Turner’s camp mixes in life skills and tough love

By Steve Williams

The play on the court had gotten a little rough and physical even among the first through fifth graders in the annual Elston Turner Basketball Camp last week at Austin-East High School’s Clifford H. Ross Gymnasium.

Jeff Tate, one of the longtime camp instructors, took advantage of a break in the action to get the kids’ attention and deliver some constructive criticism sprinkled with tough love.

“Hands got to be up – no hacking,” he repeated. “The ref will foul you out.”

Turner himself then stepped in and told the youngsters: “Bottom line, basketball is a team sport. You have to learn how to play with your teammates. When the team is good, you’ll look better.”

Elston, one of the best players to ever come out of Knoxville, started his camp in the late 1980s and in recent years it has become a partnership with Emerald Youth Foundation and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The camp week was for boys and girls and included first through fifth graders Monday through Wednesday from 11 to 4, followed by the sixth through 12th graders on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Around 100 campers participated in this year’s camp, which is always held the last week of July.

Some campers receive a scholarship from Emerald Youth to attend and others pay $50, with the proceeds going to Austin-East High.

“The main objective is to teach and help them,” said Turner. “I still think basketball is the No. 1 play sport in this whole country. And it is a way to make a living and a way to get a free education.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that no matter what you do, you can teach somebody else how to do it. And that’s what I’m doing. When I was these kids’ age, that’s all I wanted – somebody to come back and kind of teach me and tell me right from wrong and what I should be doing. I didn’t have it. So I said if I’m ever in a position that I can, I’m going to come back and I’m going to teach these kids what I was missing. It’s all about giving back to the community.”

Turner led Austin-East to the TSSAA Class AAA state championship in 1977 and went on to star at Ole Miss. He played eight seasons in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls. This past season with the Minnesota Timberwolves was his 25th season as an assistant coach in the NBA.

“I’m still looking forward to being a head coach, but I’m not pushing it,” said Turner. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do it. The years are piling up.”

At 64 years old, Turner, who now lives in Houston, is still youthful and enjoys working the camp.

“I’m on the court moving with the young people,” he said. “I’m not pointing what to do; I’m kind of showing them, hands on.”

Tate, a 1981 Fulton grad, lives in Nashville, where he has a “Focus Mentoring Program.” The camp participants and workers wore Focus T-shirts, with the letters in FOCUS standing for Faith, Obedience, Commitment, Understanding and Self-control.

Campers also were given a FCA Sports New Testament, which has a picture of former Lady Vol great Tamika Catchings on the back cover.

Special awards for “best sportsmanship” and “best report card” were presented to Elijah Mathieu and Mikelle Wrancher, respectively, on the younger campers’ last day.



Emerald Staff


Kevin Tucker

Victoria Griffin

Chris Whitehead

Isaiah Gilmore

Tevarus Lee

Kaylin Chesney

Allie Heins



Longtime Camp Workers


Sanford Miller Sr.

Terry Collins

Roberta Roberts

Erin Moseley

Chawania Burns

Jeff Tate

Rodney Jones

Ray Moseley

Bruce Taylor

Celeste Brooks

Jeff Yancey

Jeff Brown

James Bowden

Kim Jones

Terri Kellogg

Pat Netherland

Vennia McDuffey

Dominic Canty

Jordyn Taylor

Vicki Johnson