TORII STATION, Japan - Elva Harris loves the game of basketball. The Army dependent and upcoming junior at Kadena High School started playing at the age of five while her parents were stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Now some 10 years later, Harris is still seeking to improve her game.

"I love basketball. It's fun," said Harris.

"There's always more to do with the game and I need to improve my court vision to make me a better player," explained Harris.

Harris added it's the need for improvement that keeps her motivated for the game and so she keeps coming back to one of Okinawa's premier summer sports camp, Okinawa Ice basketball club.

Harris and her teammates with Oki-Ice understand that in order to become a better athlete you must improve on your craft during the off season. By putting in the extra time athletes can go from being just an average participant to elite status.

Oki-Ice, as it's affectionately called by the community on Okinawa, is a summer basketball program that fulfills every young hoopster's dream of improving their basketball skill sets during the long hot summer days on this sub-tropical island.

According to volunteer coach Air Force Master Sgt. Marvin Rhoades, an avionics manager for Kadena's 18th Maintenance Group, the program was started more than five years ago by Keith Richardson.

Rhoades explained that Richardson, who currently is an assistant coach for the Ryukyu Golden Kings of the Basketball Japan pro league, had a clear vision in mind of helping teens stay connected to the game of basketball and giving volunteers like Rhoades an opportunity to share their experience and knowledge of the game.

"In the states, you have Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and other top basketball programs that our players don't get the chance to see or participate in," said Rhoades. "So we want to give them an opportunity to stay competitive through practice and local leagues during the summer."

The nonprofit program is open to all athletes on Okinawa regardless of what junior high or high school the athlete attends.

The goal is to improve the sport of basketball on island where the athletes may be rivals during the regular school season. They share the ball as team mates during the summer program. One aspect of the program is that organizers require athletes to bring a positive attitude and dedication towards developing their skills.

As a reward for giving a solid effort in practice athletes get a chance to display their new-found skills during local women's military basketball tournaments, a Japanese/American league and games against some of the top Japanese high school girl's teams on Okinawa.

Rhoades, an East St. Louis, Ill., native and third year volunteer, says the most difficult part of the program is seeing players leave the island. He added it's important for Oki-Ice players to develop each year.

One particular player, Maria Vaughn, has participated in the program the past three seasons and credits the summer program for not only helping her become a two-time girl's Far East All-Tournament selectee but also a NCAA Division III signee this year for Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

"The program does help and it's really beneficial," said Vaughn.

"It's like another season and feels like you're still continuing all year round to get better and I've improved a lot," explained Vaughn.

Oki-Ice organizers say they will continue to provide the program as long as basketball players on island want a venue to improve their game.

Rhoades explained the program is connected to the heart of the sports community on Okinawa and will be on island for a long time.

"At the end of the day these players and their parents deserve the best the community can offer from members of our community in making them better student-athletes," said Rhoades. "Through Oki-Ice we're giving them more opportunities to better themselves."

Page last updated Thu July 11th, 2013 at 00:00