NBA star Ratliff takes time for local youth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2003

One of the more than 200 young people attending the Theo Ratliff Basketball Camp this week had a pretty simple request for the NBA star and Demopolis native.

On Tuesday afternoon, young people from around the area gathered in the sweltering Demopolis High School gymnasium to learn a few lessons from Ratliff &045;&045; one of this city’s most famous sons.

During the morning hours on the first of a two-day camp, Ratliff towered above the young people gathered to learn a few lessons from a professional basketball player. He walked to different groups of budding players, talking about defense and blocking out and rebounding and dribbling.

At times during the camp, all the players would gather at center court to get a few tidbits of knowledge about how to play the game.

During one instruction period, Ratliff shouted over the large fans providing little relief from the June sun.

More than half of the young people shouted back: "Blocking shots!"

And with that, Ratliff began a demonstration on the right defensive positions.

Though most kids in the Demopolis area know who Ratliff is, not many of them wore No. 42 jerseys from the Atlanta Hawks &045;&045; Ratliff’s jersey number and team. Instead, the majority wore Kobe Bryant jerseys or standard Theo Ratliff Camp T-shirts.

Even still, Ratliff admitted he was surprised at how much the kids know about his game.

When he was a youngster in Demopolis, Ratliff grew up watching Magic Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwan.

During his time this week with the young people, Ratliff didn’t act exasperated at having to scream over a bunch of rowdy kids. Instead, he took time to look young people in the eyes. He stopped at different stations along the way and chatted with young girls struggling to keep the ball from bouncing off their feet.

During one break in the camp, Ratliff grabbed a bouncing ball underneath the basket, turned quickly around, and dunked the ball with great ease.

In the background, a group of kids stood with their mouths open.

That much is probably true, and even Ratliff likely has a hard time understanding how much his presence means to the young people in Demopolis.