ATLANTA — On a day honoring Martin Luther King Jr., a group of young basketball players experienced a dream.
After starting the day working on drills at Lakeview Academy, 57Al Horford-jersey-wearing area youth hopped on two school buses and headed to Philips Arena, where they performed those drills just minutes before the Atlanta Hawks home game against the Toronto Raptors.
"It was fun, but the goals are really small," said 9-year-old Michael Cobb after leaving the court. "It was awesome and one of my dreams."
Unlike many of his peers, Cobb said that he was not nervous on the court. Neither was 12-year-old Santrell Davis, until he walked in the arena.
"Once I saw how big the court was I got nervous," Davis said.
Despite the nerves, the campers executed the drill — a full court layup drill — to perfection.
"It was fun and exciting," said John Pennington, 11.
This was the fourth year of the event, and every year the camp has been more special. Especially this year as the participants were able to be out on the floor for 12 minutes, which was twice as long as the only other time the campers took to the court at Philips Arena.
When the camp first began four years ago, the players simply went to the game as a group, but while they were down there camp leader and Lakeview Academy head coach Seth Vining was made aware of the opportunity that would allow the youngsters to step on the court prior to the game.
"If you were to ask any middle schooler if they could do drills on the Atlanta Hawks’ home court, I’m sure not a lot of kids would pass that up," the Lakeview head coach said. "I’m sure a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity."
Not only did the young campers relish the unique opportunity, but the 19 members of Lakeview’s basketball program did, as well.
"It’s fun just to be able to look around and see how many people these guys play in front of," Lakeview senior Grayson Ingram said. "I was just imagining what it would feel like to play in front of all those people."
When not trying his hand at an NBA 3-pointer (he made 1 of 2 attempts), Ingram was ensuring his team of campers were running the drill correctly.
"It’s a big deal to be able to help out the young players," Ingram siad. "Helping them experience something like this is special."
Which is one of the main reasons Vining decided to make this experience an annual event.
"It’s a good opportunity for our players to interact with the kids of our community," Vining said.
While the majority of the campers were affiliated with Lakeview, eight of them were from the Hall County Boys & Girls Clubs and several others were from schools throughout the county.
After the drills session, the group took to their seats in Section 309 to cheer on the home team.
Chants of "Defense," and "Let’s go Hawks," filled the section.
And as the final horn sounded, the kids who were on the court less than four hours earlier left Philips Arena with a two-point Hawks win and an experience they’ll never forget.