For the Love of the Game

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

Thursday was basketball junkie Jared Ratcliff’s 12th birthday, and his mother Tammy drove him all the way down from Stillwater to attend the Thunder Youth Basketball Camp at Casady School in Oklahoma City.

Little did either Ratcliff know that Jared would be receiving a surprise birthday treat, as Thunder 2014 first round pick Josh Huestis strolled into the gym to help teach the fundamentals of the game and interact with the kids. Above all, however, Huestis said that his visit Thursday, and the point of these camps in general is to foster the same type of passion for the game of basketball that he and his Thunder teammates share.

“It’s really important to teach the basics of basketball and everything like that, but to me at this age it’s about falling in love with the game at first,” Huestis said. “Just help them fall in love with the game first, and if they want to keep pursuing it, then they’ll do that.”

As for the Ratcliffs, they couldn’t have been more thrilled with how the day, and the camp in general, has turned out. On Wednesday, the Thunder’s other first round pick, Mitch McGary stopped by, only to be followed up by his compatriot Huestis on Thursday.

Beyond the visits from the two Thunder players, the camp itself has served its purpose for both Tammy and Jared. The latter could be seen working on his cross-over dribble, while mom was proudly watching from the sideline as her son received instruction.

“He is a huge basketball player,” Ratcliff explained. “I wanted him to learn about sportsmanship, teamwork, hard work and that kind of thing. That’s something they seem to stress, so I really like that.”

Growing up in a tiny town in Montana, Huestis went to basketball camps, but never had the opportunity to have an NBA player stop by for a visit. As a result, the former Stanford forward made sure to impart some wisdom on as many campers as possible, along with answer their questions, which ranged from basketball-centric to whimsical. As he towered over the massive huddle of 75 kids, Huestis reflected on how he was in their position just a decade ago.

“It’s incredible,” Huestis said. “It feels like just yesterday I was in the same situation going to camps like this. It’s amazing that I have a chance to give back. I always looked up to the people that came and talked to us at camps. The fact that I have an opportunity to do the same thing and try to make a difference in kids’ lives is indescribable.”

Huestis then thought back to his inspiration on the basketball court as a child, and just how much he loved the game from an early age. Being in a position to show these Oklahoma City youths that even a kid from a town like Great Falls, Mont. can make it into the NBA, so that if they have dreams and aspirations, they should pursue them with their greatest effort.

“All these kids love basketball and a lot of kids’ dreams growing up are to be able to play in the NBA,” Huestis explained. “I want to show them that it is doable. Work hard, do everything you can and at the end of the day, everything will work out the way it is supposed to.”

Click the following link for more information and to sign up for Thunder Youth Basketball Camps: http://www.nba.com/thunder/thunder-youth-basketball-grows

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