In the 17 years the Danny Manning basketball camp has been held in Lawrence, a lot has changed. Yet the one thing that has remained constant for Manning, his staff and their campers is that basketball is a great equalizer. Manning strives to teach boys and girls of all ages participating in the camp about the game of basketball as well as the game of life.
"Our mission statement is to teach the fundamentals, teamwork and sportsmanship," Manning said. "Being open to coming in and trying will not hurt them in learning, no matter what coach they play for in their respective town or team. It is about coming out and trying and shooting some baskets."
Anthony Harper, Manning's friend from his Kansas University days, helped him start the camp in 1989 and said he has watched Manning mentor young basketball players throughout the years. Harper said the camp is another way to give back to the community and the game of basketball by helping young players learn teamwork and fundamental ball skills.
"One of the goals for this camp is to teach sportsmanship and not just in basketball but in everyday life," Harper said. "That skill is so important in working with others. We see a lot of kids come out of their box as a result of it. Look around after camp and you'll never see anyone with their head down. They have more pride in themselves."
Pride is one thing Manning and his camp know firsthand. Manning has stayed loyal to his alma mater's home. He is the only remaining former KU player who still has a summer camp in Lawrence.
"This camp is really a reflection of Danny and his family," Harper said.
Manning brought an entire crew with him for this year's summer camp. Along with Mike Born, who also puts on the camp, Manning was joined by coaches who made names for themselves as far away as Iowa and as close as Baker University.
Participants said they appreciated the diverse background of experience. Justin Riley, 11-year-old camp participant, said he thought the different coaches benefited the camp.
"The coaches are all good, and they all help us out with different things," Riley said. "They're from all over, so they can really teach us a lot of good things."
Amber Harvey, a 12-year-old from South Junior High School, has been attending the camp for years and said she keeps coming back because every year she meets new people while having fun on the court.
On Wednesday the camp had a "carnival day" and split up into different groups to do different drills. Harvey said the day focused just on having fun rather than tallying scores or keeping track of made baskets and steals.
"This camp is not just learning," Harvey said. "Some camps just teach you but this camp is really fun, too."
Twelve-year-old Central Junior High School player Miles Seeley-Dem echoed Harvey's sentiment, but he said the camp was fun for him because he got to challenge himself with different players from around Lawrence as well as from around the country, like 12-year-old Keanu Weathersbee from Washington, who participated in the camp because his dad heard about its prestigious reputation.
"It's fun here because you get to play with a lot of kids from different age and skill levels and abilities," Seeley-Dem said. "When you play with people you are used to all the time, you get to know how good they are and how they play, but with these kids here at camp you never know how good they are."
Seeley-Dem said Manning was really good about pointing them in the right direction toward proper skills and techniques.
"He is really good at telling us stuff that is simple but important, that we don't always think about," Seeley-Dem said.
Harper and Manning both stressed that fundamentals were key elements of the camp. Manning said his biggest enjoyment from the camp comes from watching the players improve.
"My favorite part is seeing the kids improve and challenge and push themselves to be better players," Manning said. "Lawrence has always supported the camp, and it is nice to walk around town and see people wearing shirts from the camp. It is nice to give back and enjoy it."