Monty Williams, campers serve the needy

A week before the NBA draft, there was New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, teaching.

No that these were Pelicans players working on enhancing their skills in the team’s well-attended summer camp. These were campers of a different sort, those in Williams’ third annual National Basketball Academy, ages 7 to 15, and the lesson wasn’t about basketball.

More than 20 were on hand at the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope on Thursday evening, serving dinner to participants of the program, who are, for the most part, people down on their luck and looking for a new lease on life.

“The main focus for the week was service and discipline,” Williams said. “We’re teaching our kids that they have an obligation to serve those who don’t have as much as they do. And yet, you’ve got to have the discipline to get better at basketball.”

Camper Kenneth Rowan Jr., 15, said he earned a lot about basketball. Of course, there’s the Williams staple — defense — as well as offense and a heavy dose of fundamentals.

He said through the basketball camp, he has learned discipline and eye contact when he’s talking to the coaches, which he can take with him though life. Rowan said he was more than happy to lend a hand at the Salvation Army, though, and was there to provide “good service.”

Jacob Senat, 9, said that he loves the camp “because we get to do basketball stuff.” However, he also was enjoying working at the Center of Hope.

“I like helping people,” he said.

About two dozen participants in Salvation Army programs came down from dormitory rooms for the dinners. Murry Bell, 53, who is in the Creative to Work program, seemed stunned when asked about Williams and his young hoopsters giving their time.

“We didn’t know that,” Bell said. “I’m very much surprised. For him and the kids to come and give service says a lot.”

Murry said the program gives him a place to stay while he is looking for a job.

“This program has been a blessing for me,” he said. “This way, at least you have a locker and a place to keep your things.”

Williams said there are about 60 in the camp, which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily at the Alario Center in Westwego. The participants have come from Dallas and as far as Arizona, although almost all are locals. More than the basketball they’re learning, he said, he wants the campers to hold on to the experience at Center of Hope.

“We talk to them about respecting their parents and authority figures,” he said. “We talk to them about things that are happening in society that can affect them. We’re trying to get them a broad world view because things are different than when I was a kid. These kids have more to encounter and deal with.

“So we want them to serve and just be in the atmosphere. Once they get into their professions, we want them to get into, not just giving back, but helping others out.”

Williams hadn’t forgotten about the draft, however.

“(The Pelicans’ staff) had a five-hour meeting (Wednesday),” he said.