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updated: 6/26/2014 7:24 PM

Former Bulls forward heads basketball camp in Lisle

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  • Former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc talks about shooting during his youth basketball camp at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.

       Former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc talks about shooting during his youth basketball camp at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc is conducting a youth basketball camp this week at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.

       Former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc is conducting a youth basketball camp this week at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Cole Kleiner of Wisconsin perfects his jumper during Toni Kukoc's youth basketball camp at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.

       Cole Kleiner of Wisconsin perfects his jumper during Toni Kukoc's youth basketball camp at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Toni Kuckoc at youth camp

 
 

Former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc had a reputation for being a well-rounded and versatile player during his time in the NBA.

So it's no surprise he's "not a fan" of players who are considered specialists.

"Somebody who is a rebounding specialist or a defensive specialist," Kukoc said, "those are basically guys that developed just one of all these parts of the game. As a basketball player, you should have all of them."

To help about 70 young players develop their skills, Kukoc has been conducting a basketball camp this week at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle. The curriculum is focused on all the fundamental basketball skills: shooting, ballhandling, defense, free throws and footwork.

Kukoc says he's enjoyed working with the kids, who range in age from 6 to 17. He's been stressing how important fundamental skills are to the game.

"It doesn't matter if you are five feet (tall) or ... the tallest player that ever played the game," Kukoc said. "The fundamentals of the game help you in a lot of ways to contribute."

Kukoc played for the Bulls from 1993 to 2000, winning three championship rings as well as the NBA's Sixth Man Award in 1996. He retired in 2006.

Still, Kukoc admits he didn't expect kids at the camp to know who he is.

What he learned on the first day of the weeklong camp is that he and other members of the Bulls championship teams still can be watched playing in their prime, thanks to the Internet.

"I guess they did their homework, and they watch all the YouTube videos," Kukoc said.

Thirteen-year-old Cole Kleiner, a Bulls fan from Wisconsin, says he knows Kukoc because he's in a video game.

Cole's mom, Vicki, says her son was so excited about the camp that she took a week off from work so he could attend. The family drove nearly four hours to get here and is spending the week at a hotel.

Vicki Kleiner said her son has been going online to learn more about Kukoc. "He said the other day that he wished the camp was longer," she said.

Apparently, Cole isn't the only one doing research.

Each day, kids have peppered Kukoc with questions about a variety of topics, including his former teammates Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

On Thursday morning, one player asked Kukoc why he can't run anymore. It turns out the child saw a television interview where Kukoc talked about his 2009 hip replacement surgery.

So what question are the kids asking the most?

"Most of them are trying to figure out what the championship is because they see all the banners," Kukoc said. "They heard there's a ring that you get."

He said he tells the kids that a team needs to win a lot of games. And in order for the team to win, the players need to respect their coaches, respect each other and work together.

Samson Mammarappallil, 14, of Arlington Heights, says he signed up for the camp because he wanted to get some help with his shooting. He said getting tips from Kukoc has helped.

"He's a pretty good shooter," Mammarappallil said.

Even though Kukoc spent his final four years in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, he says he's always been a Bulls fan.

"I never changed," said Kukoc, who lives in Highland Park. "I never got the idea of being anything else but a Bulls player."

And when it comes to offering advice for his beloved Bulls, he sounds like most die-hard fans.

"They should be great and win a championship next year," he said.

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