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updated: 7/4/2014 9:04 PM

Harrington giving back to the game of basketball

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  • Former University of Illinois standout Sean Harrington is launching a new basketball venture with a training program, The Players Camp, that employs college players as coaches.

      Former University of Illinois standout Sean Harrington is launching a new basketball venture with a training program, The Players Camp, that employs college players as coaches.
    Associated Press/Champaign News-Gazette

  • When he played for Elgin High School, Sean Harrington (24) was one of the top scorers in the state.

       When he played for Elgin High School, Sean Harrington (24) was one of the top scorers in the state.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer/1998 file

 
By Nate Atkins
natkins@dailyherald.com

A decade after Sean Harrington hit the final shot of his Illinois career, he is standing in a hometown gym with a ball in his hands. At 33, he's still not ready to let go.

So he's running a drill. Inside the Harvest Christian Academy gym, three cones stand between him and the hoop. He sprints up to the second cone and back to the first, then slides left and fires. The ball bounces off the back iron.

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He stares at the miss for only a second and then turns to face three young girls. It's their turn now. They run the same route as their instructor and take the same shot -- only each time the ball goes in, and Harrington nods his approval.

Ten years after he finished playing and two years after he finished coaching, these are the shots Harrington lives for. These are the shots of Elgin's youth.

"Every memory I have going back to when I was a little kid has basketball in it," said Harrington, who grew up in Barrington and went on to become Elgin High School's all-time leading scorer. "I thought that if I can make a difference and teach kids proper fundamentals, that's really what I wanted to do."

He will try it out next month with a new staple called The Players Camp. On July 12 in Lisle, current players at Illinois will put campers through a practice like they run in Champaign. The next day, players from Wisconsin will come to Lisle to do the same. Harrington will later try the setup with players from Kansas and Iowa State.

It's one of many youth basketball camps hitting Chicago suburbs this summer.

The Bulls will run two sets of their players camps Aug. 4-8 and 11-15 in Lisle. The Advantage Basketball Camps have sessions over the next two months in Chicago, Lake Barrington, Lake Zurich and Park Ridge. Dee Brown, who played with Harrington for one season at Illinois, will host his camp July 7-11 in Deerfield.

Harrington's Players Camp is, in a way, an opportunity for him to sew up a hole from his own college days. Everything he learned in Elgin came with him to Champaign. He never got to bring it back … until now.

"When I was a little kid, I went to Michigan's camp, I went to Indiana's camp, I went to Illinois' camp," he said. "How cool would it be if those teams came to your hometown?"

He has known the answer for quite some time. Before he was old enough to play, Harrington would visit the practices his father ran as a coach at Chicago Weber and Elgin. The elder Harrington brought in NBA players such as Jim Les, now coaching at UC-Davis, and Jeff Hornacek, now head coach of the Phoenix Suns.

When the Harringtons returned home, the coach would hear a pounding coming from the basement. Little Sean Harrington was bouncing a basketball against the concrete wall.

"He just said, 'I want to play basketball like those guys some day,' " said Jim Harrington, who went 290-139 as Elgin's coach from 1985-2000.

After Harrington finished playing at Illinois, where he twice led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting, he tried coaching. He bounced from Kansas to Northern Illinois to Saint Louis to Illinois. He wasn't happy.

Too much of the job required fitting into the parameters of a 300-page NCAA rule book. It didn't feel like the game he used to love.

So he tried being an analyst for the Big Ten Network and ESPN; all he had to do was watch, understand, translate and enjoy. It was like the role he had as a child standing quietly by his father's side in Elgin, when the game felt so new and right.

Broadcasting took him out of the Illinois basketball bubble and around the country. At UC-Davis, he saw a small school overshadowed by mammoth instate programs pack the house on a single night.

It hit him: Basketball does not have to be the same repetitive game wherever it's played. It can grow in whatever gym it's given.

This summer Harrington's taking his sport to the suburban gyms where he was first introduced. He will try to teach some of Bill Self's chemistry, some of Bruce Weber's defense, some of Rick Majerus' techniques and some of his father's work ethic.

He will teach campers to shoot like he used to. And he will remind them that basketball is a game you play to love, not just to be good at.

And he will be talking in part to himself.

"I did get a little burned out as a college coach," he said. "Some of the passion and love turned into a job. At times I didn't want to see another basketball game. With these workouts and the broadcasting, it's really brought that love and that passion back."

"I think everybody has different loves and different passions. This is mine."

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