Hoops for youngsters are making a difference
Last weekend’s Bering Sea Storm basketball tournament in Nome brought eleven teams of third- through sixth- graders together in the Nanook gym for basketball so intense that the energizer bunny would have been out of breath.
The kids can hustle from buzzer to buzzer! Three teams from Nome and eight from Kotzebue battled through thirteen games.
“Kotzebue has been doing this for a year or two and we happened to hear about it,” said Lahka Peacock, the main organizer of the basketball league and the tournament. “We found out about it and said ‘Hey let’s do the same thing!’ So the first time we played Kotzebue at the tournament over in Palmer they killed us by probably 20 points.”
Not so this season. In the weekend tourney, the Nome teams were doing well against their Arctic rivals. “So you can tell it’s already starting to work. We did it last year for about three months and then started again this fall.”
The young players are interesting to watch because they are showing an understanding of basketball that is normally developed at a later age. Ball handing skills can be surprisingly good but it’s in the feel for the flow of the game that improvement is apparent. They know where to pass, where to run, where to stand.
“It’s fun to see them start learning some basketball concepts,” said Jake Stoops, one of the Kotzebue coaches. “They’re actually running some offense, having some defensive concepts, how to defend a ball screen, learning how to play offside defense. It’s neat to see them grow but at the same time they’re still eight, nine, and ten-year-olds and they make eight, nine and ten-year-old mistakes. It’s an interesting age to coach and a lot of fun. And it’s gratifying to see the improvement they make.”
Stoops believes one of the pros of the competitive basketball league for players in these age groups is that they are talking about and practicing concepts way beyond their years. “And they catch on,” he said. “You think that because they make mistakes they’re not getting it but they’re learning and when you see that come to fruition on the court it’s pretty cool.”
Nome coach David Stickel said “Credit Lahka. He’s been getting this program going the last couple of years, working with most of the kids for a couple of years now. As they go into third, fourth, fifth grade they’ve already been playing for a couple of years.”
“Now we have a nice symbiotic relationship going with Nome where we have two really similar programs,” said coach Stoops. Last year the Kotzebue team went to a tournament in Portland after school got out. There are tournaments everywhere. “It’s cool to see them grow as people and not just on the basketball court,” he added.