TIFTON — The sound of basketballs against hardwood was ubiquitous at Tift County High School this week. Participants in the Lil’ Devils hoops camp filled the floor, taking over five of the six standard goals and another that was brought in for the littlest of hands.

Lady Devils head coach Julie Conner said she had 35 participants for the three days the camp was to be in session. She had seemingly just as many volunteers to help teach the young athletes skills. They worked on dribbling, passing and shooting. There were keep-away drills for defending (and making) passes. They shot layups right-handed and left-handed.

When they learned skills, the campers put them to use in competitions.

Competitions were spirited. Connor’s camp featured two varieties of competition, one team-oriented and one individual. No matter if they were racing as a team to make 10 free throws before the other groups or if they were shooting “hotspots” (shots from different spots on the floor), they cheered for one another.

Connor said they will also play games of three-on-three.

Groups were led by Connor and Lady Devils players. Older athletes shot at regulation height goals, with younger ones aiming at ones lowered to six-and-a-half feet. The youngest had their own child-size goal and basketballs.

During a water break, Conner rounded up the crew and took them to Tift County High’s commons area, where they listened to a speech from TCHS athletic director Rusty Smith.

Smith promoted unity, telling them they were all on the same team.

“We are the ‘T’,” said Smith.

Smith gave pointers on how to be the best student-athlete.

“No. 1 is your grades,” he said. Secondly, they need to stay in shape, to stay hydrated and eat the right food. “Take care of your body,” said Smith.

Connor’s basketball camp was the right time to learn the fundamentals of the game, he said, and all players have the opportunity to be great athletes. “I’m so proud you’re here,” he said.

They received more encouragement from Connor. “There is no better basketball in South Georgia than Tift County basketball.”

Monday morning’s camp session even allowed for interaction with another sport besides basketball. After listening to Smith’s speech, campers returned to the gym just as Blue Devils football players arrived, en route to the weight room. The kids gave them a hero’s welcome with high-fives.

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