LOUISVILLE-- Since high school, basketball has taken D'Angelo Russell to various states throughout his hoops journey: Florida, Ohio, California, New York, and currently, Minnesota -- however, the one place he can truly call his hometown is Louisville, Ky.
Last week, Russell hosted "CAMP DLO" at MidAmerica Sports Center in Louisville. For five days, 330 kids of all ages got to play basketball, spend time with Russell and meet special guests.
The building was basketball heaven; buzzers sounding, basketballs dribbling, NBA players walking around, and playing with kids.
"Everybody that's working the camp; I grew up with.” Russell said on Thursday. “I played high school basketball, I played middle school, I've played AAU, they coached me. The family environment that's in here right now, you can't buy that, so that makes me smile more than anything."
In addition to all of the long-time friends that helped make the camp happen, Russell's mom, dad, and little sister were all there, and his brother Antonio set the entire camp up.
Special guests included former teammates such as Caris LeVert, Kelan Martin, and current Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch also came out.
"It's natural for them to come to my camp, just like if they had a camp under a rock, I'd make sure I'm there,” Russell said of all the people who made the trip.
“It's just that type of loyalty, and the friendship goes way back."
The camp went over eight hours every day, and Russell would go from court-to-court cheering kids on, coaching them up, and interacting with them in ways unimaginable considering he's an NBA All-Star.
Pictures, autographs, questions -- anything the kids wanted -- Russell was at their disposal.
"It means the world for these kids because you get to see an All-Star close-up and personal and straight from the pool which you come from," Russell's close friend Jake Mills said. "To be able to walk up to a professional player and ask them any question you could imagine can be a life-changing opportunity because where else are you going to have access to that at?"
On Friday (the camp's last day), they put on a pro-game for all the kids to watch NBA players and overseas players play a live four-quarter game.
Russell, LeVert, Towns, and Martin were all on the same team, and on the first play of the game, Russell hoisted a deep three-pointer that fell through the bottom of the net, and the kids erupted in cheers.
Campers and their families were packed into the stands watching some of the best basketball players in the world. Considering Louisville does not have an NBA team, that may be the first time some have ever seen NBA players play in person. Even if they have been to an NBA game, the players being so close gave everyone a seat that would cost several hundred dollars at an NBA game.
"I'm so proud of my brother doing something so magical for his community, and a lot of people talk about giving back, but he's the one actually walking the walk and not just talking the talk," Towns said of his experience at the camp.
Russell is entering his second full season as a member of the Timberwolves. Last season, he missed 30 games due to arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee. During the time away from the team -- nearly two months without playing -- he educated himself on his injury and watched his team grow in his absence.
"I realized how I could fit back in, that without stopping it or stunting that growth, and I wanted to approach it the right way," Russell said. "Getting healthy was the first key, and realizing our talent, we switched coaches, we did all this stuff in that process that made that transition easier for me. It's been cool."
Towns had also missed a large chunk of time during the season, but when Russell came back, and the two were out on the floor together, the team found momentum and at one point won six-of-eight games in April.
Russell finished his sixth NBA season averaging 19.0 points, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game while also shooting a career-best 38.7% from the three-point line.
"Coming back from injury knowing that I was healthy, I felt the best I've ever felt," Russell said.
"Knowing that I felt that way and believing that I felt that way, it gave me confidence."