Butch’s summer basketball camp returns in Year 2

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Kids focused on changing culture

Greg Bates Times Herald Correspondent

Kirk Hirst and Mike Kaczmarek are trying to create a winning culture in their respective basketball programs.

The Oconto Falls High School girls team headed by Kaczmarek won three games in 2016-17. The boys squad that Hirst leads had just one victory.

Hirst and Kaczmarek, who are preaching an offseason filled with hard work and determination in the gym, received a little help last week from Brian Butch, a former University of Wisconsin player who plays professional basketball in Japan.

For the second year in a row, Oconto Falls athletes were able to take part in the Brian Butch Basketball Camp at Oconto Falls High School.

“The nice thing about Oconto Falls is that even though they struggled a little bit the last couple of years, you can see the kids want to get better, especially the ones that are at camp,” said Butch, who holds camps all around Wisconsin during the summer. “We always talk about the process and how you want to leave Oconto Falls better than when they got there. I think the kids are understanding. There’s only one way to do that, and it’s through hard work and skillset.”

Butch played his high school ball at Appleton West and was a two-time Wisconsin Basketball Player of the Year. The 7-footer went on to play four seasons at Wisconsin. As a senior, he was named first-team all-Big Ten. After a couple of short stints in the NBA, Butch has made his mark overseas, playing this past season for the Fukuoka Rizing Zephyrs in Japan.

The three-day camp drew about 28 boys and 23 girls in grades four through 12. The numbers were a tad down from the previous year.

“The nice thing about that is we really do get a chance to individualize a lot of things and work one-on-one with the girls and with the guys,” Butch said. “I think that’s the nice part about it.”

Butch recognized a lot of familiar faces from last summer.

“It’s always good to have a lot of kids back, it means you’re doing something right,” Butch said. “And it means that they’re learning something from you, which is the best thing that you can ask for. I think a lot of the kids that have come back not only learned a lot but also had a good time and got better, which is the exciting part. I think the future’s bright for Oconto Falls, and I’m excited to see what they can do and continue to build.”

About 16 of Hirst’s high school players were on hand for the camp, which is nearly half the number in the program.

“Obviously, I’d like to see more people there, 100 percent participation,” Hirst said. “But if you can get that many there, that’s a good nucleus.”

Butch, who is aided with his camp by Ripon College assistant coach Logan Flora, worked on plenty of fundamentals during the three days. He emphasized footwork and making sure each player is maneuvering properly on a consistent basis. Also, shooting, ball-handling and passing were hit on in great detail.

Hirst teaches a lot of the same drills throughout the season.

“We’re focusing more on the fundamental stuff, dribbling, shooting,” Hirst said. “A lot of shooting, a lot of dribbling. A lot of getting to the rim stuff. A lot of explosive stuff to get past our defenders. I’m not worried about anything else but shooting and dribbling at this point in time, and that’s really what we’re going to focus on.”

What Hirst loved the most was Butch sharing his philosophy about creating a winning culture.

“He’s been really hammering home and he talks to them even as the drills are going on,” Hirst said. “Just dialing in on the technique and why we do it and what he’s seen with his experience. Why do I step here? Why do I do this drill? The bigger picture of it is he talks to our kids; it’s about cultural change. You should be saying, ‘I’m going to work out and I’m grabbing my buddy and we’re going, no excuses.’ What he says is, ‘You’ve guys have to be getting a little bit sick and tired of where the program’s at. The only way that program changes is you guys coming in and doing these things and getting your buddies in to do it.’”

Hirst talks to his players all the time about what it will take to turn around the program.

“But hearing it from a guy like that, he’s obviously been a McDonald’s All-American and stuff like that, makes a big difference,” Hirst said.