HARRISONBURG — As the first day of James Madison’s boys basketball camp ended Monday, a small group of kids filed into the bleachers behind the visitors bench.
This bunch of campers easily traveled the longest distance to participate in the program, arriving from various parts of Florida over the last three days specifically for the camp. Their one tie to JMU is uncle Louis Rowe, the Dukes basketball coach.
A third of the players who enrolled in the three-day camp that runs through Wednesday are either related to Rowe or came with Rowe’s sister’s AAU team based out of St. Petersburg, Fla. It left Rowe scrambling around the Convocation Center for most of the day in an attempt to watch all of his nieces and nephews play a sport that unites the entire Rowe family.
“We’re a family, so if I’m having a camp, they want to be here,” Rowe said. “They’re 15 hours away from me, and they make a point to bring as many people as they can up here to support my camp, so that should speak for itself.”
The entire Rowe family descended upon Harrisonburg this week, including parents Linda and Louis Sr., for the camp, giving Louis Jr. the chance to spend some much-needed time with his family. This is the first time many of Rowe’s sisters have even been able to visit him, making the experience more sentimental.
Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Rowe is not allowed to watch some of his nieces and nephews play without receiving a waiver. There were several moments Monday when Rowe acted more like a proud uncle than a Division I basketball coach running a camp as he watched the progression his nieces and nephews have made on the court.
They were glimpses into the importance Rowe places on family.
“For me, I’m so far away, so the main thing more than any evaluation is a sense of pride,” Rowe said. “To see my nephews developing and my nieces developing, it’s a blessing to be able to watch them.”
The decision to ship up from Florida was a no-brainer for most of Rowe’s relatives, especially his sister, Lisa Delancy. Delancy brought nine players from her St. Petersburg Skills Academy AAU team to participate in both the regular camp and Rowe’s elite camp Thursday, although she said she would have brought more if she had access to more than one vehicle.
The players Delancy brought reveled in the opportunity to be around a Division I program and stayed to watch the Dukes go through a workout after the camp ended. Delancy was even filming some drills to bring back to her team or spark some ideas of her own.
“I saw him light up when everyone was here,” Delancy said. “It’s important for us to support what he’s doing even though he’s kind of far away. It’s important for our kids to see how hard he works because these jobs come and go very quickly [but] family stays the same.”
Although Rowe was paying plenty of attention to his own family, he was also keenly watching the local kids who came out to his camp. By the end of the first day, several of the children had nicknames from the coach, and he was quick to praise those who made good passes or made great shots.
In his second summer as Dukes coach, Rowe is trying to build a connection to the greater Shenandoah Valley community, a relationship that was potentially strained when former coach Matt Brady elected to not hold a basketball camp at JMU. Rowe said he is trying to work hard to nurture his bond with the community and create a buzz for his program by allowing the younger basketball fans of the area to interact with the JMU staff and players in a laid-back, enjoyable atmosphere.
“This camp is about this community,” Rowe said. “I definitely don’t want this to be about the people who came from St. Pete, but they want to be part of this [community]. The focal point is to give as much love back to the community as we can.
“I want to do more and I want to be better. ... You have to be committed to the work, you have to be committed to doing what’s necessary to show people you’re genuine and you want to be a part of [the community].”