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Josh Smith hopes to make his J Smooth camp for kids free next summer.
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Hawks' Smith stresses education at his hoops camp

By Stephen Knox, for
Posted Aug 12 2009 12:55PM

Josh Smith was born, raised and is now employed in Atlanta. He's even made a pretty good name for himself as a key member of the hometown Hawks.

As a way to give back to the only place he's ever called home, he did what a lot of other NBA players do with their summers: He held a basketball camp. The first J-Smooth camp, which was held last week, brought in children aged 5 to 17 from Georgia and the Carolinas.

Unlike a lot of camps, though, this was not all basketball. Campers had to go school for a large portion of each day. "One point we really want to stress here is education," Smith said. "We want the kids to realize that not everyone is going to be a professional athlete. They are going to need a good education."

The organization that runs the classroom sessions in Smith's camp is the Rae of Light Foundation. "We ran this same program at the Allen Iverson camp two years ago," Brandi Rae Hicks, the foundation's head, said. "Our purpose is to teach financial literacy, academic preparedness and basic life skills."

On the first day of class, campers were given a handbook about managing finances with an emphasis on preparing for college. One of the activities Hicks supervises is the million-dollar exercise. She asks students what they would do with a million dollars, and writes out their budgets based on the suggested expenses.

"We try to teach them the difference between wants and needs, assets and liabilities, and we take them through a paycheck," Hicks said. "At first the kids spend the money on things they see on TV every day. Then on the last day we do the activity again, and the difference in how they spend the money is like night and day."

Smith's father, Pete Smith, also plays a significant role in the J-Smooth camp. The elder Smith, considered a local legend for his accomplishments in high school basketball, also valued education over hoops at the camp.

"We want to teach the kids accountability, respect, and to value themselves as people," Pete Smith said. "That is why we emphasize education so much. If they work hard in school and stay focused on their goals they can be a success whether they're a basketball player or not."

Even the location reflects the emphasis on education.

"We originally wanted to hold it at Morris Brown College, but that did not work out," the elder Smith said. "So Morehouse was next because it's close to Morris Brown, and it still gives the campers a chance to experience a little life on a college campus."

Teaching the game is still important, too, so the Smiths hired an Allen Iverson basketball camp instructor to be their camp director: Tucker High School coach James Hartry. Under Hartry, Tucker High won the 2007 Georgia basketball championship and state-wide, Hartry is considered one of the best high school coaches.

"My main goal here is safety," Hartry said. "I want to make sure all of the campers return home the way the came in. That is why I make sure all of the coaches not only know the game of basketball, but how to deal with children as well."

Josh Smith has big plans for the camp next summer. "We are going to change the name to the J-Smooth Basketball Skill Academy," Smith said. "We hope to make the camp completely free, and expand to multiple locations in Atlanta."

Smith also sees a chance to make his mark on something beside the NBA.

"I hope people remember Josh Smith was down to earth," he said. "I hope they realize that I care about my community and changed the lives of others in a positive way."

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