New London — It was the coaching debut for Tammy Millsaps in the City of New London and it came Thursday night on the courts at Toby May Park as Millsaps helped conduct a basketball clinic in conjunction with the Kareem Brown Skills Academy.
Millsaps, the former Capital Prep girls’ basketball coach — a New London rival, the teams meeting at Mohegan Sun Arena in a memorable 2016 Class L state championship game — was hired to coach the Whalers on May 18.
And so there was Millsaps in the heart of a new city, wearing a green and gold face mask emblazoned with the words “New London Whalers.”
Almost immediately, Millsaps had the campers — boys and girls in grades 6-11 from towns all over southeastern Connecticut — doing pushups for not responding when she asked them a question. After that, they answered.
“I talked to Mr. (Phil) Orbe about having a clinic and he’s like, ‘sure,'” Millsaps said. “When you come to a new place, they know about your reputation but they don’t know you. This is a great opportunity. … I loved it. This is only the second time in seven months I’ve had a chance to coach, only the second time I’ve been in a coaching atmosphere.”
Millsaps, who won four state championships at Capital Prep while playing a national schedule, infused her energy into the three-hour clinic, which concluded Friday. No one walked on and off the court. She counted down 30 seconds for a water break.
There were some advanced skills, even for the younger players. Millsaps held them accountable. She asked for a volunteer to step up and make two straight free throws to end the session and one of the younger campers raised his hand. He stuck both.
“Kids are going to step up,” Millsaps said. “For a coach who has a high demand, they’re going to step up to your expectations. These kids need good coaching and skill-work.”
Brown, meanwhile, a 2006 New London High School graduate and The Day’s 2006 All-Area Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, is a part of New London past. He earned state championship game Most Valuable Player honors both as a sophomore and a junior as the Whalers won state titles.
He has run his Skills Academy for the better part of a decade now, helping to train local basketball players individually and in small groups and providing them showcase opportunities.
“My reason for doing this was because kids in eastern Connecticut get overlooked,” said Brown, who went on to play for Division I Coppin State. “I want to make sure every kid in eastern Connecticut gets to showcase their talent. I love it. I love working with kids.
“Growing up, I had great people in my corner who helped me stay out of trouble.”
Brown has very much enjoyed his collaboration with Millsaps, whom he has spoken to but met for the first time on Thursday.
“This is good,” Brown said. “Growing up living in New London, New London can be hard as a welcoming town. I wanted to give (Millsaps) a warm welcome. I felt that I needed to reach out first. We talk a lot. We text. We’ve got both of the same basketball mindset. Always good conversation. She’s got good knowledge of the game.
“I like that. You can tell she’s serious about business. I think the (New London) girls are going to be back to the top.”
Millsaps is teaching in the business department at New London High. She hasn’t moved to the area yet, but hopes to soon.
She is already working with New London’s girls’ basketball players off the court on developing their leadership skills.
“When you’ve been in coaching long enough, you assume that kids know how to be great leaders and they just don’t. They need to know how to step out and be leaders for the team, their character, their integrity,” Millsaps said. “It’s something new I started. I thought it was something that was much needed. You always want to try new things.”