Before Ennis was drafted to the NBA he played for Ventura High and Ventura College.
by Maryssa Rillo
On Saturday, July 27th, NBA superstar and Ventura local, James Ennis III, returned to his old stomping grounds and organized a basketball camp for the westside Ventura youth at the Westpark Community Center.
“One of the biggest reasons I put on this camp today is my dad had mentioned to me probably two years ago when I did a camp at Ventura College, he told me to do one where I am from and this is where I grew up at. This is where I used to come every day after school, always here. We didn’t really have nothing else to do so I just stayed in this gym,” Ennis said.
Before Ennis was drafted to the NBA, he played for Ventura High School, Ventura College, Long Beach State and internationally in Australia. Throughout his NBA career, Ennis has played for Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets. He is currently a shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The camp was funded by Ennis’s foundation, Ennis Elite Camp, therefore it was free to all participants. According to Westpark’s Youth Coordinator, Anita Diaz, James wanted to make sure that the camp participants were predominantly from westside Ventura. To accomplish this, there wasn’t any outside advertising.
“First of all he’s a celebrity and he’s a NBA player so the idea of meeting James Ennis and then learning from James Ennis was a phenomenal opportunity for any kid but especially for the kids from the westside, because they are predominantly low income kids and so they don’t get to see someone like this every day,” Diaz said.
The children had the opportunity to participate in different basketball drills from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Eight-year-old Adrian Watts had the opportunity to attend the Ennis Elite Camp.
“I played games and we did defensive drills and stuff like that,” Watts said. “I think it was really cool that I got to meet an NBA player.”
According to Ennis, the motivation behind coordinating this camp was to give back to the community and to show the children of westside Ventura that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
James’ younger sister, Demetra Ennis, assisted with the camp and worked the different basketball stations during the day.
“The main goal behind this camp was to teach children that you can be anything you want to be in life if you just work hard and stay focused,” said Demetra. “I believe it’s very motivational because James comes from a very low poverty background and a lot of these children that attended our camp come from the same background so I believe that them seeing where James came from to where he is at now was very inspirational.”
According to James’ agent, Scott Nichols, this was the first time Ennis Elite Camp took place in Ventura. Though they have done something similar in Australia, this was also the first time the camp was free of charge.
“He loves kids and I think that was really important. He has a really stressful life and a lot of pressure for him to perform on the court, but you can tell today that there was no pressure for him at all, this is what he loves to do,” Nichols said.
James’ younger brother, Jamaal Ennis, who is also making his way to the NBA helped the kids with their ball handling skills.
“My main goal is to make sure that they know I’m here and I care and I’m not just here just to be here. Make sure that I build relationships even though it’s a short amount of time,” Jamaal said.
Sitting on the sidelines was James’ dad, James Ennis II. According to Ennis II, he always told James to never forget where he came from and to always find a way to give back.
“I am proud that he did this,” said James Ennis II. “If my son can make it anyone else can make it, but you don’t have to make it in basketball you can make it any other sports or just get your degree in college and don’t run with the bad people.”
Growing up in westside Ventura himself, James was able to relate to the kids who now play at the community center.
“People like myself, we didn’t have NBA players come here and do this stuff like that. So, if I can help someone and motivate someone by being here, my presence, that’s why I am doing this.”
James also had advice for the children.
“Never be afraid to fail. If you’re afraid to do something you won’t attempt to do it and that was one big thing about me, I didn’t know I was going to make it to the league, I just had my mind set to help my family and I did. That’s what kept pushing me every day and putting in the work in here. If you believe in something work hard at it,” James said.
“I look up to my brother a lot. He’s my role model. He taught me a lot about life and shows me what to do and what not to do,” James’ younger brother Jamar Ennis said.
According to Nichols the Ennis Elite Camp will return to Ventura every summer.
“Every summer he plans on doing it again. The cool thing is, is that the Sixers helped out, Bodyarmor sponsored with the drinks, and Chick Fil A too, to help the kids,” Nichols said.
James enjoyed being able to spend time with the westside community.
“My favorite part about today was just seeing everyone smile and having a good time,” James said. “I know everyone appreciates everything and we had a good day today.”