Theo Ratliff Basketball Camp tips off

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2005

It’s safe to say that at 6′ 10″, Theo Ratliff probably outgrew a pair of jeans or two growing up. So it’s fitting that as the annual Theo Ratliff Basketball Camp has grown, it’s become bigger than just one gym can contain.

How big? More than 300 young hoops players from across the region came to Demopolis Thursday for the first day of Ratliff’s two day camp, so many coaches and players were spread to three different school gyms to find enough space to work with them all.

“It’s an incredible turn-out,” said Demopolis head girls’ basketball coach Tony Pittman, one of many area coaches taking time out to help Ratliff work with the region’s youth. “We’ve got kids from Wilcox, Livingston, Sumter, Greene, Selma…they’re coming from everywhere. We think we’ll have even more tomorrow once the kids today help get the word around…we’re expecting more than 350.”

Pittman says that the event and Ratliff’s personal involvement is a testament to the generosity of the Demopolis native and current Portland Trail Blazer star.

“That Theo would take time out to do something like this,” Pittman says, “says a lot about his character and what kind of person he is.”

Ratliff did nothing but enhance that perception during a conversation with the Times Thursday, in which he said he’s more than glad to offer his help to the young people of the area.

“I’m very happy to be doing this for my hometown,” he said. “I love being able to be an inspiration for the kids, to give them something special that they can look forward to. I’ve brought some of my teammates and friends so the kids can have a chance to reach out and touch some of these guys that they’ve been seeing on TV.”

One of those friends was at the camp in person Thursday: Philadelphia 76ers star Andre Iguodala, who’s turned more than few heads during his NBA rookie season with his rim-rattling slam dunks.

“I’m excited to be here,” Iguodala told the campers. “I’m looking forward to working with you and hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk to everybody.”

After camp was dismissed for the day, Iguodala and Ratliff stuck around to sign autographs for several delighted campers. Both will be serving as celebrity coaches for the first Demopolis charity celebrity basketball game, to be held at the DHS gym Saturday at 3 p.m. Proceeds from the game will go directly to the Theo Ratliff Activity Center, due to open later this summer.

“It’s going to go real well,” Ratliff said. “It’s about people coming out and having a good time and enjoying themselves, seeing people on the court they’ve seen on TV, or heard their music on the radio.”

In addition to Ratliff, Iguodala, and Michael Curry of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the celebrity game will also feature Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas from legendary R&B group TLC, Orlando Brown from “That’s So Raven”, Chico Benymon from “Half&Half”, Ken Lawson from “The Parkers”, Antwon Tanner and Nana Gbewonyo from the film “Coach Carter”, and NFL star Lance Johnstone of the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s all part of Ratliff just living up to the same creed he told the campers at the end of the day: don’t forget where you came from.

“Always remember to give back to your hometown,” he said. “You don’t have to be an NBA player to do it. You could have any regular job. But you can always give something back to your hometown.”