Kids Enjoy Camp At Wolves Caravan Stop In Brainerd

Brainerd YMCA Program Director Chuck Anderson runs summer programs for area youth, and from time to time the organization looks for field trips to change up the kids’ daily routine. So when the U.S. Bank/Timberwolves Summer Caravan rolled through town on Monday, taking the trip to Washington Middle School was a no-brainer.

Anderson, his fellow staff members and about 40 kindergarten through fifth grade students were part of the estimated 300 on hand for Day 1 of the Caravan tour. Timberwolves guard Wayne Ellington and player development coach Shawn Respert led a morning basketball camp filled with dribbling drills, passing relays and a high-flying dunk performance by mascot Crunch.

It was an experience Anderson said the kids won’t soon forget.

“This is one of those highlight days that the kids really look forward to, and it’s fun to see people who are professional athletes giving their time into a community like this, a small community,” Anderson said. “Brainerd is not a big community, and to have that be one of the stops on the Caravan is really cool to see that they’ve outreaching from the metro and spreading their wings to other parts of the state.”

Kids came with daycares, summer programs or with their families to take part in the day, which started with handing out free posters and taking turns shooting into an inflatable free-throw machine. When the kids returned to their seats, Respert and Ellington took center stage and, after Crunch led a special warm-up routine, the two began leading drills that kept the kids engaged and entertained.

“Anytime you have a lot of people, you see them on the court, see them on TV but it gives these kids the opportunities to be right there, shaking hands with them and rubbing elbows with them,” Anderson said. “It makes these kids excited about it and maybe pursue their dreams and continue playing basketball, or doing anything for that matter. They can see an attainable goal and shoot for that.”

U.S. Bank Branch Manager Matt Cousino said the beauty of the Caravan is enabling those special moments—those rare opportunities to not only learn basketball skills from professional athletes but to meet them, face to face, and get to know their personalities beyond seeing them on television.

That’s what Respert enjoys most. As a former NBA player and current coach, Respert said being able to connect with communities across the region is an important activity for professional sports teams. Without the Caravan, the players wouldn’t be able to reach the different areas of the state and get as much time putting smiles on their fans’ faces.

“I always say, back when I was young I wish I had some NBA players that would come in here and do something like this,” Ellington said. “It’s something I’m sure they’ll remember. It’s for a good cause. We’re just here to have some fun with them and teach them a little bit about basketball.”

But it wasn’t all hard work. The kids took a break to watch Crunch’s slam dunk show, which included jumping over a group of the kids who volunteered, along with a question and answer session with Respert and Ellington. The session concluded with an autograph session.

Kids left with Wolves posters, autographed photos and memories of a special day hanging out with the Timberwolves.

“Just getting out here and having fun with the little kids, it’s just part of the community piece,” Cousino said. “It’s pretty fortunate for the bank to have the experience like this and have the partnership and bringing [the Wolves] out in a Northern Minnesota community.”

The Caravan began its three-day tour across Minnesota on Monday in Brainerd, where it hosted a basketball camp in the morning and played golf at The Preserve Golf Course. It heads to Alexandria on Tuesday and Fairmont on Wednesday before returning to Minneapolis on Wednesday night.

Each morning will include a basketball camp just like the one held in Brainerd—Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver joined the Caravan on Monday afternoon and will be on hand with Ellington and Respert in the final two stops. The three look to continue sharing their love for the sport with their fans along the way.

“The most important thing is they’re having a good time,” Ellington said.

And who knows? There might be a future NBA player or two in the mix.

“I saw a few future high school players, let’s just say that. I can’t put them in the NBA yet,” Respert joked. “They’re not quite tall enough. They need a few more feet and we’ll see what happens.”

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.