The Five-Star Baltimore Basketball Camp will celebrate its 20-year anniversary this summer with 10 weekly sessions. More than 11,000 area basketball players in third through 10th grade have participated in more than 100 sessions since 1997.
Despite the great players and coaches who have attended through the years, camp director Steve Baker remains focused on teaching the fundamentals.
"We had Carmelo Anthony as an eighth-grader and Malcolm Delaney, who played at Virginia Tech," Baker said. "We have a lot of multisport athletes. I'd read articles in the sports section and find myself saying, ‘former camper, former camper.' It's not about that. We just want to develop basketball players. It's a highly structured learning environment, and it's fun."
The bulk of the Five-Star sessions take place at Roland Park Country Day School and The Park School.
Baker's veteran coaching staff includes Josh Davalli (Loyola Blakefield), who has been with the camp from the beginning, Anthony Biggers (New Town High School) and Jim Rhoads (Hereford).
Mike Fitzpatrick, who first attended Five-Star as a fourth-grader, became a counselor and is now an assistant at Salisbury University. He will enter his fifth camp season as a coach.
"Coach Baker is a big part of what I'm doing today," Fitzpatrick said from the Final Four in Houston. "I love the game, and I love working with kids."
Baker's father, Paul, brought the Five-Star camp to Baltimore and coached at Towson Catholic, University of Baltimore and Wheeling College. A Five-Star camper, counselor and coach himself, Steve Baker demonstrated ball-handling skills for "Paul Baker's 45-Minute Workout" as soon as he was old enough to dribble.
"I did that thing daily, and he never forced me, either," Steve Baker said. "I started charting my free throws; I really got into it."
Paul Baker convinced Five-Star guru Howard Garfinkel to hold an overnight camp at Wheeling College in the early 1970s with up-and-coming coaches like Skip Prosser, Mike Fratello and Rick Pitino.
Steve Baker was a college basketball assistant for 12 years at New York University and Quinnipiac. He has been involved with Five-Star camps since 1980. He first helped run the Baltimore camp with his dad until his father died in 2013.
"I enjoy the camps, and I don't miss college coaching," Steve Baker said. "I enjoy seeing the kids come back a little bigger and stronger. We'll have six weeks of boys and three weeks of girls this summer. We'll have over 700 campers."
When they approached Garfinkel about a franchise in Baltimore in the late 1990s, Paul and Steve Baker did not want the hassle of an overnight camp and being responsible for fire extinguishers gone missing and other late-night shenanigans.
"We were on the forefront of the day camp phenomenon," Steve Baker said. "Now, there is a day camp for every activity. Gone are the days when we were doing defensive slides in the parking lot in 100-degree heat. All the gyms are air-conditioned. If not, my phone would ring off the hook."
The camp itself has continued to evolve through the years.
"We've tweaked a few things," Steve Baker said. "We've cut back on the guest speakers like Fran Dunphy (Temple), John Beilein (Michigan) and Sports Illustrated writer Alex Wolff. We have mini-lectures that are 10-12 minutes long. First and foremost, kids just want to play. The team format has really worked well."
In addition to focusing on the fundamentals, campers will play 10 league games per week within their age group. There is an awards ceremony at the end and championship games. Steve Baker's favorite moments have come on the last day.
"The whole camp surrounds court one, and we've had a number of buzzer-beaters," Steve Baker said. "A kid hit a three-quarter court bank shot one year, and the place erupted. It's a mini-big stage, and the kids love it. We've made a lot of good memories for a lot of kids."
Steve Baker has evolved the camp in response to changes in the game.
"There is less and less teaching," he said. "The game has become a track meet."
Jim "Snuffy" Smith, who coached with Paul Baker at the University of Baltimore and Wheeling before moving on to Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Virginia Commonwealth and the Bryn Mawr school, remembers his time at the girls' camp in the early 2000s.
"We focused on conditioning, fundamentals and execution," he said. "We worked on all three of those things every day."
To this day, Steve Baker doesn't stray from teaching the fundamentals. Sessions begin in late June and are filling up fast.