• 55°

Ex-UK player visits OUS#039; NYSP camp

This was one of the messages Sheppard delivered to more than 200 kids Tuesday at Dawson-Bryant High School as part of Ohio University Southern's

National Youth Sports Program.

Sheppard's younger sister found a paper that he wrote in the sixth grade that expressed how badly he wanted to play in the NBA and play in the Final Four at UK, he said. He accomplished both those goals.

"I wrote that in the sixth grade. So, we have documentation that dreams can come true," he said. "I want to get into the school systems and encourage the kids to follow their own dreams."

Sheppard played for the Wildcats from 1995 to 1998 and was a member of two national championship teams. He was voted the Most Valuable Player of the 1998 Final Four in San Antonio.

He played in the National Basketball Association for the Atlanta Hawks and spent three years playing professionally in Italy before returning following Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, he focuses on teaching kids the right way to do things and that will hopefully will go beyond basketball and translate to all aspects of their lives, he said.

"Camps like this give me the opportunity to have an influence on people's lives," he said. "We have a responsibility to act the right way and teach children to do the right thing, to make the right decisions.

"We try to teach them that on the court and hopefully it will flow over to off the court. If you get a kid to believe it and apply it to their lives then you have got something special."

The three hour camp focused on the same fundamentals of basketball such as dribbling, passing and shooting the right way that high schools, colleges and NBA teams work on everyday, he said.

The former UK star said he always enjoys meeting fans and helping youth and wanted to participate in the NYSP camp "because they were already doing great things here and I am just a small part of it."

Though Sheppard said many of the kids are too young to remember his playing days and see him as just "a tall guy with a whistle," Ron Reed, activity director of the NYSP camp, said he was excited to have someone with Sheppard's personal character come to the camp.

Even if many of the children do not know who he is, having someone who is well-known helps give credibility to what they are doing and should help enrollment in the future, Reed said.

"He is showing them the same things we have been for four weeks," Reed said. "But, when Jeff Sheppard asks them they go a little harder, try a little more."

Thirteen-year-old Staci Bruce of Ironton has attended the NYSP camp all three years that Ohio University Southern has offered it. Although she does not watch basketball a lot, she said she enjoys playing it and does know who the former-UK star is.

"I really appreciate that they brought someone like him in. It shows that it means a lot to the camp," she said.

Bruce said she keeps coming back because it is a great way to spend a part of her summer.

"All my friends are here," she said. "It is a lot of fun and gives us something to do."

Some of the counselors enjoyed the Wildcats star's visit as much as the children.

"Having Jeff Sheppard here is like a dream come true for me," camp counselor and avid Kentucky fan Ronda Hall said. "Right here in the Coal Grove gym, miracles can happen."

Sheppard's life is busy now with public speaking on his "Dream Shapers" tour, hosting basketball camps and running his new apparel company 15 Inc. Regardless, he said he still cherishes all the great relationships he built as a Wildcat.

"To do the things we did you have to come together. You either come together or bump heads," he said. "At Kentucky, when I was there, we came together and I think it showed on the basketball court."

Without those relationships and faith in one another, Sheppard said there never would have been any miracle comebacks or championship memories.