TUSCALOOSA | Moussa Gueye made a big impression Saturday when he shared his basketball knowledge with dozens of youngsters. The 7-foot Gueye, a junior on the University of Alabama basketball team, was the biggest player in the building and someone they had to look up to.
Gueye and some of his Crimson Tide teammates provided entertainment and instruction during a free camp at the Plum Grove Baptist Church gym. Pastor Tyshawn Gardner called it "a huge success" with a turnout of some 125 boys and girls, ranging in age from 6 to 18.
Saturday's event was the last stop in a series of camps hosted by Sarrell Dental Center, a non-profit pediatric dentistry. Other camps were in Anniston, Clanton and Athens.
"It meant the world to us," Gardner said. "We try to live every day, impacting the lives of young people in this community where God has planted us. For Sarrell Dentistry and these student-athletes to come, it meant so much, and I'm very grateful and thankful."
Along with Gueye, the instructional staff included returning Alabama players Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, Ben Eblen, Rodney Cooper, Nick Jacobs and Andrew Steele and their former teammate Tony Mitchell.
Randolph conducted ball-handling drills. Lacey led a session that featured one-on-one competition. Others were involved in drills that emphasized defensive techniques. In an upstairs area, away from the court, Steele counseled the youngsters on life lessons, such as keeping a positive attitude and the value of hard work.
"The message today was not only about basketball but it was about making good choices in life," Gardner said.
Gueye was stationed under one goal to offer tips on foul shooting. When some of the younger campers struggled to shoot, Gueye lifted them high enough to drop the ball in the basket.
"I just love kids," said Gueye. "I think it's a blessing to have the chance to be here, spending time with the kids. I think they enjoyed it too. You could just tell by the look on their face."
Like the young campers, Lacey had to learn how to play basketball. During his career at Huntsville's Butler High School, Lacey was twice named Mr. Basketball by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
"I really can't remember the first time I saw a live, college player up close, but I was maybe 10 years old when I saw my first NBA D-League (Developmental League) player," Lacey said. "I remember him coming in and talking to us and showing us little things that he did to get him where he was at.
"I grew up in a community center where a lot of high school players and potential college players would come, and they would basically dominate us. Afterwards they would tell us what we needed to work on. I kept working on the little things I needed to do to get where I wanted to be."
Randolph said the kids seemed to have a lot of fun.
"It meant a lot to be able to come out and teach kids some of the things we learned in college, and I think they really appreciate it," he said. "We were just trying to teach them to work hard in practice and stay persistent in whatever they want to do."
Justice Green and Que Hall, who will be sophomores at Tuscaloosa County High School, and David Freeman, who will be a sophomore at Northridge, teamed up for a 3-on-3 contest against Lacey, Randolph and Mitchell. Green, Hall and Freeman wound up winning.
"They've got good attitudes, and they're cool to be around," Green said.
Hall said it's his dream to play at Alabama.
"I met Levi Randolph a couple of times at University Mall," he said. "It's good to interact with them because they're good basketball players. It was just good to get to know them and shake their hands and play with them. It was fun beating them."
Freeman said the Alabama players shared stories about their high school days.
"I enjoyed being around them," Freeman said. "I want to be just like them when I grow up."
Kendarrius Tinker, who will be a freshman at Central, won the free-throw shooting contest.
"I had faith in myself that I would win," said Tinker, who sank all six of his attempts. "I ended up not missing a free throw. I really appreciate how they helped me."
Antiyocka Howard, one of the female campers, will be an eighth-grader at Southview Middle School.
"I loved it," she said. "I've seen them on TV, and I was like, 'Man, I wish I could meet them.' They were helping us. They were like a mentor. They talked about being a good citizen outside of athletics. They're good people. They're very good people."
Reach Andrew Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0223.