Jim Grantz looked across the Palmer gym at the 60 running, basketball-dribbling, middle school kids, gazing into his past as he came to grips with the inevitable present.
“That used to be me,” said Grantz, 44, the ninth-year Palmer boys’ basketball coach who graduated from Doherty in 1986. “My first memory of basketball camp was in second or third grade. I was the littlest kid, but it was so much fun to come to these camps. Now I’m seeing kids of former players, and it does make you feel old.”
Grantz and a cast of area coaches and former players serving as assistants held court this week at Palmer for a three-day, free basketball camp offering fundamentals for students in District 11 schools.
With roots back to the month-long Pikes Peak Area Camps started way back in 1973 by Colorado high school hall of fame coach Dan McKiernan, this week’s holiday get-together stressed the basics of basketball, just like they have all along.
And even though club teams allow for year-round play, many athletes still need a little refresher.
“You don’t know how many times I’ll ask a ninth-grader to do a V-cut, make a jump stop or square up to the basket, and they don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Pat McKiernan, Dan’s son and second-year girls’ coach at Doherty. “It’s great to keep the young kids involved and teach them the basics.”
Dan McKiernan, in his second season of retirement after his 48-year coaching career ended at Doherty in 2011, can’t just sit idly and watch basketball from his home.
So he decided to round up a few of his friends, spend some of his money and got lucky enough to get use of a newly repolished floor at Palmer; Doherty’s was unavailable since it was the Spartans' floor's turn for maintenance.
“Colorado Springs has been good to me,” said Dan McKiernan, who coached the Palmer boys’ teams to 5A state titles in 1993 and 2000 and took Doherty to the 5A semifinals in 2010. “I’ve had success, and I felt it was my time for a payback. I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the community. Plus, we all want basketball here to be better.”
Longtime coaches Bill Wright and Rick Starzecki joined newer mentors, such as Doherty boys’ junior varsity coach Matt Steele, as generations intersected but the drills remained the same.
“It’s funny, because so many things have changed around here, but so much has stayed the same,” said Steele, a 1989 Doherty graduate who worked as a camp counselor with Grantz so many years ago. “The drills we worked on 25 years ago are still the same fundamental skills we’re working on now. It’s a lot of fun to see it from a new perspective.”
Yesterday’s campers, counselors and assistants are today’s coaches. Former Doherty standouts Tyler Velasquez and Reggie Sampson, along with Palmer star Brandon Deese, served as this year’s counselors. The next generation of running, basketball-dribbling, middle school kids might have one of them as their coach.
For Grantz, his reward for three days of mentoring today’s youth didn’t come in the form of a paycheck, but in a compliment.
“I had a kid who said the best thing,” Grantz said. “I was working on his shooting, and he said he was so glad I taught him to do this. To me, that’s worth it. That’s what all of us coaches were hoping for. Hopefully, they’ll take this and keep working.”