Former Razorbacks basketball player Charles Balentine is continuing a tradition each year by hosting a youth camp at the Lonoke Community Center.
The camp was held two weeks ago and divided into two sessions, one for younger players and one for older players.
Balentine, whose biggest play in college was a shot that helped the Hogs beat No. 1 North Carolina and Michael Jordan 65-64 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center in 1984, is a high school friend of community center director Mike Brown.
“He and I grew up in the same neighborhood [in Newport],” Balentine said of he and Brown. “This is, I believe, our sixth year [for the camp]. I was shocked to count those back.”
Balentine, who is the district manager for Academy Sports in northwest Arkansas and Missouri, has done youth camps for several years, not just in Lonoke.
“Back from 2006 to 2009, I conducted camps in Missouri and Arkansas and we did one camp, every year, in Indonesia,” Balentine said.
Balentine said, even after all these years, he is still recognized as a former Hog.
“A lot of people still remember that, even outside the state,” he said, referring to Arkansas’ win over Jordan and the Tar Heels. “When, I lived in California, and even Arizona, people would say ‘I know that name from somewhere.’ But it’s always a good recognition for the whole state and the University.
“It’s amazing to see how many people watched that game.”
It was televised nationally on NBC. Arkansas had beaten SMU in a Southwest Conference game the day before in Dallas.
Balentine said he enjoys conducting youth basketball camps.
“Mike and I were talking about this earlier about how we didn’t get to go to a lot of camps,” he said. “Basically, you learned in the neighborhood that you are in. In my 10th-grade year, we started going to basketball camps.”
Balentine said he attended one at Arkansas College, now Lyon College in Batesville. There were also one at Harding University in Searcy.
“We started learning the techniques of basketball,” he said. “I really enjoy them. It brings back an opportunity for me and the other guys to give back to these kids who don’t have a lot of opportunities, just like us.”
Assisting Balentine at the camp was former Razorbacks player Michael Sanchez, who played for both John Pelphrey and Mike Anderson during his time at the University of Arkansas.
Sanchez said he loves working at the Lonoke camp.
“It is a great deal that Charles and Mike are doing,” he said. “I think it’s great for the kids. It gets them out of the house, doing things. This day and age, the generation with the video games, it gets them out of the house and gets them active. And that is very important.”
Sanchez said the only way he knew he would be able to go to college was through basketball. He played high school ball at Springdale Har-Ber.
“I knew my parents couldn’t afford it,” he said. “So, I got my butt in the gym, working night in and night out, trying to get myself a scholarship. With this camp down here, it might help plant a seed in at least one kid’s mind that ‘I’m okay at this game and if I work at it, I can go to college. I can play basketball. It’s just going to take hard work.’
“Coach Balentine and myself are living proof that you can do that. It also gives the kids hope. Any chance that you get to impact or influence someone’s life, it feels really good. That’s one of the main reasons I love coming down here.”