By Wendell Hutson
Youth attending a summer basketball camp at Kenwood Academy High School were surprised Thursday by NBA star Kevin Durant, who stopped by and gave words of encouragement.
Durant, a forward for the 2018 NBA champions Golden State Warriors, said if he were not playing professional basketball he would probably have a career in music or the arts.
“I always stayed on top of my game to remain competitive and that is what I encourage anyone chasing their dream to do,” Durant, 29, told the more than 50 participants in the Rise Chicago Camp sponsored by Nike. “It is not where you came from but where you are headed. I came from the same neighborhoods as you guys, but I worked hard to achieve my dream and you can do the same.”
For the second consecutive year Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., is hosting the five-week camp for youths 8 to 17 years old. Breeyona Burrell, 15, a junior at Kenwood and a guard on the girl’s basketball team, said she was surprised to see Durant show up unexpectedly.
“Kevin Durant is one of my favorite players and I was glad he came to our camp,” said Burrell, a Hyde Park resident who aspires to play college basketball and become an interior designer. “I was inspired by what he said and I too believe in dreams coming true.”
For about an hour Durant spoke to students, answered their questions, watched students practice and posed for a group photo.
According to the camp director Robert Smith, who is the boys’ basketball coach at Simeon Career Academy High School, the goal for the camp is to empower youth through competitive sports while also teaching life skills.
“The focus here is to provide fundamentals of basketball but also to keep [youth] off the street,” said Smith. “We have kids from the all over Chicago attending the camp from the South Side to the West Side, and we want to make sure we give them skills that will be useful to them.”
He applauded Durant’s effort to encourage youth to be their best and was glad that students were able to see Durant, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, up close and personal.
“They see him on TV but they needed to touch him,” Smith said. “That’s what makes it real when you can actually touch a person.”
Sports analysts are predicting the Warriors will return to the NBA Finals for a fifth consecutive year in 2019 but doubt NBA star LeBron James will be there with his new team the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think it’s good that he [LeBron] joined the Lakers. More power to him,” Durant said. “But him joining the Lakers won’t stop us from repeating as champions.”