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Basketball, cheer, NBA players come to Big Cypress Reservation for spring break camp

Former NBA player Mario Chalmers, who won two NBA championships with the Miami Heat, is surrounded by campers during the Celebrity Sports Academy spring break camp March 28, 2024, on the Big Cypress Reservation. (Beverly Bidney photo)

BIG CYPRESS — Celebrity Sports Academy’s week-long visit to the Big Cypress Reservation for a spring break camp in March carried plenty of significance for the company – which had never been to a Native American reservation – but it was even more meaningful for one of its staff members.

When Shawna Lambert, from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, was growing up in a rural area in South Dakota, youth basketball had to travel a long distance if they wanted to attend a camp.
Ever since she started working with Celebrity Sports Academy, it’s been her goal to help bring a basketball camp to a reservation.

So when the camp showed up in Big Cypress, so did the emotions.

“This one is real meaningful to me because it’s our first all-Native American academy,” said Lambert, who is the company’s director of logistics.

Celebrity Sports Academy is the former camp of retired NBA hall of famer Dwayne Wade; it is now run by his brothers and others. The camp lived up to its celebrity billing. On one day, campers welcomed 6-foot-9 Miami Heat star center Bam Adebayo, who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds this season.

Mario Chalmers works with Wyatt BruisedHead during the basketball camp. (Beverly Bidney photo)

The next day more stars arrived as former Heat standout Mario Chalmers brought an NBA championship trophy for the kids to see. He won two NBA championships with the Heat. He was joined at the camp by Wade’s 22-year old son, Zaire, who plays professional basketball in Asia. In high school, Zaire played for American Heritage in Plantation.

Growing up as the son of a famously successful basketball player, Wade fell in love with the sport.
“I was blessed to be in certain rooms and locker rooms,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure, but I dealt with it. I learned you have to have a balance in life. My parents worked very hard, and I knew I should try to reciprocate.”

Campers had photo and autograph opportunities with the players.

The camp was sponsored by the office of Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie.

“Thank you to Councilwoman Billie because she has supported this entire spring break camp for the kids. It’s been so good for the community,” said Jessica McDaniel, a cofounder and COO of Celebrity Sports Academy.

The camp featured basketball and cheer, and was open tribalwide for kids ages 6 to 17. Participation numbers increased each day; the second to last day drew 58 kids. The camp took place during spring break week for some counties in the area, including Hendry. Most of the kids came from Big Cypress and Immokalee and some from Hollywood.

“They were so excited,” said Cathy Cypress, Big Cypress Recreation site manager.

Camp instructor Jess Heart works with kids on dribbling skills during the basketball camp March 27, 2024, on the Big Cypress Reservation. (Kevin Johnson photo)

Spring break in Brighton occurred a week earlier, otherwise the turnout would have been even higher. Academy personnel said they hope the camp can return to the reservation either this summer or next summer when all kids are out of school.

The camp featured several stations set up on the court at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium and the new Ahfachkee School gymnasium across the street.

The cheerleading portion was led by Plantation-based 5 Star Athletics. Owner Samantha Hearn and her staff taught a large group of girls the basics to cheer, including jumping, stunting and tumbling.

Hearn’s company has worked with a few tribal members individually in the past, but this was the first trip to a reservation. She was impressed with how enthusiastic the girls were to listen and perform.

Lorraine Jumper receives plenty of support in a cheerleading drill at the camp on the Big Cypress Reservation. (Kevin Johnson photo)

“The group we have is really eager to learn,” she said.

At the end of the week, the cheer campers showed what they had learned and performed a routine.

On the basketball side, boys and girls were put in groups that rotated through active workouts and instruction at five stations each day, manned by different specific drill-related basketball academies. In addition to dribbling, passing, shooting and defense drills, the camp also focused on performance training at agility stations for speed, strength and explosiveness. They also played in 5-on-5 games and competed in skill challenges.

In one of the classroom sessions in a new room at Ahfachkee, about 35 students sat at six circular desks and listened to Dwayne Wade’s brothers – Lester McDaniel and Kodhamus Llongbey – and Jeremy Holmes from Treasureville Academy. They stressed the importance of education and getting prepared for careers and life whether basketball is a part of it or not.

When the camp started, Jessica McDaniel said the kids were a bit hesitant with the staff.

“We’re strangers coming onto their reservation,” she said. “They were like, ‘We’re iffy about you guys.’”

But in no time at all, the awkwardness evaporated.

“The difference in the kids from day one to day three has been so interesting to watch,” McDaniel said. “They have opened up to us and really leaned into the training and building their relationship with the coaches; it’s been remarkable to watch.”

Celebrity Sports Academy camp attendees listen to Lester McDaniel, left, Jeremy Holmes, center, and Kodhamus Llongbey during a classroom session at the camp March 27, 2024, on the Big Cypress Reservation. (Kevin Johnson photo)

As the Crow Creek Sioux’s Lambert watched the camp, she couldn’t help think of how a camp in her tribe would impact the kids back home.

“My biggest dream is to take one of our camps to South Dakota. It’s so desolate,” she said. “You have to travel far to get these kind of experiences.”

Taylor Battiest shows strong dribbling skills as she goes around a cone during a drill at the camp. The drill took place in the new gymnasium at the Ahfachkee School. (Kevin Johnson photo)
Professional basketball player Zaire Wade, son of retired NBA star Dwayne Wade, provides dribbling instruction to Cassius Billie, 7, during a drill. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Mario Chalmers poses with kids at the basketball camp in Big Cypress. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Zaire Wade, left, and Mario Chalmers, join Big Cypress Recreation site manager Cathy Cypress, second from left, and Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie at the camp. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at