(photo courtesy of Jarrall Blount)
This was supposed to be the 27th season when the New York Knicks held their annual Junior Knicks summer basketball youth camp that draws waves of young players from throughout New York City, but the Coronavirus pandemic altered those plans dramatically. Instead, the Junior Knicks went virtual with their plans to serve children (ages 5-14) with a chance to be introduced to the game, improve their skills on the court, and be involved in a unique online basketball experience.
In July and August, the Junior Knicks held their Virtual Summer Camp presented by Chase and offered free training sessions with the likes of current New York Knick, Dennis Smith Jr., and Knicks legend John Starks among others. In the first session alone, 600 youth players took part in the online workouts and gained a wealth of knowledge for on and off of the court. Amid the on-going world health emergency, the New York Knicks scored a big victory by avoiding canceling the summer time hoops staple, instead choosing to offer these Junior Knicks a virtual experience they won’t soon forget. It was a win-win for the Knicks and the campers.
Even for youth basketball coaches like Queens native, Haron Hargrave, who has served as a trainer with the Junior Knicks in the past, not being back on the court to conduct in-person camps this summer was both a departure from the norm and a chance to applaud the work the Junior Knicks continue to do in the community.
“It has been a natural fit with my role with the New York Knicks because I’ve been either playing basketball, coaching and training players about basketball, or running community sports events my entire life,” said Hargrave, who played college basketball at Sacramento State, competed professionally internationally from Romania to Mexico, and founded 501(c)3 non-profit organization Ballin’ 4 Peace.
“At the end of the day, this is more than just a job for me. This is my passion and my life.”
For the last 12 years, Hargrave -- who starred at point guard for Sacramento State University before playing professionally -- has spent his summers pouring out his love for basketball by working as a trainer with the Junior Knicks and has seen first-hand the genuine impact the skills development and training sessions have had on young players around the game. Now it’s Haron Hargrave’s chance to look back on his time with the Junior Knicks, share what makes the training experience so memorable, which former Knick continues to bring positive energy to the court, and what he’s learned the most from coaching youth basketball with the Junior Knicks…
How did you become involved with youth basketball coaching with the Junior Knicks?
I became involved with coaching with the Junior Knicks through a friend (Chris Jean Back) back in 2008. He worked in the community affairs department for the Knicks and would always support my Ballin’ 4 Peace events and programs. He was the one to extend the invite to me to coach and train with the New York Knicks summer camps. And the Junior Knicks.
What was your focus on working with young players in training and skills development?
My focus with working with young players and within skills development for basketball was to give them the tools that I received as a youth. I also wanted to share my experiences with younger players to help them get a better understanding of what it would take to get to that next level in the game. Since I started to train and coach youth basketball, I’ve been doing just that: going all out and giving all my secrets and tips to help every player that I train receive the best training that I can give.
The Knicks do a remarkable job about keeping their “Knicks alumni” players involved while working with the Junior Knicks. Who did you have the chance to work with and what has been their advice to you about the game or just working with young athletes?
You’re absolutely right the Knicks do an amazing job with keeping their alumni players involved and keeping them fresh and known in the Knick community. I personally love working with all of the alumni players such as John Starks, Larry Johnson, Latrell Spreewell, Charles Smith, and Rod Strickland. Two of my favorites are Allan Houston and Nate Robinson (I was able to play in the same back court with Allan in a New York Knicks alumni charity game). John Starks and I also shared the same sneaker company deal (Ektio Sports), we each had exclusive sneaker deals with them). As for advice, Larry Johnson always makes sure that he gives off great positive energy. That is one of the most important parts of life is being kind and genuine and that’s Larry.
Why do you feel the Junior Knicks camps you’ve coached at stand out from other camps and have the impact that they do?
New York Knicks camps for the Junior Knicks stand out due to the fact that all of the trainers who are selected to coach are true to the game. They either coach in high school, college, or have played some professional basketball. That’s why we’re able to give the kids the teaching that they really need, unlike camps where half of the camp staff have never played basketball or have in-depth experience. Also, because it’s a New York Knicks basketball camp you never know who will show up to Knicks Camp. It means a lot to those kids to see some of their favorite players and Knicks.
Players learn so much from their coaches...what did you learn from these players?
What I’ve learned from these young players over the years has been, patience. When you’re teaching and you’re coaching and you’re training someone else, it’s easy to get frustrated. When I first started training it was very hard to understand why players can’t do the things that you used to do at that age. I had to understand the method of my training and how to get better at reaching players during training sessions. The players have taught me that having the patience to teach things like drive, will, and continue to work hard no matter what. That’s what I have learned the most from the players.
Why do you feel you were such a natural fit in your role with the Junior Knicks?
It has been a natural fit with my role with the New York Knicks because I’ve been either playing basketball, coaching and training players about basketball, or running community sports events my entire life. I had to coach and train myself to become a Division I basketball player at Sacramento State and a professional basketball player from Romania to Mexico. At the end of the day, this is more than just a job for me. This is my passion and my life.
What are some aspects you want players to come away with after attending a Junior Knicks camp or event?
One of the major things I would like players to take away from Junior Knicks camp, is understanding the hard work that it takes to become a basketball player. That journey can be filled with highs and lows, and the pain you feel in those low moments will be all worth it in the end.