Monday, at the Pit and in the Rudy Davalos practice facility at UNM, as 75 3rd through 7th graders were wide eyed and excited to be learning from their favorite Lobo stars, some of those Lobo players were doing a little bit of learning themselves.
For Jemarl Baker Jr., the Fresno State transfer who was one of the dozen or so camp coaches that including Lobo men’s and women’s players and team managers, putting on that coach’s whistle for the first time surprised himself a little bit.
“Oh, I’m energetic (as a coach). I’m energetic,” Baker said with a laugh when asked about his coaching style. “… This is one of my first times really coaching. So, I’m energetic. And I’m kind of intense. It’s young kids, so I’m trying not to do too much, but it’s fun. I’m just trying to bring energy and encouragement.”
There are 75 kids in this week’s sold-out camp – the first of two camps Pitino and UNM will hold this month with a cap set at 75. The next camp is June 26-29.
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“It’s great, especially because I have kids that are this age. Now going on year three (as UNM”s coach), I’ve been able to meet some really good people who have kids this age,” Pitino said. “So we know a lot of them (in the camp), whether it’s playing with my son in basketball or my daughters in some camps.”
Pitino said building a program is about getting good players and the incredible fan base at UNM, but said camps in the summer are also a piece of the puzzle.
“Any time for our players to work with kids, it certainly builds a connection for our young fan base, but also helps (the players) understand, this is how coaching is,” Pitino said. “I think the more they do it, it helps them understand kind of what we’re dealing with, and we understand what they’re dealing with.”
While Baker admitted to being a little bit intense, returning Lobo wing Braeden Appelhans, who had his freshman season cut short with a thumb injury this past winter, was much more tight lipped about his approach and even craftily danced around a question about which Lobo coach he was most similar to.
“Nope. Never,” he said when asked to compare himself to one of them.
But he did say he’s having a blast back in his second summer in the program, now healthy and looking forward to getting to know his new teammates.
“I’m really just giving back to the community because I know all these kids out here, they look up to us. I’m really just trying to give back and have fun with all the kids.”
Most Lobo returning players and newcomers – there are seven new players, including four Division I transfers, two scholarship freshmen and Del Norte graduate Shane Douma-Sanchez, who will be a walk-on – arrived Sunday or Monday morning to attend the first summer session and start workouts.
Baker enters his seventh – – yes, seventh – college season during an injury- and COVID-riddled career that has included stops at Kentucky, Arizona and Fresno State. Little things like working a youth camp are a huge part of the processs
“I didn’t know anybody (on the Lobos team) really too much prior to meeting them (Sunday) night and then talking to them today (at the camp), and I already feel like we’re pretty good friends,” Baker said.