Damen Bell-Holter shares words during his basketball camp on Saturday at Floyd Dryden Middle School. The camp was a partnership with Sealaska and Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire)

Damen Bell-Holter shares words during his basketball camp on Saturday at Floyd Dryden Middle School. The camp was a partnership with Sealaska and Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire)

Southeast-raised basketball star leads next generation at CCTHITA , Sealaska camp

Hydaburg-raised Damen Bell-Holter gives young people a lot to look up to. A pro basketball player who worked his way up the ranks from tiny gyms on Prince of Wales Island to the National Basketball Association and pro leagues around Europe, Bell-Holter has played professionally in 16 counties. He’s parlayed his size, athleticism and hard work into a career and a college education.

A tall man’s story put short: Bell-Holter has reached the highest heights of basketball. But he’s also a lofty player in the literal sense. At 6 foot, 9 inches tall and 245 pounds, Bell-Holter towers over most. He has only to raise his hand to block a shot from any of the first through fifth graders attending his basketball camp at Floyd Dryden Middle School on Saturday, which he does with relish during pre-camp warmups.

As Bell-Holter swished six three-pointers in a row while shooting around with campers, one young man could hardly believe the pro player’s skill.

“Is he better than Curry?” he asked a friend, referencing All-Star NBA player and three-point specialist Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

That’s the kind of impression Bell-Holter is hoping to make. He said if he can show kids that a guy from Hydaburg can make it to the NBA, they can do anything.

“It’s not even about basketball, that’s what I’ve realized. This is just a vehicle to get these kids in the door to listen to the story. A lot of these kids aren’t going to have the opportunities I had in the basketball realm, but everything they’re going to learn from my story, the adversity of making it out of a small community because I had a dream, that’s something any kid can apply,” Bell-Holter said.

The camp was put on by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Sealaska. Many of his campers are in town for the Gold Medal basketball tournament.

Bell-Holter, on holiday with family for the first time in a while, had approached Sealaska saying he wanted to get some court time with youth, organizer Sarah Dybdahl said.

On the court, Bell-Holter said he hopes kids learn the fundamentals. That starts with staying low, being disciplined in your play and learning proper footwork and mechanics.

“The low man wins on offense and defense,” Bell-Holter advised campers.

But basketball success is also about focus. The game is 70 percent mental, he told his students.

“If you can’t focus as a basketball player, you won’t get very good,” he said. “I want you guys to focus, listen and be respectful.”

Part Tlingit and part Haida, Bell-Holter is a big role model for young Alaska Native kids. As a boy, he had a dream and worked hard to achieve it. He says he benefitted from adults who took him under their wings, but aside from that, achieving in basketball takes hard work, talent and sacrifice.

Bell-Holter said you have to believe something is possible to make it so.

“By the time I was in fifth, sixth grade I was telling people I was going to be on ESPN. I was probably annoying,” he said. “I made it happen by just kind of manifesting and not using my surroundings as a kind of scapegoat … That’s what I want people to take away from my story. It doesn’t matter what you come from or where you come from, if you have focus and lock in on your ultimate goal, anything is possible.”

Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire Young basketball player Rolando Felipe, center, practices a “triple threat” position. A part of basketball fundamentals, players are prepared to pass, dribble or shoot out of the triple threat.

Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire Young basketball player Rolando Felipe, center, practices a “triple threat” position. A part of basketball fundamentals, players are prepared to pass, dribble or shoot out of the triple threat.

Thea Duncan dribbles during a drill at Damen Bell-Holter’s basketball camp Saturday at Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire)

Thea Duncan dribbles during a drill at Damen Bell-Holter’s basketball camp Saturday at Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Konrad Frank | For the Juneau Empire)

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