If 12-year-old Corey Sansone drains a three-pointer in your face at Forest Park Middle School this fall, you can thank Dallas Mavericks star swingman Michael Finley.
The Proviso East graduate and member of the school’s 1991 state championship team has held a basketball camp at his former high school each of the last nine summers, allowing 8- to 16-year-old hoop dreamers from all around the Chicago area and as far as Michigan to get some tips from a pro.
“He told me to line up with your shot and shoot when you’re ready,” said Sansone, who hopes that the experience will give him a better chance at making the school basketball team next year.
This year’s camp concluded on Friday, July 15 with an award ceremony hosted by Finley as well as a barbeque for the 350 campers, including a number of Forest Park residents, who participated.
The date also marked the 10th anniversary of Finley being drafted into the NBA by the Phoenix Suns. In commemoration, Finley, who also starred at the University of Wisconsin, was surprised with the unveiling of a life-size photo in the Proviso East gym and a permanent display of his jersey right outside the gym.
Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough was on hand to declare the day Michael Finley Day in the village, while State Rep. Karen Yarbrough and State Sen. Kimberly Lightford both honored Finley’s work in the community by declaring it Michael Finley Day throughout the entire state of Illinois.
Finley responded to the honor by promptly declaring that class would not be in session on any day bearing his name, even if it is in the middle of the summer. “They said it’s my day … then no school on July 15!” he told the cheering crowd.
All jokes aside, school is a matter of utmost importance to Finley. A member of the National Honor Society during his days at Proviso East, Finley hopes that the camp will provide discipline and hope for the campers, many of whom come from impoverished or crime-ridden neighborhoods.
He takes pride in success stories like University of Illinois star Dee Brown and Michigan State star Shannon Brown, both former Most Valuable Players at his basketball camp (and Proviso East alums), but he is equally proud of the many former campers who have gone on to excel in other fields.
“I just want them to see a positive influence … a guy who walked the same streets they did and went to the same schools they went to and made it. Hopefully they can see that it’s possible and keep their dreams and aspirations high,” said Finley, who lived in both Melrose Park and Maywood as a youth.
While many basketball camps come with a hefty attendance fee, Finley’s camp is free of charge. Campers are selected on a first-come, first-served basis. They are divided into three skill levels”high school, college, and NBA”and spend the week doing drills and competing in scrimmages under Finley’s watchful eye.
Though only a select few campers received awards on Friday, nobody went home empty-handed. The campers all received backpacks donated by Nike and two tickets to this weekend’s Chicagoland All Star Classic, donated by the Support Group of Chicago.
But more valuable than any of these gifts were the lessons that the campers learned from the hometown hero.
“He showed me how to work with other people and how to not be selfish with the ball,” said 13-year-old Landon Gamble, who plays on the basketball, softball and volleyball teams at Forest Park Middle School.
“I’ll be coming back until I’m 16,” he said.