HINDMAN – Learning how to play and working together as a team to conquer adversity comes in many forms. Winning is much more than merely being the biggest, the fastest, or having the highest score at the end of a game.

That message was delivered with the precision of a last-second buzzer-beater during Operation UNITE’s final Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp of the year, held Thursday, July 8, at the Knott County SportsPlex.

Four former University of Kentucky standouts — J.P.Blevins, Sarah Elliott, Ravi Moss and Bobby Perry – joined camp instructor Jeff Sheppard, the NCAA’s Final Four Most Valuable Player in the Kentucky Wildcats’ 1997-98 national championship season, to deliver motivational messages about dreaming big and achieving goals.

“The best way to get from where you are today to where you want to be is to set a goal,” Sheppard told the 279 school-age participants. “None of us is perfect, but you need to set goals, work hard and avoid being distracted by bad influences – such as using alcohol or other drugs.”

“The best way to stay on a straight line is not to try and do it by yourself,” he continued. “You cannot win in life by yourself. It takes a team. It takes you hanging around the right people.”

Participants at Thursday’s camp – the largest of 33 camps conducted during the past five summers — represented 11 Kentucky counties and three other states. Each person received an event T-shirt and Shoot Hoops basketball. In addition, two portable basketball goals, donated by Walmart, were given away. Winners were 10-year-old Ethan Sizemore of Emmalena in Knott County and 14-year-old Mason Nelson of Martin in Floyd County.

During the five-hour program, presented by Phoenix Products, the former UK players emphasized determination, encouragement and effort as the most important ingredients to achieve one’s goals.

Being tall was an asset, but not the primary reason the 6-foot-6 Elliott cited for her success. “It’s because I worked hard.”

Skills can be learned anywhere, noted Elliott, who ranks 18th on the UK’s all-time scoring list and second on the all-time blocks list, “but you have to go home and apply them.”

Elliott hails from McKee, where she totaled an impressive 2,731 points, 1,843 rebounds and 821 blocks during her time at Jackson County High School. At UK she played in 99 career games with 70 starts (2004-07). A member of the SEC All-Freshman Team, she continued being the go-to center and earned AP All-SEC honorable mention her sophomore season and was named a member of the AP All-SEC second team her junior year.

“In everything (you do) you have to work hard,” said Elliott. “That’s the key to having a successful life.”

Moss, a productive “sixth man” during his four seasons with the Wildcats (2002-06), noted his success didn’t come easily. Although the South Carolina native was a four-year starter for University Heights Academy in Hopkinsville, averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds his senior season, it wasn’t basketball skills that got him a spot on the UK bench.

“The only reason I was able to play at UK was because I got good grades. I wasn’t on an athletic scholarship, I was on an academic scholarship,” said Moss, who walked on under Coach Tubby Smith.

Moss, who played in 104 games, was able to shoot from both inside and outside the arc, bringing a spark to the Wildcats that made him a fan favorite.

“No matter how good you think you are (in sports) you always have to have something to fall back on – and that’s academics,” Moss emphasized. “Work hard in the classroom and you can dream as big as you want to.”

Dreaming big began at an early age for Blevins.

After attending a basketball camp at UK at age 8 the Edmonton native knew he wanted to eventually play for the Cats. With encouragement from his mom, Blevins became a star at Metcalfe County High and was named to the Class-A all-state tournament team three times.

Playing guard for the Wildcats from 1998-02, Blevins distinguished himself as the team’s top three-point shooter and free-throw shooter in 2000. In addition, he earned academic All-SEC honors his last three years and graduated magna cum laude in communications. Now an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Blevins relishes opportunities to encourage youth to follow their dreams.

Blevins’ philosophy for success is four-fold: 1) Start with a vision and a dream; 2) believe with all your heart that it’s possible; 3) practice hard and make a commitment to give it everything you have; and 4) treat people the right way.

Continuing the theme of the afternoon, Perry told camp participants that reaching their goals requires a plan, which he outlined with the letters in dream:

D – Determination to work toward your goal.
R – Responsibility for the actions you take.
E – Educate yourself. (“That’s the most important thing,” he said.)
A – Achieve your dreams with hard work and practice.
M – Motivation to keep on pushing and trying.

A former Mr. Basketball in North Carolina, Perry played in 120 games (2003-07) as a forward at UK. He shot a game and career-high 25 points in the Cats’ victory over ninth-seeded UAB in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

In early 2009 he was named coach at West Jessamine Middle School. That same year he (and Moss) joined the newly formed Bluegrass Stallions, formerly with the American Basketball Association, and earned second team All-ABA honors.

Parents and care-givers were given the opportunity to attend a brief education program to discuss the importance of talking with children about drugs along with recognizing behavioral and physical signs of drug use.

“Children whose parents regularly speak with them about the dangers of drugs are 50 percent less likely to abuse drugs,” noted Sarah Flynn, PhD, research and community outreach director for UNITE. “Kentucky ranks highest in the nation for the abuse of prescription drugs, so it is vital that your children understand that pills are just as dangerous and addictive as other drugs.”

Since 2006 the UNITE camps have drawn 4,307 youth participants from 52 Kentucky counties, 11 other states and Mexico.

In addition to Phoenix Products and Walmart, sponsors for UNITE’s 2010 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball tour include: Jackson Energy, Knott County SportsPlex, Knott Drug Abuse Council, Leatherwood Elementary UNITE Club, Pikeville Medical Center, Senture, SouthEast Telephone and WestCare-Kentucky.

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