“This is probably the only NBA player’s camp that the player is actually there the whole time,” explains Luke Bonner, younger brother of San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, about the annual Matt Bonner Basketball Camp held in their hometown of Concord, New Hampshire. This is clearly evident as Bonner is not just there to make speeches or take pictures and sign autographs. He is running around to check out the action on different courts, stepping in to run drills or ref games, and engaging participants to become not just better players but more well-rounded individuals.
This is all natural for Bonner: “My name is on it and I take pride in that. I take pride that it’s in New Hampshire. If it is my camp, I want to be hands on and really give it my all. Like I do with anything. If you are going to do something, do the best you can.”
With over 200 participants this year (and with over thirty on a wait list), Matt Bonner Basketball Camp is truly a passion for the New Hampshire native.
“It is important for me to come back and show the kids that you can achieve your dreams, make it to the NBA even if you are from New Hampshire,” he says. “I try to teach them the principles and practices that made me be the person I am today.”
The camp takes place at the Bonners’ old school, Rundlett Middle School and is a family affair. Besides his brother Luke, who recently played overseas and in the D-League, Bonner’s younger sister Becky also works, along with their mom, Paula, who not only sells pizza and drinks at lunch but assists with the staffing and logistics for the camp. Luke and Becky don’t play the little sibling card either, and defer to Matt. They are out there running the program as well.
Luke’s whistle never leaves his mouth, and he keeps a indie and classic rock-pumping Beats by Dre boombox nearby for his own enjoyment. He makes sure the schedule is stuck to (Luke took great pride in telling Matt to wrap up one of his speeches), and that the participants are having a great time.
Becky, who works for the NBA, motivates campers with a hard love approach, which proves to be effective. One older camper brags to his teammate, “So Becky Bonner told me I’m the best player on our team.”
This is the eighth year of the weeklong camp and according to Matt, it gets better every year,
“We max it out every year,” he says. “If we had more space we could accept more kids. As long as kids want to keep coming to the camp we will keep having it. The community response shows that we are doing a good job.”
While basketball is the main focus of the camp, Bonner knows that there is more to life than basketball.
“We teach things that make them successful not only on the court but in life,” he says. “You can’t just be good at basketball; you have to be a good person too. Making positive life choices to become a good student and citizen is very important.”
This message was the main theme of Bonner’s final camp speech, where he talked about his childhood friend and the two different paths they took.
Campers walked away from the experience, not only with valuable basketball and life lessons but a bagful of swag that includes a Matt Bonner autographed basketball and photo. Despite getting these camp mementos, basically all of the campers wanted to take photos with Bonner, who happily obliged, and spent close to an hour at the end of camp making sure every camper got what they wanted. This further established the great New Hampshire folk tale of Matt Bonner.
“The kids here at this camp, in Concord, in basically all of New Hampshire stay up late to watch TNT games when the Spurs are on because of Matt,” says counselor Jared Stillman.
For the Spurs, Bonner is a reliable long distance shooter and solid reserve player but for his campers he is so much more. He is a reflection of them and of their highest aspirations, having lived where they live, walked the streets they walked, ate at the same places they eat, gone to the same school that they are or will go to.
The campers don’t step into Bonner’s world at the camp because they are already in it. He is just helping them get on the path to success.
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