From almost the very outset of the arrival of the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the ways the franchise integrated itself into the community was hosting basketball camps. For years, the camps grew and grew and were highly successful.
However, a year ago, the Thunder brass decided something was wrong. They were getting a great response from the traditional camps, but they still weren’t reaching the fan base outside the Oklahoma City metro area like they felt they should.
“Whenever we did a court dedication or we make a community relations effort out in the community, there is a huge appetite whenever we get into Ada, Woodard, Altus, Lawton, Bixby, wherever we are,” said Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Thunder. “There was a huge appetite and demand for the Thunder.”
So they did something about it. They took a break and thought about ways it could improve.
The hiatus of the basketball camps ends later this month with the Thunder Youth Basketball Winter Camp. It runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 27-29 at Solid Rock Basketball, 140 W. 15th St., in Edmond. The three-day camp is for boys and girls ages 6-14 and costs $185.
“The idea is we’re going to host traditional multiday camps throughout the year,” Byrnes said. “The first one is during the winter break right after Christmas in Edmond. We’re almost sold. We have almost 150 people signed up already. That speaks to the appetite of basketball camps and instruction.”
The second camp is March 14-16 at Tandy Family YMCA Healthy Living Center, 5005 S. Darlington Ave., in Tulsa. Registration begins Jan. 6.
This new installment of the program is just the opening salvo to what the franchise has planned. The team wants to increase its reach throughout the state and find more ways to interact with Oklahoma’s youth.
Byrnes said the clinics are modeled after a program run by the Utah Jazz.
“We think we might be in a pretty select category that’s looking at this from a bigger perspective,” Byrnes said. “Every NBA team is running some type of youth basketball program. But the Utah Jazz, the New York Knicks have done a good job of developing more reach. The Utah Jazz are in a multi-state area where they are hosting camps and clinics all throughout the year. So we’ve tried to model what they are doing. We’ve also looked at European soccer teams and their structure.”
The clinics can be held anywhere in the state at any time of the year. Those interested in hosting a Thunder camp or clinic are encouraged to visit okcthunder.com/youthbasketball.
“Our goal over the course of the year is to be all over the state,” Byrnes said. “One of the things we’ve done to that is we’ve hired 20 coaches from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We’ve put them through a Thunder orientation program teaching them curriculum, helping them to refine their teaching skills. They’ve been through a coaches clinic. They now can host these camps and clinics for us.”
Fill the lanes
In five years, Byrnes sees the Thunder camps spreading outside the state and into Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.
“When you are a kid and participating in this camp, we want you to love the game of basketball,” Byrnes said. “We want you to learn something that makes you a better basketball player. But we also want you to grow up and be a Thunder fan. We weren’t prepared to do all those things. We had to take a step back to reinvest in our business.”
Thunder Youth Basketball Winter Camp
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 27-29
Solid Rock Basketball
140 W. 15th St., Edmond
Print headline: High fliers, OKC Thunder’s youth basketball program expands into the metro and beyond.