If not for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Kenny Smith would have hosted a basketball camp in Raleigh, N.C., as he has for the past 25 years. Instead of needing to halt those camps completely, the former NBA player made an in-game adjustment.
Smith, a longtime analyst for TNT's "Inside the NBA," will launch The Jet Academy, an online basketball camp beginning July 20 that appears distinguishable. Each week will feature NBA and WNBA stars: Kemba Walker and Brittney Griner from July 20-24; Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird from July 27-31; Trae Young and a WNBA player to be announced from Aug. 10-14. Smith and those stars will give campers various tips on shooting, ball handling and rebounding, as well as host live Q&A’s.
Smith spoke with USA TODAY Sports about his camp, the upcoming NBA season, the league’s efforts to address racial inequality and more. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What will your virtual camp be like?
Smith: "It’s the first virtual basketball academy of its kind. With social distancing and the pandemic, why should it stop your development as a player if you want to be a player and make your middle school team or make your high school team? I thought that creating a virtual training method was important. I do a camp at North Carolina with 700 kids and around the country and around the world. They have all been canceled. What differentiates it is that it’s live. Instead of popping in a video and calling it a day, live experience allows kids to ask questions like you can on most social media devices."
Kenny Smith won two NBA title with the Rockets before joining TNT in 1998. (Photo: Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports)
What were your camps like in North Carolina, and what things can you incorporate into these camps even though it’s virtual?
Smith: "About 90 percent of things you do at a basketball camp can be done virtual. You can’t compete against each other. But you’re doing most of the morning stations and those things. You don’t really need other people to do it to get better. For me, it was just a continuation of that. We have modified versions for different people as you’re going on depending on your skill level. We have the ability to create some unique opportunities for these kids and give them an experience. It works on any device anywhere. All you need is cell service and WiFi."
How long will it take for NBA players to get in shape when the season resumes?
Smith: "There is a difference between being in shape and being in game shape. Then you are talking about getting continuity and playing with other people. Guys can work out on their own, but they are still not working with other people. Those things typically take a little bit more time. You don’t have that option right now because your team could be out of the playoffs (after the eight games). So I look at this as a unique tournament and not a continuation of last year. To me, this is a new season. Guys’ bodies have changed during this time for better and for worse. Some guys have gotten healthier, and some guys can’t be in the bubble. This is the most unique situation ever."
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By the time the playoffs start, to what extent do you think the teams still there will have caught up with their conditioning?
Smith: "I’m optimistic. But this is the most contagious virus we’ve seen in our lifetime, and the most deadly. So I don’t think anyone has full faith that everything will be fine."
Do you think it’s the right thing for the NBA to resume the season?
Smith: "I’m optimistic only because we were the first league to stop and the first major company to stop. So we’re the first to come back in a modified version. I’m hoping that because we stopped first, we have done the protocols and thought of some things in the bubble that most people hadn’t thought of already. So it could be something that this becomes useful for other places."
Will you and the rest of TNT be down there?
Smith: "I know we definitely won’t be down there initially."
As a former NBA player, where would you stand about playing in this kind of setup?
Smith: "Early in my career, I’m 25 and have no family and kids and no responsibilities other than myself. So I would’ve thought, 'Let’s go hoop.' I’m not putting anyone in danger, but myself. At that age, I probably would have felt like I'm Superman. But when you’re older, I started to have a family. My mom and dad were visiting more frequently. Now you have other concerns. I think that it is a thought process with, 'What should I do and what is best for everyone?' It’s not just about what is best for me."
Which teams do you think have the best shot at winning this?
Smith: "Younger teams have a better chance. They can be dropped in a bubble. Experience doesn’t matter now because it’s not a long haul. It’s going to be 25-30 games. So to me, certain teams in the NBA have looked great for 30 games and have fizzled out. So I don’t think these 30 games will be similar to the past. I like Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and even Dallas."
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