 NCAA Tournament All-Final Four Team.

His most prestigious sports milestone was playing on the 1972 United States Olympic Team.  He also played on the 1973 World University Games team that claimed the Championship Gold Medal.

Burleson played center professionally with four National Basketball Association (NBA) teams–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. 

Dereck Whittenburg

Basketball courts at old Newland High (in the Old Rock Gymnasium where one part of Burleson’s camp is held) and Avery County High Schools have been named in his honor and his Number 52 jersey has been retired at Avery High.

The camp’s clinicians and guest speakers annually include several more of the most well-known and successful players and coaches in college basketball history, who have joined Burleson to complete the camp’s instructional corps nucleus, giving participants training from some of those who best know what it takes to help them improve their game and win in highly-competitive atmospheres. 

This year’s camp staff will include:

*David Thompson, widely acclaimed as the greatest player in ACC history and one of the best in collegiate history.  He is one of only two players from the ACC to be a three-time consensus All-American and a three-time National Player of the Year (Virginia’s Ralph Sampson is the other). Thompson was also the Most Valuable Player in the 1974 National Championship Final Four. He was the 1973 World University Games Most Valuable Player.

Hugh Durham

Bill Walton, the late UCLA All-American center and also a National Player of The Year described Thompson as “Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James rolled into one” when rating Thompson’s extraordinaire playing ability.  That’s quite a compliment as Jordan, Bryant, McGrady, and James are also considered among the best-ever players.

The alley-oop pass, now a staple of college basketball’s high-flying, above-the-rim game, was “invented” by Thompson and Towe.  It was first used as an integral part of the Wolfpack’s offense by legendary N.C. State head coach Norman Sloan to take advantage of Thompson’s phenomenal leaping ability (his vertical jump was 48 inches or 4 feet) and Towe’s knack for making precision passes. 

In 1982, Thompson was enshrined in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Thompson was the Number One pick of both the American Basketball Association (Virginia Squires) and the National Basketball Association (Atlanta Hawks) in the 1975 drafts. He eventually signed with the ABA’s Denver Nuggets. Besides playing for the Nuggets, Thompson also (like Burleson) played professionally for the Seattle Supersonics.

Thompson was All-ABA and the league’s Rookie of The Year for the 1975-1976 season.  He was also the Most Valuable Player in the 1976 ABA All-Star Game.

He became a four-time NBA All-Star and was selected to the All-NBA First Team for the 1976-1977 and 1977-1978 seasons. Thompson was the Most Valuable Player in the 1979 NBA All-Star Game.

He is the only player ever to be named Most Valuable Player of both the ABA and NBA All-Star Games.

Thompson scored an amazing career-high 73 points against the Detroit Pistons on April 9, 1978.  He finished with 2,158 points–an average of 26 per game while playing in the ABA and 11,264 points–an average of 22.1 per game–while playing in the NBA.

Like Burleson, Thompson was the North Carolina High School Basketball Player of The Year his senior season.

*Dereck Whittenburg- A collegiate basketball coach and former college basketball player for North Carolina State University, where he was a starting guard on the 1982–83 team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA National Championship tournaments. Whittenburg was a second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference as a junior.  He was a third-round choice for the Phoenix Suns (51st overall) in the 1983 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft.

Whittenburg has also been an assistant coach at several schools including North Carolina State, for whom he served three separate stints. He also served as an assistant coach at George Mason University, Long Beach State University, University of Colorado, West Virginia University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).

Whittenburg was also head coach at Wagner College and Fordham University. 

*Hugh Durham, generally regarded as one of the greatest all-time collegiate coaches, recorded 634 wins as head coach at the University of Georgia, Florida State, and Jacksonville Universities. After a stellar playing career as a guard at Florida State, Durham served as an assistant there, before becoming head coach in 1966. 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.

Durham also coached Georgia to a Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament (1982-83) and regular season championship (1989-1990). And he led Florida State to the 1977-1978 Metro Conference regular season title.

Durham is the first coach to lead two schools—the University of Georgia and Florida State—to their only appearance in the NCAA Tournament Final Four.  Additionally, is the only coach in NCAA history to be the all-time winningest coach (percentage or wins) at three Division I schools.

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

*Additionally, the Avery Parks and Recreation Staff and various high school players will work in several capacities at the camp.  

-Pictures Courtesy of Internet Sources and Norma Crowder-

Avery County resident Skyelar Crowder is one of dozens who attend the annual Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp