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Carlos Boozer knows what it takes to be a champion.
While back home in the capital city this week hosting the Carlos Boozer Basketball Camp, the Juneau-Douglas High School graduate has been working to instill in local kids the qualities it takes to be champions on and off the court.
"The biggest stage in the world in my life is the NBA, and I made it. Their biggest stage might be being a doctor, or being on a medical staff, or being a professor, or whatever their biggest stage is for them, I want them to know that they can make it, because I did," said the Utah Jazz power forward. "I put my heart into it, I worked hard, I got better, I learned some things along the way, I got help from a lot of people, and if I can make it they can make it. I just want to give them hope, you know, I don't want anybody telling them they can't make it because if I can make it from here anybody can."
While some professional athletes aren't necessarily the best role models, Boozer exhibits a humility and a passion for helping kids in the right direction.
"The biggest thing for me is that I want to help the kids out," he said. "Because I know I wish I had somebody that was in my position that could come back and help me when I was younger. I know what the kids have to go through here."
Not only has he been generous with his knowledge of the game, he's also been generous with his time and attention. Boozer continuously signed shoes, hats and cards for the kids.
"He's just a great kid. He's been a really good person ever since he was a young kid. It's just gotten better as he's gotten more notoriety," said JDHS basketball coach George Houston, who has been helping out with the camp. "He's really good with young kids, he's really good with the people around here, and he enjoys coming back here because it allows him an opportunity to relax and enjoy people that he's grown up with and seen over the years."
Boozer said it's been nice getting away from the hustle and bustle of the lower 48 and to reconnect with his roots in Juneau.
"It's good to be back in town, you know, it's so peaceful," he said. "My cell phone doesn't work up here, so I've got about 70 messages. That's how you want it though, sometimes you want to be able to get away from everything, like your daily routine."
Although much of his time has been devoted to the camp, he has had a chance to relax and get out around town. He said he took a helicopter tour up to the Juneau Icefield, drove out to Eagle Beach, and admired the cruiseships while eating at Doc Waters. He also had the chance to take a trip down memory lane in the JDHS gymnasium while playing a pick-up game with some former Crimson Bear teammates.
Being back at JDHS this week has also given Boozer a chance to discuss another one of his favorite topics - education.
"I try to do what I can for the Alaskan education system because I want everyone to know that education is very, very important," he said. "At my house, unless you had a 3.0 (grade point average) you couldn't do any extracurricular activities. I had a sister that was getting 3.8s and she set the bar really high so I had to try and compete with her."
Boozer said he plans on making the basketball camp an annual summer event at JDHS and hopes to encourage former Duke University and possibly NBA teammates and players to help out and come see Southeast Alaska.
If any of them do decide to come he said he would "definitely take them fishing, hopefully go to Glacier Bay or something so they can see a little bit of wildlife. Maybe just take them to Admiralty (Island) and see a couple of bears and have a good time."
After his first season in Utah was cut short due to a foot injury, Boozer said he is feeling terrific and is highly motivated and focused on improving this coming season.
"We're at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak," he said. "We've got to work our way up to be where San Antonio, the Lakers were, Minnesota was. Those top tier teams, we have to fight to earn that respect from the rest of the league. That's where we're at right now. That's why I'm spending so much time in the gym trying to get better this summer."
The roller coaster ride that has earned him two high school state championships, a NCAA national title, and a lucrative professional career hasn't changed who he is at his core, he said.
"All you can do is go out there and be yourself," said Boozer. "No matter what happens to me, with all the money, all the fame and all that stuff ... I'm gonna be the same guy everyday, you know. That's the person my parents raised and that's the person I became."