By Tim Gardner
Celebrating its 37th anniversary, the Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp was held July 15-19 at the Old Rock Gymnasium and adjacent auxiliary Newland Elementary School Gym.
The former gymnasium’s playing floor is named “Tommy Burleson Court” in honor of Avery County’s most famous athlete ever.
The Tommy Burleson Basketball Camp was founded in 1983 by Burleson, the legendary basketball star and Avery County native whose resume includes being an All-American at old Newland High and Avery County High and North Carolina State University. He also played on the 1972 United States Olympics team and helped lead the N.C. State Wolfpack to an undefeated (27-0) season in 1972-73 and a 30-1 record and the national championship the following season (1973-’74) before a professional playing career in the National Basketball Association.
The camp, held in collaboration with the Avery County Parks and Recreation Department that is headed by Robbie Willis and assistant Teddy Bare, is designed to teach players fundamentals, help them develop and hone individual skills offensively and defensively and instill the confidence that all young players should acquire in order to increase their basketball potential. The camp is considered an educational opportunity in athletics.
Approximately 60 male and female players, ranging in ages from 8 to 15, attended this year’s camp.
The camp usually consists of players from Watauga and Mitchell counties as well as some from out-of-state, with the majority, or course, coming from Avery County.
Each five-day session is always crammed with the kind of hands-on teaching that will make a positive difference in the players’ game. From beginning to end, campers are exposed to a high level of intense basketball instruction and motivation that benefited beginners and experienced players alike.
“I believe very strongly that my camp should be a fun and learning experience for each participant and those objectives were accomplished at this year’s camp,” Burleson said. “Our staff takes a personal interest in each camper to help them improve their game. I saw a tremendous amount of basketball potential from our campers this year with some campers showing displaying already excellent basketball skills. I believe those who participated in the camp will continue honing their skills. This truly was one of our best camps ever.”
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. Area coaches and standout players have also completed the nucleus of the camp’s instructional corps, giving participants first-hand insight and training from those who best know what it takes to improve their game.
This year’s most noted camp clinicians and lecturers included two of Burleson’s teammates at N.C. State and fellow NBA Players–David Thompson, who is widely acclaimed as the greatest player in Atlantic Coast Conference 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) and Monte Towe, an All-ACC selection in 1973-74 and a long-time college basketball coach. Both Thompson and Towe played professionally for the Denver Nuggets and Thompson also played for the Seattle Supersonics as did Burleson. Additionally, Burleson played for the Kansas City Kings and Atlanta Hawks.
The alley-oop pass, now a staple of college basketball’s high-flying, above-the-rim game, was “invented” by Thompson and Towe, and first used as an integral part of the offense by N.C. State head coach Norman Sloan to take advantage of Thompson’s leaping ability and Towe’s knack for making precision passes.
“I’ve been a clinician and counselor at Tommy’s camp for many years and I look forward to it,” said Thompson. “The camp always has some very good players who love the game, have good work ethics and fully devote themselves to becoming the best players they can be. This basketball camp is such a worthwhile and good happening for Avery County and the region.”