Young basketball players get some help from a pro

If the shots for the local basketball teams fall with a little more frequency this year, fans, coaches and players might want to give an assist to the shooting clinic that took place at the Homer High School gym June 14-17. 

The two-hour a day sessions was produced by a new local organization called Bruin Basketball. Created to organize clinics in Alaska and ultimately in other states, Bruin founders and Homer residents Chris Etzwiler and Merlin Cordes launched their endeavor last fall with two successful clinics in Seldovia and Nikolaevsk. 

They decided to take it to the next level this year and brought in lead clinician Matt Garrison, a retired international star player who is now a decorated coach. 

“Matt and I went to school together at Montana State in Bozeman during the early ’90s.  Since then he’s played and coached all over the world,” Etzwiler said. “We really wanted to fly him up to help us with the Homer clinic.”  

Garrison came to town with an impressive resume.  After an All American college career, he went on to play professionally in several countries and twice led his team to championships in Australia. 

Garrison also was an All-Star and a two-time three-point champion in the top Japanese league, where he now coaches the Albirex BB team in Nigata.  He recently was named coach of the year after leading his team to a division championship in the 21-team, highly competitive league. His skill as a coach and clinician has brought him offers to teach at some of the elite basketball camps in the country, including those run by Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

It isn’t hard to pick out the 6-foot, 8-inch Garrison from the swarm of teenagers running through the various drills that include “Catch and Shoot,” “Shooting off the Dribble,” “High Post Shooting” and many others.  

In one drill he had the players driving quickly toward the basket and then had them stop and quickly jump through a raised hula hoop in order to teach the proper technique for a pull-up jumper.  

The sessions were broken down by category with high school girls and high school boys having separate times and another session where middle school girls and boys worked together. 

Nearly two dozen girls signed up for the high school sessions. While many of them were Homer players, Ninil-
chik and Nikolaevsk also were well represented. For the first time in more than two decades, the Nikolaevsk high girls team qualified for the State 1A tournament last year, and went on to lose a thrilling three overtime championship game against Cook Inlet Academy at Sullivan Arena.  

If their focus and participation in the Bruin Basketball Clinic was any indication, they are going to be ready for another run at the title. 

Kilina Klaich said that most of the girls from the Nikolaevsk team participated in the clinic. Klaich succinctly summed up her thoughts on the clinic. 

“It was amazing. A lot of players think they know how to do everything but there are so many details to learn and things to think about. During the sessions we went over and over the mechanics of shooting and really learned some fundamentals,” she said. 

When asked if the Nikolaevsk team was ready for another run at the state championship after coming so close last year, Klaich was optimistic. “Our whole team is back so we’re looking forward to the season.”

Jake Nelson who intends to play for the Homer Middle School team this year concurred with the general sentiment on the shooting intensive clinic.  

“My shot just wasn’t right and they worked with me and changed it,” he said.

Besides the intensive training in all aspects of shooting the basketball, each participant also was given a commemorative Bruin Basketball T-shirt that summed up the Etzwiler/Cordes/Garrison philosophy with one boldly printed word on the back of the shirt:  FUNDAMENTALS.

Jim Stearns is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.