CAMDEN, NJ— The energy was high in the Mastery Charter Cramer Hill Upper School, where members of the Philadelphia 76ers Dunk Squad were dancing, flipping and spinning around as music blared from DJ Ghost’s speakers. A group of students sat and cheered as the stage was set for a special, very tall guest.
Mike Muscala of the Philadelphia 76ers visited Mastery Charter Cramer Hill Upper School on Friday to put on a basketball clinic for 20 Camden girls in seventh and eighth grade.
The clinic was part of the NBA’s “Her Time to Play” initiative, a new effort to inspire girls ages 7 to 14 to learn and play basketball in a positive and healthy way, and increase opportunities for women in coaching and athletic leadership.
For Muscala, who was traded from the Atlanta Hawks to the 76ers this summer, it's the first chance he has held a clinic exclusively for girls in his five years in the NBA.
“I’m excited to be here, having fun and being positive,” the nearly 7-foot center said. “I think that’s what basketball should be all about, and that’s what I want today to be all about.”
Muscala said he hopes to instill in the girls that basketball is all about having fun and, “Just being active and using teamwork. At the end of the day, even at the NBA level, I try to remind myself to just have fun. Obviously, it's an important game at our level but ultimately having fun and playing together is what it's all about.”
Muscala was at Mastery Cramer Hill as a result of his relationship with seventh-grader Gianni Steele, who Muscala mentors through the 76ers season-long Walk in My Shoes initiative that pairs a member of the Philadelphia 76ers to a youth in the Delaware Valley.
“I met Gianni a couple of weeks ago, she’s a great basketball fan and player herself, a really smart kid. I love her energy,” Muscala said.
Steele was sponsored by the 76ers last year when she earned a spot in the national NBA Math Hoops competition, a board game that teaches students math skills through the vehicle of basketball, said Mastery Cramer Hill Principal Jessie Gismondi. This fall, the Sixers made sure to include Steele in the mentorship program.
“They’re really fabulous partners, especially because if their new facility in Camden, they’ve been really mindful of not just philly but the kids in Camden too,” Gismondi said.
Steele said Friday that Muscala is really nice.
“It’s kind of cool that I get that experience,” Steele said, who plays small forward on her basketball team. “If I need help, I know that I have somebody, a partner for me, somebody to lean back on. If i have questions or something, I have a partner, and he could even be a friend.”
After getting put through passing and dribbling drills, the 20 girls — 10 from Mastery Cramer Hill and 10 from H.B. Wilson Elementary School — we’re surprised with 76ers gear and tickets to their game on Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks, and Steele was surprised with courtside seats.