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Pine River-Backus graduate Joe Bueckers, front, sits with participants at his basketball camp on Thursday, June 26, in PR-B. Photo by Pete Mohs

Pete's Point: Bueckers gives back to PR-B

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Joe Bueckers is giving back to his former community.

The 32-year-old Bueckers was a three-sport athlete before graduating from Pine River-Backus High School in 2000. His most accomplished sport was boys' basketball where he played guard and helped the Tigers reach the section final four straight years.

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One thing Bueckers observed while at PR-B school was a need in the community for a summer youth basketball camp. Although he moved away after high school, Bueckers often thought about the need for a summer camp in his hometown.

Four years ago, Bueckers returned to PR-B with a week-long TNT Basketball Camp, with separate morning and afternoon sessions for boys' and girls' that focused on developing skills for students in grades 8-12. This summer's camp took place June 23-27.

"When I was in junior high we had a couple coaches who put on a camp for us, but it wasn't every year," Bueckers recalled. "I always thought about the camp, and that it would be nice for an alumni to come back and start it. And then four years ago, my nephew, Konrad Buckers, was coming up so I thought the timing was right with a family member playing."

Bueckers organized the camp, along with a friend Johnnie Gilbert, a Minneapolis native and Patrick Henry High School graduate who played college basketball for the Oklahoma Sooners as a 6-foot-8 forward from 2000-2002. Bueckers and Gilbert actually became friends back in high school when they participated together at a summer camps in the Twin Cities.

"I take the guards and Johnnie takes the forwards, and the kids compete against each other in one of our drills," Bueckers explained. "It builds up competition, and makes the camp a more fun experience."

Bueckers adds that his camp's main goal is "get the kids out of their comfort zone" to improve their skills.

"We teach them to work hard, push each other and be good teammates," he said. "We had 16 boys and 15 girls participate this year. I did open it up to the area, and emailed coaches. We did get some players from Pillager, but we're hoping to build the camp in the future."

Randy Schwegel, PR-B activities director and Buecker's former assistant basketball coach, said the TNT camp is especially beneficial for area players.

"You will get more area kids to participate any time you can bring a camp in-house," Schwegel said. "It's neat to bring back a (PR-B) graduate, and have a camp where kids don't need to travel and can sleep in their own beds at night. So we're happy to host it here."

Schwegel added that he's "not surprised" that Bueckers is leading instruction at a basketball camp.

"Joe has always understood the game," Schwegel said. "His camp in pretty inexpensive, and he does a nice job by giving the kids a different look at some of the same things that we're trying to incorporate with our program. We use a lot of his drills that he has picked up over the years."

After graduation from PR-B, Bueckers played basketball at North Dakota State College of Science and then Concordia College. He then was a strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves for two years before traveling overseas working with a team in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2011. Bueckers returned to work with strength and conditioning at the University of Minnesota, and then Irondale High School in 2012.

"I run the strength and conditioning program at Irondale," he said. "I also run a summer lifting session at the school, and help coach a 15-under boys' AAU basketball team. I'm thinking about expanding my summer camps to the Twin Cities next year.

"I've learned things, like different basketball drills, from my experience with the Wolves, U of M and in China," he said. "I now have the opportunity to pass things that I've learned to others."

One of Buecker's learning experiences came while playing for former PR-B head coach Bob Nelson.

"I was moved up to varsity half way through my freshman year, so I played in four section finals with a chance to make it to state," he recalled. "We lost all four finals, and we also lost a section football final when I was playing. We didn't make it to state, but we had some pretty good teams. I'm pretty competitive, and I understand commitment. I teach the kids that if you want to get better, you need to make the sacrifices."

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