PRINCETON, N.J. — It was a learning experience for the four Orange County representatives at the Nike basketball camp here. They learned to play styles of basketball they weren't accustomed to, and they learned about making connections.
LeRon Ellis of Mater Dei High School, although 6-feet 10 1/2-inches and 225 pounds, said he was initially intimidated by his competition.
Mark Georgeson, the 6-10 center from Marina, missed a flight and arrived in New Jersey a day after camp started.
Ricky Butler of Ocean View had trouble adjusting to the wide-open play. "It's not my style to play run and shoot," he said. "I'm more of a team player."
Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach, had trouble adjusting to the weather and rather monastic living conditions in the dorms.
"This weather is really tough on us California kids," McKnight, one of 15 high school coaches from throughout the country brought to Princeton by Nike, said after the second night of play. "It's so hot and sticky."
Soon, the humidity dropped and McKnight adjusted. So did the players.
"When I first got here, I didn't play well at all," said Ellis, whose brother, Leroy Jr., attended the camp two years ago and now plays for the University of Pacific. "To tell you the truth, I was intimidated by the size of some of these guys. But as the days went by, I started to get used to being with these players."
Ellis may have been pushed around when he tried to outmuscle those players, but he looked good on July 1, the final night of camp. Ellis was too quick for 6-10, 255-pound junior Cesar Portillo of Miami, whom he consistently beat for rebounds at both ends of the court. Ellis also blocked several shots.
McKnight's role in handling the best high school basketball players in the country was realistic: "This is not really coaching. This is organizing 10 athletes and making sure everyone gets a fair shake at starting and plenty of playing time. I put in a very simple offense and let them play."
McKnight found the camp rewarding.
"They had asked for some of our kids before, but I wanted them to stay home and work with our team," he said. "But now, after seeing how things work, I would feel real good about sending future players here."