CHAPEL HILL — Four local Special Olympians recently participated in a basketball camp hosted by the University of North Carolina.
The annual Carolina Tarheel Clinic was held in the Dean Smith Center for 100 athletes who will be competing in the upcoming Special Olympics hoops tournaments.
Coach Roy Williams, his staff and his players led the day-long clinic that focused on improving skills and having fun.
Coaches for a local team, Michelle Jackson and Frances Early, took four players down for the clinic: Levi Earley, Michael Felts, Jacob Groff and Jacob Tilley.
Former Granite Bear Wade Moody is now a walk-on at UNC. The players were announced to the crowd, and when Moody’s name was a called, the Surry County contingent let out a roar, said Jackson.
The Tar Heels then found out that this group was from Moody’s hometown, Jackson said, and, “from that point on, Surry County got the royal treatment.”
First they demonstrated proper stretching, with the four locals in the front row directly across from the Tar Heels leading the exercises.
Then the team divided into small groups at stations around the Smith Center. The Special Olympians moved around to each of the stations to learn about things like throwing a proper bounce pass and using good shooting technique on foul shots.
Moody manned the dribbling station with starting point guard Marcus Paige.
A favorite stop was the dunking station where a basket was lowered from 10 feet to seven feet so that participants could show off their dunk skills.
Early is young and still wasn’t tall enough to reach the seven-foot height, noted Jackson, so he got a boost up in the air from Denzel Robinson, the son of long-time assistant coach Steve Robinson.
Jacob Groff, son of Lorrie Riccitello Mann, mimicked Michael Jordan, while Michael Felts pulled off a reverse dunk, said Jackson.
“Then athletes were given authentic Tar Heel jerseys to use to play a five-minute game with the Tar Heel players,” said Jackson.
Moody selected Tilley and Groff, while Felts and Earley were snatched up by Denzel Robinson and starter Reggie Bullock.
Jackson said the highlight of the game was when her son Jacob Tilley shot a three-pointer over Denzel that went in the basket. The crowd cheered, and Coach Williams ran out to give Tilley a high five, she said.
During an autograph session, Robinson asked Tilley, “What was your favorite station?”
Tilley replied, “ESPN.”
Robinson chuckled. “No, here.”
“Oh, the dunking station,” Tilley answered.
When the local newspaper and TV crews found out there was a hometown angle with one of the players, the news media gathered around with cameras and microphones, Jackson said. The boys felt like celebrities.
The next Special Olympics event is Feb. 9 in Greensboro. The athletes can participate in individual skills events, 3-on-3 games or 5-on-5 games.