Mullens, Ibaka Surprise Kids at Thunder Camp

You never know who might show up at a Thunder Youth Basketball Camp.

The first of six such camps, presented by COX, ended Friday afternoon with a surprise visit from Thunder big men Byron Mullens and Serge Ibaka, capping a fun week for boys and girls ages 6-16 that included visits from Thunder Assistant Coach Rex Kalamian and Rumble the Bison as well as week-long instruction from Tulsa 66ers Head Coach Nate Tibbetts.

"The kids all worked worked really, really hard and had a lot of fun," said Thunder Camp Director Tyler Blackwell. "We worked on the fundamentals of the game -- passing, shooting, dribbling, defense, rebounds. We tried to emphasize what is important to Thunder Basketball."

A camp already running high on energy went up a big notch when the 7-foot Mullens arrived at the Santa Fe Family Life Center and walked on to the court. Mullens fielded a number of questions, including:
  • Do you know James Harden? (Yes, he answered, trying not to laugh)
  • What's your number? (23)
  • What's your shoe size? (15)
  • How tall were you in the eighth grade? (6-7)
  • What's your favorite memory of this year? ("Coming out for our first playoff game here," he started to answer before he was interrupted with numerous "I was there!" responses.)
"This is great. It's a great experience for them and for me to give back to the community," Mullens said as the kids were rotating stations. "They're going to remember this for the rest of their lives. With kids this young, you can't take it too serious. You just have to have fun with them and teach them what you can. Hopefully that way, they keep coming back over the years."

Mullens was giving out advice, instruction and an occasional lift to the rim for campers on one end of the court a short time before the 6-10 Ibaka arrived. Like Mullens, he quickly went to work meeting the campers, who knew what they wanted from the big man from the Republic of Congo: his signature on their Thunder Camp T-shirt. The kids also got high-fives as well as some friendly head rubs and pats on the back.

"They were great," Blackwell said, referring to Mullens and Ibaka. "Let's be honest, these are the guys the kids look up to. They know who they are; they see them on TV and at the games and they play for their favorite team, the Thunder. It's very exciting for everybody to have them right here."
And fun. The camp closed with scrimmage games on both courts. While Ibaka took on the role of coach on the far court, Mullens instead chose the role of "instigator" on the opposite court, where the rim was lowered to 8 feet for the camp's younger players. Deep in the game, a player released a shot at the far end of the court. Mullens, surveying the court and knowing no player was in harm's way, rejected the shot in midair and sent the ball nearly halfway down the court.

Laughter erupted, with several "oooohs" and "ahhhhs" from nearly everybody in the facility. Everybody but the referee, Will Dawkins, a member of the Thunder's Basketball Operations staff and also a week-long instructor at the camp. Mullens was hit with a "T," sending the camper who released the shot to the foul line for two shots (he swished the first, but the second rimmed out) where he was met by a high-five from Mullens.

"I wish I would have started when I was this young," Mullens said, noting he did not start playing basketball until eighth grade. "This is great for the Thunder to be involved. If any of these kids get to the same situation I'm in, hopefully they'll be in position to give back to the community, too, and make a difference."

For more on the Thunder Youth Basketball Camps, click here. The next camp is scheduled for July 5-9 at Casady School in Oklahoma City.