Carlos Boozer watched from the sidelines and cheered on his campers as teams matched up against one another Monday afternoon at the Carlos Boozer Alaska Basketball Camp.
After all, he remembers when people did the same for him as he led the Crimson Bears basketball team to back-to-back state titles in the late-90s.
"There were plenty of nights where people were going crazy at our games and supporting us trying to win back-to-back state championships," he said. "To be able to teach these kids, the future generation of our city, how to play and enjoy the game while still being competitive is great."
Boozer, along with former Chicago Bulls point guard and Duke teammate Jay Williams, opened up Monday's camp with an exhibition of shooting drills, and also had the chance to pass down a few pearls of wisdom to the eager ears of those in attendance for Day 1 of the week-long event.
"It's going great," Boozer said. "There's a lot of happy campers out here having a good time."
Williams, a former John R. Wooden Award winner and Naismith College Player of the Year, said coming from Plainfield, N.J. - about 20 miles from New York City - it's interesting to see the impact this camp has on a smaller community such as Juneau.
"Being in television and being involved in different aspects of business allows me to travel around and meet a lot of people who are influential in communities," Williams said. "The one thing I can always say about Carlos that I find very impressive is that everything is so genuine and sincere.
"A lot of people have charities or do things for their neighborhood to show their face, but this isn't about that," he continued. "He genuinely cares for his community."
For a guy used to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, Williams said he loves being able to escape to a place like Juneau.
"When I got off the plane I felt like I was in God's country. That's what it is compared to New York City," he said. "I'm used to seeing packed highways, I'm used to bumping into somebody and not saying, 'Excuse me,' and I'm used to seeing an old lady standing on a subway while some young kid is sitting down with his headphones on.
"I feel like this is how life should be," Williams continued. "People need to get back to their basics and their foundations of respect and being thankful."
After nearly losing his life in a motorcycle accident that derailed his NBA career during the summer of 2003, Williams story is one of perseverance and resolve, and the youth listened intently to what he had to say.
Kids showed up in droves for the chance to learn from two of the best, and Boozer said the numbers have grown from last year. But for the youth of the city, there are few things better than being able to hang out with a hometown hero.
"It's a lot of fun with everyone playing good ball," said camper Danny Moore. "(Boozer) wants us to come out here and have fun, and he told us we can do anything if we put our mind to it."
Moore and fellow camper Caden Harp have enjoyed getting out and playing basketball, but they both understand the message that Boozer and Williams have emphasized. They've also enjoyed learning from the NBA All-Star from Juneau, even though Moore is a Lakers fan and Harp prefers the Celtics.
"It's not just making us better basketball players, but it makes us better people," Harp said. "Plus, it's better hearing it from (Boozer) than some guy you don't know."
Team allegiances aside, the city of Juneau's reception of Boozer is warm as always, and he knows that whenever he returns to the place where he grew up he will always see familiar faces.
"That's the kind of atmosphere you have in Juneau. You feel like you know everybody closely enough to tell them your personal business," he said. "In the basketball world we live in now, it's not as personable. I get to come home and relax, chill and be at peace. It's a chance to get recharged before we go back, whether it be to the Chicago Bulls or back to television for (Williams)."
On a sunny day in Southeast Alaska, it's difficult not to enjoy time spent in "God's country".
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.