In this world of upwardly mobile, family-oriented, sports-minded families, two types of parents have emerged:
Soccer moms and basketball dads.Steve Zimmerman is a basketball dad. A couple of years ago, he found himself driving twice a week from his Lindon home to out-of-the-way high school gyms in Salt Lake City so his basketball-crazy son, Ste-fan, could play his league games.
Understand that basketball is more than a mere pastime for the Zimmermans. Stefan, at age 12, stands well over 6 feet, and some believe that by the time he stops growing, he could reach the 7-foot mark.
It was probably during one of those long commutes that the 6-4 basketball dad wondered why there wasn't a one-stop location for young, aspiring basketball players to convene. So, with an ambition surpassed perhaps only by the Kevin Costner character in the movie "Field of Dreams," he decided to invent such a place.
Six months later, in October 1996, with the financial assistance of the marketing research firm that he owns, Zimmerman secured a plot of land in southwest Orem and started constructing a basketball facility.
Last July, Zimmerman's pet project, Champions Athletic Academy, was completed. Zimmerman built it, and they have come.
"My original vision," he said, "was to provide a place for young people to play basketball. We're busy every night with our leagues. We have a lot of people coming in."
But he wasn't content with furnishing more leagues for kids to play in. He thought about all those kids, like his son, who wanted to hone their skills. There are piano lessons and ballet lessons and swimming lessons for kids. Why not basketball lessons?
So he hired some experts, "basketball specialists," for that very purpose. "The best in the business," Zimmerman said.
The Champions Athletic Academy edifice, located in the industrial sector of Orem, looks like a giant warehouse from the outside. Inside, the 17,000-square foot structure houses three full-length courts. The gym also holds three small scoreboards for each court and even some portable, metal bleachers.
"It's not a rec center," Zimmerman explained. "You can't just show up and get into a pickup game. But if somebody wants to play, there are opportunities. Our three-on-three tournaments have been quite popular."
For kids like Stefan Zimmerman, Champions is where hoop dreams come true. During the school year, the building remains relatively dormant in the the morning hours. But once kids get out of school, Champions resonates with the sound of basketballs bouncing.
Champions hosts fall, spring and winter leagues that keep the joint hopping at nights, while camps are held in the summer. Champions estimates about 2,500 kids from throughout the Wasatch Front will take part in camps in 1998, at prices ranging from $89 to $215 per participant.
And from time to time during the day, players like Bryon Ruffner, a former BYU Cougar who is trying to find a job playing professionally overseas, arrives at Champions to work out. Utah's Michael Doleac and Andre Miller, who are looking at the NBA, are planning to visit soon.
The likes of Mark Eaton, Adam Keefe, Jacque Vaughn, Greg Kite, Russell Larson, Thurl Bailey and Ken and Fred Roberts are scheduled to do clinics at Champions this year.
In the afternoons, some high school-aged players drop in to receive formal instruction. Tommy Connor teaches about 50 kids per week, including one-on-one and small group sessions.
"These type of facilities are becoming popular in the United States. It's somewhat in vogue right now," said Champions director of basketball operations Tommy Connor, a former assistant under University of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus. "What we provide is personalized skill-development and teaching. There's a big market for that."
Earlier this week, Connor was working with Luke Chatwin, a junior at Orem High School who wants to elevate the ceiling on his basketball potential. Connor begins the session by advising Chatwin on diet and weight-training, then runs him through an exhausting series of shooting, rebounding and ball-handling drills.
Connor keeps track of Chatwin's made shots in his head. But those that go through the basket but don't "swish" don't count. At one point, Chatwin lets fly a jumper from the perimeter that skims the back of the iron before ripping the net.
"I'll give you that," said Connor, mercifully. Then he has Chatwin practice a repertoire of low post moves and has him set screens. And when he misses a free throw, Chatwin must bolt down court in a simulated fast break situation.
It may seem like a lot of exertion for a kid who pays $40 an hour for this type of intensive, personalized instruction, but Connor adeptly manages to put "fun" back in "fundamentals."
"He's helped me push myself harder," said Chatwin, still sweaty and panting after the workout. He has been teaming up with Connor since last summer. "You wouldn't believe how much better I am. This is the best thing I've ever done."
"Fundamental skills are a lost art," explained Connor, a Ute point guard from 1985-90. Connor and assistant director Chris Jones, also a former Utah player and coach, helped ex-Utah forward Keith Van Horn become the NBA star he is today. Connor reasons that one hour with a knowledgeable instructor is better than playing for three hours by yourself. Connor and Jones teach there is no substitute for working hard and practicing sound principles.
"It's attention to detail," said Connor. "It's how you get better. There's no reason to come in and do it the wrong way.
Connor knows firsthand that being a solid basketball player can pay big dividends - as in an athletic scholarship. "Older kids may be rewarded with a scholarship down the road," said Connor. "Par-ents are making a big investment now for the future."
As for Champions' future, Zimmerman says the business is likely to turn a profit in the next eight months. And he is already eyeing expansion. "We want to build 20 more," he said.
In the next few years, he has plans to establish Champions facilities in Davis County; Phoenix, Ariz.; and San Antonio, Texas.
For Connor, the kids aren't the only ones who like what Champions has to offer. "What I get out of it is what I do best, teaching basketball. I enjoy working with young people," Connor said. "And I get to wear shorts to work every day."