Typically this time of year, Kenny “The Jet” Smith is traversing the world and helping young hoopers hone their craft. With most of the world on lockdown and kids losing out on valuable chances to get better, Smith sprung into action with the Jet Academy, a live virtual basketball camp stacked with NBA and WNBA All-Stars who will give real-time advice and constructive criticism to kids from all over the globe.
Though other initiatives from the Jr. NBA and National Academy of Athletics have sprouted up during the pandemic, Smith knew his connections in pro basketball and his investment had the chance to take this program over the top. With kids of his own, Smith noticed there was no interest in popping into a video from months ago and watching for minutes on end, no matter how helpful the information.
“The one thing that separates from what everyone else is doing is, our kids consume and produce information differently, so I thought it had to be live,” Smith told Dime. “Our kids don’t consume information like that. They’ve been going to Zoom school and every social media site that has a live aspect to it, that’s what’s been the most popular, so they consume information live.”
Smith partnered up with some of the biggest names in basketball in order to turn this into a reality. All-Stars and MVPs from the NBA and WNBA will broadcast live on a daily basis, with many broadcasting straight from bubble leagues in Florida. The list so far includes Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Brittney Griner, and Victor Oladipo, with more to come.
The decision to incorporate WNBA stars was deliberate, Smith said. Too many camps overlook the fact that young women will participate and want individualized attention and to see themselves represented by their mentors.
“That was a very conscious thought, to say not only that I’m going to have them in the program, but have just as many,” Smith said. “In terms of women’s sports, a lot of moms, a lot of dads even realize (how many) less opportunities women get in sports. We all know how the association of team sports helps you develop as a person. I would have been remiss not to have that equal opportunity.”
The camp was created with inclusion and modern technology at the front of Smith’s mind, helping to manifest what Smith believes is true: Winter is where teams are made, but summer is when players are made. It may not be a substitute for AAU or in-person training, but at $29 per month, it’s a cost-effective semblance of summer workouts, with some of the most talented teachers on the planet.
When Smith asked the pro stars to help out, he made sure to tell Walker to teach the campers his trusty step-back crossover move. Walker might have to show modifications for younger campers, Smith admitted, but it’s impossible to measure how cool it will be for young girls and boys to hear directly from someone like the Boston Celtics’ star about one of the most iconic moves in basketball. He did, however, have one reservation.
“If I see Patrick Beverley online,” Smith recalled Walker saying, “I’m going to stop the session.”
Despite the majority of attention focused on the pros, great athletes understand what’s being lost if kids miss extended time in their childhood to work on their game and just be active and be on teams. Smith said in conversations with youth and college coaches, the belief is eyes will be turned toward the NBA restart to determine the viability of future on-court work and competition.
Until then, he wants to give them the chance to learn from the best. Smith himself is set to begin work on Inside the NBA again this month, so campers are effectively in line to be taught by a pro analyst on the biggest NBA show on television, as well as multiple pro All-Stars, from their bubble bunkers. It’s a symbol of Smith’s dedication, as well as the bizarre realities of summer 2020. The current situation of right now, however, is temporary, and on the other side, life will hopefully get to some sense of normalcy.
When that day comes, Smith wants to make sure that hoopers all over the world are prepared to get back into the gym and compete, asking Dime, “Why should kids who want to make their junior high school team, their high school team or play well in college stop because of social distancing?”