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Bennedict Mathurin's youth camp was built on his skills and for hoopers who needed a boost
"Basketball is the language where everybody connects," Mathurin said at a local Boys & Girls Club on Saturday.
NOBLESVILLE — Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin spent Saturday morning in the gym.
I know, that’s not a surprise.
But what made this different than any other day is that it was for the kids.
Before his second year in the NBA officially begins next week, Mathurin hosted a youth basketball camp up in Noblesville. And his sister Jenn, who is nine years older, served as the camp director.
“We wanted to give a chance to the kids in the community who maybe come from low-income families or are not considered elite players because there are a lot of resources and opportunities for the elite kids,” Jenn explained. “Sometimes you forget about the ones that are not that good, not making the AAU teams so I contacted some of the Boys & Girls Clubs in the area so they can have first dibs on this. I contacted all girls basketball groups and asked for some players who would follow the other criteria I had and then 75 turned out.”
Game planning on this camp began after the season back in April. And two months later, he hosted his first camp — which was appropriately back home in Montreal.
There was strong showing from the Pacers at Saturday’s camp — teammates Andrew Nembhard and Kendall Brown, coaches Lloyd Pierce, Mike Weinar and Mo Baker, and a half-dozen staff members behind the scenes.
The Mathurins aimed to impact middle schoolers where he plays (in central Indiana), especially those with basketball aspirations who need the assist. Mathurin and Nembhard both took part in elite camps as teenagers, but Jenn did not.
“I played basketball as well and I never had an opportunity to go to a Nike camp, an Adidas camp or any elite camp back home,” she said. “Just to now have a platform that we can offer that to the kids is really awesome.”
Benn went from sitting in a stroller with a basketball in hand at his sister’s practices to playing at a high level years later. By the time he was 12, his sister knew he was something special. And that’s about when he started to get more opportunities, which were challenging for the Canadian.
“I first started playing because of my sister,” Benn said. “And then as I got my own image and became my own player, I would start going to elite camps and I used to love it because I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t comfortable going to those camps, but I was going home with something new that I learned during that day.”
Mathurin … not comfortable? That surprised me so I had to ask why not.
“It wasn’t easy,” he replied. "There used to be guys who were better than me, but they weren’t trying to listen. I was all ears, I was trying to listen to everybody and I was paying attention. That was the main thing for me and I was able to learn as quick as possible.”
The fun part about being on a beat, learning and working around these players daily is seeing them mature and telling their story. He’s so relentlessly in the gym, whether it is after a draft workout with the Pacers or a regular practice day, that sometimes his sister has to push him to go be social with teammates.
He’s motivated for more because of his background and desire to succeed, and he’s a tireless worker because he doesn’t want to be uncomfortable ever again. He got a leg up early on as a kid because he was always going against older players who were in the gym at the same time. That made him better.
Mathurin is most comfortable in the gym, shirt off, playing competitively.
“A lot of kids are shy, a lot of kids don’t want to be out of their comfort zone and I feel like that’s the beauty of it,” Mathurin said of the campers. “Basketball is the language where everybody connects, everybody gets to the same point. Nobody worries about what’s outside of being on the court.”
Kids in central Indiana had quite the offering this summer. Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and Mathurin — the three biggest names — each hosted youth camps over the last few months. I still remember attending Haywoode Workman’s local camp when I was a kid. It’s not only a special experience for the kids, it’s also a chance for these players to give back to the local community.
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There were three courts inside the Boys & Girls Club of Noblesville so at each of the six baskets, a different strength of Mathurin’s game was highlighted.
Two-man game attacking with basketball IQ
Mathurin spent the most time at the station working on floaters in the paint with campers.
“Floater is a big part of my game right now as I’m going against bigger defenders,” he said. “There was some shooting drills and I made sure I kept 30 seconds on the clock. I picked two people and they had to make one out of two free throws. If they made it, then I had to run. The kids are working hard, but at the same time I want them to have fun.
“My main message to the kids today was basketball is a hard sport. It’s a hard sport and the beauty of it is you can make it easy with fundamentals. The basic thing is you got to communicate.”
He shared with them the importance of talking, communicating as a team and being loud. The goal at his station was to sink 20 floaters and so he had every kid count each made floater.
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Mathurin and Nembhard have a special bond because they were in the same draft class. So when Nembhard was told about the camp, there was no doubt he would be there. He, too, remembers attending elite camps as a youngster.
“It’s an inspiration to see those guys,” said Nembhard. “Especially when I was kid, I wanted to be just like them so I was watching everything I did. It was a cool thing to see.”
He was a child at heart on Saturday, having fun and connecting with these young players over basketball. But unlike fellow point guard T.J. McConnell, he does not have any interest in being a coach.
“I don’t know, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a coach and you don’t get a lot of credit,” he said, laughing. “I like to take part, being around the kids and chopping it up with them.”
I also thought this response from Nembhard was interesting.
“At times he takes charge for sure,” he said when asked if Mathurin ever takes charge at practice like he does here. “At times he’s also just quiet, he just puts his head down and works a lot. He is a lot more quiet in the gym. I think he’s coming out of his shell a little bit.”
Mathurin only turned 21 years old in June and has plenty of room to grow, on and off the court. It’s another reason why this camp is something the Mathurins hope to continue (and add to).
And on Saturday, Jenn was right there for Benn just like she always has been.