By T. Scott Boatright
When it comes to giving back to local youth in recent years, Dallas Mavericks guard/forward Justin Holiday has been consistent in turning in winning efforts here in Lincoln Parish.
But this year’s sixth-annual Justin Holiday Basketball Camp, held Saturday at Louisiana Tech University’s Lambright Health and Wellness Center, made a bigger slam dunk impact than ever before.
That’s because for the first time, this year’s camp was held free to attend for children ages 6-13.
Holiday, who attended HIllcrest Elementary School and A.E. Phillips School before his parents moved the family back to California, has long had ties to Lincoln Parish, from his grandparents living in the area to marrying a Ruston High School graduate – Shekinah Siegmund Holiday.
“I’m going to give back to this community as long as I possibly can,” Holiday said. “My wife grew up here. I lived here. This is alway going to be a special play for me.
“Small places don’t always offer – can’t always offer – opportunities like this where an NBA can give that. I’ve been blessed with a great family. I’ve been blessed to be able to live my dream and play in the NBA. I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to give back to a community that I lived in while growing up. Those are some big blessings I have to take advantage of.”
Holiday stressed that his basketball camp has never been about the money.
“Even when the camps charged for attendance in the past, it wasn’t about making,” Holiday said. “It was about making money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Central Louisiana. But it’s grown enough now so that now I can give back two ways because the Boys and Girls Clubs still make money because we’ve been able to evaluate the number of kids, and maybe most importantly, reach the kids who need reaching the most.”
Boys and Girls Clubs of North Central Louisiana CEO Eldonta Osborne said the fact that the Holiday Basketball Camp continues to grow is proof of the impact it’s making on area youth.
“The consistency he’s shown by coming back year after year shows up in the numbers of campers we have,” Osborne said. “And it’s exciting to be able to give kids something that they really look forward to.
“We get a lot of repeat kids that keep coming back, but this year we got a lot of new kids. One of the things we talked about with Justin going into this year was making it free without taking away from the quality of the camp. And I think what we’ve produced with the camp exhibits that – all the volunteers, and staff, and Justin and all the time he puts in, makes this special. He always makes this a priority.”
Janet Wilson, Director of Resource Development of the B&GC of North Central Louisiana, said the change was made at Holiday’s request.
“He just felt like in today’s economy, where parents are struggling to buy groceries and gas, we needed to try and do it like this and see what happens,” Wilson said. “And it’s been awesome. I know he has family here, but for Justin to put in the commitment and spend so much time making this happen for all of these kids, is amazing.
“Yet he’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He just keeps saying these kids need to realize that if he can do it, they can do it. He just wants to keep giving back. And today all he seems focused on is how we can make it better next year.”
During a rap session where Holiday simply sat and talked with campers, he told them what he hoped they would be taking away from the day’s activities.
“Yes, we’re a basketball camp, but I hope that’s not all that you’re learning here,” Holiday told the youngsters. “I hope you’re learning things that can help you in all parts of life and not just basketball. Basketball is just my way to teach you guys to see that you can teach and encourage others, too
“You guys have learned how to line up, how to play defense, how to shoot and do things right. The coaches in every drill they worked with you on were very particular in what they wanted you to do. The reason why that happens is that for anyone to succeed in life, they have to do things as close to the right way as they possibly can.”
The 34-year-old Holiday was asked what it was like to be playing in NBA games against his younger brothers – 33-year-old Jrue is a Milwaukee Buck while 26-year-old Aaron plays for the Atlanta Hawks,
“Those games against my brothers are always fun,” Holiday said. “It’s just always more fun playing with or even against some that you are comfortable with and love. Those are always big moments when at least two of us have been out on the court together and I love those times.”
He also loves the chance conducting the camps have left lasting relationships with some of the campers.
“There’s a kid who was here at my first camp that’s a point guard at Louisiana Tech right now,” Holiday said (speaking of Jordan Crawford). “A lot of the kids come back year after year, and I’ve gotten kind of a chance to see them grow up a little bit, it kind of hits home. It makes me feel that I really am making an impact.
“And that only makes me want to do more.”