Every Father's Day weekend, Kentucky coach John Calipari invites All-American fathers and sons who eat at McDonald's to share the basketball floor with his McDonald's All-Americans.
For diehards like Todd Harris, who attended Kentucky and grew up obsessed with the 80s Wildcat teams led by Rex Chapman, the opportunity to play basketball with his 8-year-old son under the watchful eye of Coach Cal was something he could not pass up.
"As a kid, I actually went to some of the UK camps myself," says Harris, 36. "I never went with my dad, though. I've lived in Lexington for the last ten years and my kids are enthralled with the school. When I grew up in Louisville, I'd go to the occasional basketball game at Kentucky, about once a year, but now I take my kids to almost all of the games."
Harris has three children; two boys, Leighton, 8, Connor 4, and a daughter, Whitley, 6.
"Leighton started going to games when he was 1," he says. “He’s living in a great time here for UK basketball. I think the first time he really got enamored with the team was Calipari's first year. They had John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. My son loved doing the John Wall dance. I'm fortunate that my oldest is a sports fanatic. He wakes up and wants to watch SportsCenter."
Preston Spradlin, the assistant director of basketball operations for Kentucky, says that the John Calipari Father/Son Camp has grown exponentially in the past few years.
"We went from running one camp each summer on Father's Day to running three this year," Spradlin says. "The demand is huge, especially on Father's Day. Dads and sons come in on Friday evening, and they get to stay in a dorm for a night. We teach skills on the court that they can work on together in the driveway. And we give out a lot of different awards to make it fun."
In addition to Calipari and the current roster of players and coaches, plenty of Kentucky alumni show up to help out at the camp. In past years Kentucky stars like Tony Delk, Scott Padgett and Wayne Turner have been on campus for the event. Rod Strickland, a member of Calipari's staff and a 17-year NBA veteran, has two boys who attend the camp with him and demonstrate ball handling drills that they work on at home.
Spradlin also mentions that people forget that Calipari is a father himself, who has two daughters and a son, Brad, who plays high school basketball.
"Coach is at the camp the entire time with his son,” he says. "He eats with all the other fathers and sons and hands out awards and basically hangs out at the gym with the other dads. He goes through all the same stuff with his son as the other fathers do. Even as accomplished as he is as a coach, his son still doesn’t want to hear what he has to say about basketball sometimes. But he always has advice for dads on how to work with their sons because he tries to treat his players like his own kids."
As for Todd Harris, the basketball knowledge he can impart to his son is valuable, but the experience itself is where the real enjoyment lies.
"We live in Lexington, so I wasn't going to stay in the dorm with my son,” he says. "But I let Leighton make the decision and of course he wanted to. We slept in bunk beds and ate junk food and he loved it. Being able to sleep in the same dorm as the players and eat meals where they eat and play on the courts that they play on allowed him to experience what it would be like to play for UK on a daily basis."
One of the highlights of the camp for Todd and Leighton was their victory in a shooting-drill competition.
"The coaches really hyped that up for us, telling us we scored one of the highest scores they’ve ever had there,” Harris says. "Leighton loved that. He was telling everyone at school that he won the competition and how he and his dad had one of the highest scores ever. He was so excited to have his name called to get his award."
Spradlin says that they intentionally have a wide variety of competitions to keep the energy going throughout the camp.
"Todd and his son won a shooting drill," he says. "But we have games where it's all the kids against all the dads, or we have games where our players step in. One of the things the kids like the most is watching their dads getting coached up by one of our coaches. They see their dad taking instruction and they realize that they can too."
Harris says, "It's a father's dream to be able to do anything with your child that allows them to experience one of your passions. Kentucky basketball is one of my passions and to be able to do the camp with my son allowed me to pass on something I love to the next generation."
-- Jon Finkel is the author of The Dadvantage: Stay In Shape On No Sleep With No Time And No Equipment. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Finkel.