Sitka camp teaches hoops, health

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SITKA, Alaska (AP) — A health and fitness coach who spent two decades on an NBA coaching staff is in Sitka this week teaching the importance of healthy lifestyles and secure ball handling over the course of a three-day camp at Blatchley Middle School.

Greg Brittenham spent 20 years as a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Knicks, and now works in the Wake Forest University athletic department. This summer he's touring a number of Southeast communities to put on basketball camps that connect general fitness education with the sport he built a career around.

Brittenham, who owns a house in Haines, got together with Mt. Edgecumbe Activities Director Andrew Friske to build a camp for the communities of Southeast.

"Andrew and I talked a lot over the years about a need for that kind of broader health and fitness," Brittenham said.

Given the higher rates of obesity and diabetes in the region, Brittenham said early childhood education about the value of health and fitness is greatly needed in Alaskan communities. Brittenham said rather than dropping in and lecturing kids, he would use the sport he loves as a vehicle to educate children.

"Maybe in some way we can have a little bit of an influence because my background is in health and fitness and I just happen to be applying that to basketball," he said. "So we thought, is there a way to come up into Southeast and work with kids and work through basketball as a conduit to address some of these broader issues. And eventually we'd like to kind of get into substance abuse, suicide prevention, leadership, gender equity and that kind of thing."

The Blatchley camp, which opened Monday, teaches grades K-12 about valuing each possession and building long-term healthy habits. Brittenham said as he nears retirement he's wanted to stay in touch with basketball, and that in Southeast Alaska he finds the enthusiasm for the game that makes him love it.

"Really, it's that passion that kind of draws me to the area," Brittenham said. "I got kind of burned out with players that didn't have the passion. They were playing for other reasons than the love of the game. So I just kind of wanted to regain my own passion for the game, my own motivation to keep doing what I'm doing. And I'll tell ya, I've found it here in Southeast.

"There's very few places in the country that have this sort of passion for the game. You could ask these kids and they could tell you all kinds of statistics. More than I know. I had Carmelo Anthony in my last year with the Knicks and they're telling me things about Carmelo's stats that I had no idea. They really follow the game. They have a great understanding of the game. I know that the community loves the game."

Brittenham is working with Friske and Sitka High coach Andy Lee at the Sitka camp. Brittenham also runs camps for special needs kids. He said the broader point is to help make the next generation healthier.

"There are two things that I'd like to influence more: get kids out. Get them away from those screens and those games and get them active and get them involved," he said, adding that healthy eating habits are difficult to teach kids because processed food is often easier and cheaper in rural areas.

Additionally, the kids Brittenham are working with are at an age where they can eat just about anything. Brittenham said that's a habit he'd like to see kids break.

"We need to educate our kids a little bit better on what they're eating. Right now they can eat anything they want," he said. "That's going to catch up to you after awhile. It's important that we start early on with making healthy choices, nutritionally."

Of course, it's still a basketball camp and decades of working with players on multiple levels has made Brittenham aware some basketball habits he wants to instill. Specifically, he wants kids to understand the value of practicing what they're not comfortable with.

"Kids tend to practice what they're already good at. And if you want to get better at a sport or get better at anything you do, you need to practice and train those weaknesses. That's what separates the LeBron James and the Michael Jordans from the rest of the NBA. What other guys weaknesses are they show as strengths," he said. "What I'd like to train these kids is, look, you've got to focus on weaknesses. Eliminate weaknesses and then start making some of those things your strengths. Your strengths will always be your strengths."

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Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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