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Leading NBA shot blocker returns to Demopolis to record camp numbers

The NBA’s leading shot blocker Theo Ratliff returned home Tuesday to host the third annual Theo Ratliff Basketball Camp, an event witch has seen its numbers grow from just over 120 participants to an astonishing 300 plus this year.

“This is great,” Ratliff said. “This year was the best we have ever seen here in Demopolis.”

This year’s turnout was unlike any other. Camp Coordinator and Demopolis High School head basketball coach Jesse Bell was literally shocked Tuesday morning when he witnessed the 300 plus kids arrive at the DHS gymnasium.

“There were so many this year,” Bell said. “We had hoped for a good turnout, but I don’t think anyone expected this.”

This year’s numbers were so good in fact, that campers had to be split into two separate groups. Campers 13 and over spent the day at DHS, while younger campers traveled across town to the U. S. Jones campus.

“This was the first year where we had to split them up like that,” Bell said.

This year’s camp brought in kids from throughout West Alabama, kids from as far north as Tuscaloosa and as far south as Wilcox County.

Many of the regions high schools were represented this year, including A. L. Johnson High School, who brought over 36 kids to this years camp, Sweet Water High School, who had over 23 students represented, Demopolis High School (15), Demopolis Middle School, U. S. Jones, West Alabama Prep, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and Wilcox Middle School.

“I think it’s remarkable to have all this kids here from all these different schools throughout the region,” Ratliff said.

Joining Ratliff at this year’s camp was former European professional basketball player and University of Alabama letterman Marcus Campbell.

Campbell, a University of Alabama graduate, played on three Southeastern Conference tournament championship teams at Alabama in 1989, 1990 and 1991.

Alabama advanced to the NCAA tournament all three of those years, including the NCAA “Sweet 16” Campbell’s junior and senior seasons at Alabama. Campbell, who left Alabama after his senior season to play professionally in Europe where he played for 10 seasons for teams in Belgium, Holland and France, spoke at length Tuesday to kids at both DHS and U. S. Jones about the ABC’s of life.

“My goal is to help kids understand the value of an education,” Campbell said. “The game of basketball is a wonderful thing, but it’s a game that doesn’t last forever. An education on the other hand, does last forever, and kids need to realize that.”

Campbell, who will once again host the “Marcus Campbell Future Star Basketball Camp” in his hometown of Livingston in July, was forced to retire early after a severe knee injury ended his professional basketball career. But he was fortunate enough to return to the University of Alabama in 2002 to earn his degree.

As for the tallest man in Demopolis, Ratliff hopes that this camp not only teaches campers the fundamentals of the game of basketball, but also the fundamentals of life.

“I try to help kids understand the value of hard work,” Ratliff said. “I want them to know what it takes to be the best, not only in basketball, but more importantly, in life.”