PHOENIX — It’s a Thursday afternoon in late June and Eric Bledsoe is in the gym.
That’s no surprise. He’s always working on his game.
But on this day, Bledsoe is helping others work on their game, a group of kids.
Again, not a surprise. He’s always been quick to give back.
No, the surprise is that Bledsoe is doing all of the above here, in Phoenix.
“I love it here. Phoenix is a great place,” he said.
That is quite the departure from this time one year ago, when the Phoenix Suns point guard was nowhere to be found, at least in the Valley.
Bledsoe had gone dark last summer as his representatives discussed — ad nauseam at times — a contract extension with the Suns, a deal that wasn’t reached until five days before training camp.
That is all now in the past.
Bledsoe is happy, the Suns are happy and together they hope to forge a long-term partnership, despite the ongoing, unsubstantiated trade rumors.
Last year Bledsoe held his first-ever basketball camp in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and will do so again in August.
The decision to organize one in Phoenix was easy.
“I just thought it was a perfect time for me to get something going and start building off of it,” he said. “I’m always the type of person that loves to give back. No matter if I’m home here or somewhere else, I’m always willing to give back.
“I’m excited about this camp here.”
The three-day camp brought both boys and girls of all skill levels to Inspire Courts for not only on-court instruction and drills, but valuable nutrition and life lessons.
“Just cherish the moment,” Bledsoe said he tells the kids. “You’re here and young. You never get these days back once they’re gone. Just cherish it and soak in as much as you can. Shoot for your dream.”
It’s not unlike the advice he received when he went to camps, though Bledsoe said he started going much later in his basketball development.
“I love this game, and I want to see young people get the opportunity I never got,” he said, “and that’s learning from one of the NBA players they look up to or just a player, period, that’s in a great position.”
Each kid received a Nike T-shirt that read, “Eric Bledsoe, Basketball Never Stops”.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said, smiling. “It’s something I kind of always dreamed about, helping the younger youth getting in a better situation than what I was coming up. I definitely want to thank the parents for bringing them out.”
Bledsoe, 25, told one parent the camp would be held again next summer; and there’s no reason to doubt him considering he was true to his word when he informed the media during exit interviews that he planned to be back in the Valley early to begin preparing for 2015-16.
Early, as it turned out, was June 1, just six weeks after the season ended.
“I’m just hungry,” he said. “I’m just willing to get better, and I think I’ve been doing a great job of getting better every season. This season I think I should take the next step, and I’m looking forward to doing that; and that’s why I’m here early, showing that I can be a leader.”