Eric Patten,


Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” an upbeat anthem to the summer, was the backing track for more than 50 middle school players at Darren Collison’s old high school.

It was the third day of Collison’s annual youth basketball camp at Etiwanda High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and the music blaring from the speakers inside the gym that the Clippers’ guard once ruled set the scene perfectly.

The kids, running through a fast-break drill that required a jump stop in the center of the lane ala the camp’s speedy namesake, were, for lack of anything else, happy. And so was Collison, who is hosting the camp for the fourth year.

“I know a lot players try to give back,” Collison said Wednesday. “They all have their own camps, but I love working with kids. I love learning the game of basketball as well as teaching it. It’s fun for me. It’s genuine for me, too. It’s something I appreciate.”

Collison’s camp is distinct. It lasts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for days. Collison is there for every minute. He seamlessly shifts from administrator to coach to greeter to motivator to teacher. In less than 15 minutes, Collison went from leading a drill to shaking hands with parents who were dropping their student off to helping a boy up who tumbled to the floor after missing a layup.

Shortly after that he led campers to a classroom where along with two volunteer coaches the group was required to brainstorm about ways to handle adversity. For Collison, the hands on aspect of the camp experience is important, but so too is the ability to educate through sports.

 “I know when I went to camps in the past, the players that I wanted to work with they’d probably show up on the last day or the last part of the day,” he said. “I wanted to do something a little different and be there in these kids’ lives every minute of the camp. We’re only going to be here for four hours (per day) but if we can make an impact on just one kid, and that’s our goal to at least make impact on one kid, then we’ve done our job. The only way you can do that is if you’re there and giving them the time that they need.”

And it’s time that they get. Collison should be a local celebrity amidst the blistery heat in Etiwanda, a town within the Inland Empire about 60 miles outside of downtown Los Angeles. He is arguably the most noteworthy athlete to emerge from the school. His jersey No. 2, along with Jeff Pendegraph (Ayres) and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, hangs inside the broad gym at the north end of the campus. But Collison bounds around and blends in.

The campers are respectful and humble, a reflection of the man leading them. They listen to his words of advice about dealing with what he calls “bad associations,” or removing yourself from a group of friends that can potentially bring you down. And raise their hands when asked how to help a classmate who may be going through difficult times, including being cut from the school’s basketball team or not performing in the classroom.

It’s personal for Collison. He tells the campers, turned students, that he knew in order to get into UCLA almost a decade ago, he had to get “good grades” and in order to do so was not afraid to seek out tutoring.

“Basketball is only half of what we’re trying to preach,” Collison said. “The other half is life principles. The reason being so is that not everybody is going to be in the NBA and we understand that. Even though that’s their goal, everybody’s not going to make it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.”

“I think we have this idea that if you’re not a professional athlete then you’re not successful. There are a lot of professional people. There are professional reporters, teachers, lawyers, doctors. There are so many different avenues that you can be successful at and you just don’t have to be a professional athlete. What are you going to do when you don’t reach your goal? Are you give up or are you going to stand up and try again? And that’s what we’re trying to teach to them.”

The teaching is what makes Collison happiest. The music when camp opened only made it more obvious.