Caldwell S-F boys basketball camp draws 155

Photo by Barry Taglieber Gregg Downer, head coach of Lower Merion's PIAA Class AAAA state championship boys basketball team, speaks to some 155 kids attending the 25th annual Spring-Ford Boys Basketball Camp on June 21.

ROYERSFORD - This summer marked the silver anniversary of the Spring-Ford Boys Basketball Camp, which is held under the direction of former longtime Rams head boys basketball coach Dave Caldwell.

The 25th year of the camp also attracted the highest number of youngsters as well. Some 155 kids took part in the camp that ran from June 18-21 at Spring-Ford High School as well as the Ninth Grade Center across Lewis Road.

“This is the biggest camp we’ve ever had,” said an elated Caldwell, a product of Owen J. Roberts High School and the University of Delaware.

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As part of the camp program, Caldwell scheduled some speakers to talk to the kids and work with them on skills and drills while having fun at the same time. Downer presented youngsters with prizes for answering questions correctly and performing certain skills like layups and free throws.

On June 19, Jeff Rinehimer, head coach of the Class AAAA state championship Spring-Ford High girls basketball team, spoke to the crowd.

And then on June 21 came Gregg Downer, head coach of the Class AAAA state championship Lower Merion boys basketball squad, was the featured guest. Downher, who has guided the Aces for 23 years, brought with him four standout players and students from this past winter’s state champs who took down longtime nemesis Chester in the state title game, 63-47, at the Giant Center in Hershey after falling to the powerful Clippers, 60-46, in the District 1 championship contest.

Chester also defeated Lower Merion twice during 2012, 61-53 in the district title game and then 59-33 in the state title fray.

The Ardmore-based Aces achieved a gaudy overall record of 32-3 last year and were ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation. During the state title playoff run, Lower Merion downed Martin Luther King, 63-50; Harrisburg, 63-62; and New Castle, 67-63, prior to the Chester game.

Chester saw its 78-game unbeaten streak against in-state opponents snapped by Lower Merion. The Clippers’ last loss prior to the one against the Aces came on March 14, 2010, against La Salle in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs. Chester was paced this past season by Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson.

This season the Aces were led by 10 seniors, including B.J. Johnson, a Syracuse University recruit, who is a 6-foot-6, 185-pound wingman on the court. Johnson thrilled the Spring-Ford campers with some athletic dunk shots.

Lower Merion’s most famous basketball graduate is Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who guided the Aces to the state title back in 1996 before entering the National Basketball Association.

“We are very excited about the state championship,” said Downer. “Chester is always the team to beat. We struggled with them prior to that. We came together when it counted, and I couldn’t be happier for the kids.”

Downer said he does not do many camp speaking engagements. However, he handles the one at Spring-Ford because of a friendship with Caldwell that originated years ago when their teams competed against each other in the District 1 playoffs.

Downer, who is originally from Media in Delaware County, is a graduate of Penncrest High School.

Downer said he has been fortunate to have a number of players who have been quality ballplayers who have also exceled in the classroom.

“That’s what you’ve got to have the academics with the athletics,” said Downer. “These four guys in particular have done outstanding things with the books.”

Justin McFadden, a defensive specialist on the 2012-13 team, will be returning for his senior year with the Aces. McFadden is being recruited by Ivy League teams like Penn and Columbia.

Downer told the campers to be good students and to have a strong work ethic toward basketball and any other endeavor. That means spending extra time in the gym developing skills like ballhandling, shooting, rebounding, passing and defending for the team game of basketball. He told the players to overcome adversity such as injuries, even if it means delaying surgery when possible.

He talked about the exciting NBA finals in which the Miami Heat won their second straight league championship by outlasting the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series. He pointed out the Heat’s play, led by Most Valuable Player LeBron James, a 6-8 swingman, in all phases of the game.

Downer cited veteran Ray Allen’s clutch outside shooting with crucial 3-point field goals as well as James’ defensive prowess against dynamic Spurs point guard Tony Parker in the patented pick-and-roll game with power forward Tim Duncan as pivotal factors in Game 7 in Miami and the accompanying NBA crown.