Basketball camp—only purists need apply

By Brian Gomez

Nowadays, most basketball players wouldn’t think twice about trading a crisp bounce pass and a smooth jumper for an alley-oop and a high-flying slam dunk.

Don’t try selling that nonsense to purists Russ Pennell and Kenny Crandall.

In an attempt to restore the fundamentals, Pennell, a former assistant coach on the Arizona State University men’s basketball team, and Crandall, a senior guard for the Sun Devils last season, have taken matters into their own hands.

The Arizona Premier Basketball Academy gives aspiring players a chance to learn tools they can actually use--and keeps the cost low enough to prevent parents from having to rush to the bank for a loan.

Summer camps are currently winding down, but registration is expected to start soon for the fall series. Cost is $65 for four sessions or $115 for eight sessions. Each session lasts an hour.

Other APBA instructors include Mark Nelson, the former Wabash Valley College men’s basketball coach, and Jeff Platt, who played for three years at the University of Tulsa and spent one season at ASU as a graduate assistant under Rob Evans.

“Players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before, yet the fundamentals are bad,” said Pennell, whose academy has welcomed more than 150 kids since opening last month.

“If you don’t get the proper basics at an early age, you struggle to break that the rest of your life.”

The APBA places heavy emphasis on passing, dribbling and shooting, as well as defense and rebounding. Coaches stress proper footwork and instruct players how to operate from the triple threat position.

Most of the sessions are structured, taking the form of a high school or college basketball practice, except during scrimmages, where coaches let their guard down.

“We’re trying to stay real disciplined with these kids,” Crandall said. “We try to not let very much slide because we want them not only to learn it, but to do it right.”

Said Pennell:

“We’re very meticulous on making you do it the right way. Basketball is a game of repetition. You just do it over and over in practice for those four or five opportunities in a game.”

The APBA already has conducted clinics with the Phoenix Inferno and Arizona Cagers club teams and summer teams from several high schools, including Chandler Seton Catholic, Mesa Red Mountain, Mesa Skyline and Mesa Desert Ridge.

Former NBA journeyman Tim Kempton’s three sons are even registered for summer sessions at the academy.

“There’s not one clear-cut way to play the game,” Pennell said. “The last thing I want to do is tell a kid that their coach is wrong or that their coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The fundamentals are the same, whether you play zone or man or whether you fast break or walk it down the court.”

Being able to just teach the game has brought back the passion for Pennell, who resigned after a frustrating season in which ASU went 10-17 and finished last in the Pac-10.

Pennell had coached with Evans since the early 1990s, when they worked as assistants on Eddie Sutton’s staff at Oklahoma State. He followed Evans to the University of Mississippi, and then served as an assistant with the Sun Devils for six years.

Recruiting took its toll on Pennell, and he wanted to spend more time with his wife Julie and two daughters, Morgan (8) and Emily (4).

“If we would have won the Pac-10 last year, the way I felt about things, I would have made the same decision,” said Pennell, who was a candidate for several head coaching positions after ASU’s trip to the 2003 NCAA tournament and interviewed for a position as an assistant at the University of Arkansas.

“The grind of it all was wearing me down to the point where it became a job, and I had never looked at it as a job. I always felt like if my passion dropped, I needed to do something different.”

Pennell claims he doesn’t miss the college game, even as the summer recruiting season starts to pick up steam.

“Every morning, I look forward to going to the gym and teaching,” he said. “The days always go fast, and I can’t wait until the next day. It’s hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now.”

For Crandall, working at the academy is a change in scenery from ASU, although his role is almost the same.

Crandall was like a coach on the floor, especially during his last two years, as he struggled to recover from a broken fibula that he suffered in a dirt-bike accident before his junior season.

Some summer campers recognize him, putting more credibility behind his words.

“They know who Russ is and they know who I am,” said Crandall, who played 99 games in four years at ASU, averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds.

“It seems like they’re apt to pay attention. We’ve seen a lot of kids really working hard to do the things that we ask them to do.”

For more information about the APBA, call (480) 633-6097 or visit www.arizonabasketballacademy.com. Classes are held in Chandler and other nearby locations.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@wranglernews.com.