GARY | Just because it's free doesn't mean it's easy.
"This is basketball," coach and athletic trainer Thomas Smith said to a weary group of girls. "You've got to be able to do this if you want to be effective playing it."
Smith was giving marching orders to a series of back-and-forth full-court drills that focused on ball-handing. Though they weren't as punishing as suicide sprints, they were grinding and cumbersome, especially for some of the taller girls.
Smith made sure they were done correctly.
"If you don't like this and don't want to do it, then tell your parents not to bring you here next week," Smith advised.
The Lady Blue Chip girls basketball program holds these free clinics every Sunday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Gary Charter School.
"They're for anyone who wants to come out," said Lady Blue Chip director Marcus Browning, who also is a coach in the program.
"We hold practices for our teams afterward," Browning said, "but you don't have to be part of our teams to participate."
The Lady Blue Chips have three travel teams in the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade divisions and four developmental teams. The travel teams generally play up a division, like they did during a recent tournament in Rainbow Park, Chicago.
"We had both our seventh-grade and sixth-grade teams play as eighth graders, and they both made it to the finals," Browning said, "but we left it at that and decided not to have them play each other."
Browning says the Lady Blue Chip teams play a "helter-skelter" and up-tempo style while stretching the defense across the floor.
"We get a lot of our offense from turnovers," Browning said. "We press a lot until they tell us to back off.
"When your team presses on defense, the players will stay active mentally and physically in the game. When you let a team fall back, players tend to rest and have lapses. We want to keep our girls playing hard at all times."
The Lady Blue Chips have a busy tournament schedule, which includes the AAU Girls Super Regional this weekend at the Lincoln Center in Highland.
The AAU Girls Basketball Nationals for sixth-grade teams are June 23-28 in Hampton, Virginia; for seventh-grade teams are July 12-17 in Kings Island, Ohio.
"We also plan to play in the FILA Nationals in Atlanta," Browning said of the July 5-8 tourney. "We're trying to get these girls exposed at a young age.
"We already have some girls being featured on college recruiting websites."