In ‘81, the summer camp that took its name from the Washington, D.C. based high school All-Star game provided me my best shot at a college scholarship.
I came in as the unknown transfer from Seattle and the West Coast. The camp boasted three of the nation’s top 20 players, all pre-season All-Americans: Tommy Amaker, who later played for Duke and is now the University of Michigan Head Coach; Billy King, who also played at Duke and is now the general manager for the Philadelphia 76’ers; and Michael Jackson, who played with Patrick Ewing at Georgetown on their NCAA Championship team in 1984.
I promised myself by week’s end that I would shock the camp and prove I was the Capitol Classic’s best player. One of the first tests was the one-on-one competition. I bested Michael Jackson, the camp’s biggest mouth, 11-3 in a drubbing. In the final, I faced the 6’7” player who played for the camp director, with the whole camp watching. At game point, with the home court advantage of the entire camp routing and cheering him to force me to my supposed weak right hand, at 6”4”, I blew past him to the “right” to the championship.
Next came the Wes Unseld rebounding drill. The National Basketball Association Hall of Famer and 1978 World-Champion with the Washington Bullets asked for three volunteers. I bounded first onto the court, the smallest of the three. The other two players stood 6’6” and 6’7”. Wes threw the ball at the backboard from all angles with all manner of bounces. Ten times he threw the ball and ten times I came away with the loose ball rebound. Wes stated to the whole camp, “Rebounding is desire and heart and this kid just wants it more than both of you combined. He will get every rebound no matter how many times I throw it up there.”
Next came the team championship which my team won handily by double digits in a balanced team effort. Playing team ball, I hit the open man when double teamed and scored when single covered. When the camp’s All-Star game occurred on the last day, my team won and I led them in scoring. Then in a cruel joke the camp’s Most Valuable Player was awarded to Tommy Amaker in a popularity contest, as he also played for the director.
My best childhood friend, David Ford, consoled me through my tears. “Sean, everybody you played this week, you not only beat, but you destroyed and dominated. The players know in their hearts who physically beat them and who the best player was,” He told me. That didn’t take away the sting of not winning, but it did make me feel better. Later, my senior year after I had transferred yet again, a college coach caught up with me and offered me a full scholarship on the spot. He said, “Sean, I lost track of you after the Capitol Classic Camp. That Wes Unseld rebounding drill was one of the best examples of basketball hunger and passion I have ever seen. You were possessed to have the ball and I knew then I wanted a player like you.”
Many players and even regular people in life want to be the “stars”- scoring and earning glory and fame. Yet real life champions often voluntarily force themselves to rebound from life’s obstacles or obstacles. In 1981’s competition; I was not even close to being the most physically talented player in the camp, but I was the most driven. Needing a full scholarship to even attend college and being willing to do the work to earn it, I stepped forward from obscurity of the national 1981 basketball wilderness landscape, and became a Capitol Classic.
Sean C. Bowers is a Virginia based progressive youth empowermentalist, author and poet, who has written for the New Journal and Guide the last nine years. He can be contacted about seminars and presentations at V1ZUAL1ZE@aol.com