WATERVILLE — Surrounded by four children, two girls and two boys, Gene Spates had each begin dribbling a basketball. His instructions were succinct and gentle.
“Eyes up,” Spates said. “Right hand, right hand.”
Spates’s basketball mentoring came in the parking lot of the Dunkin Donuts on Kennedy Memorial Drive, where the Maine Red Claws, the Portland-based NBA Developmental League team, hosted a stop on its annual Summer Clinic Series.
Spates played just one season with the Red Claws, 2010-11, but enjoys coming back to Maine, particularly when the visit gives him a chance to teach basketball.
“This is the fourth (clinic) this year,” Spates, 26, said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Thursday’s Waterville stop was the last of the week for the Red Claws. The clinics will resume Monday, July 29 at the Dunkin Donuts located at 368 Madison Ave. in Skowhegan. The Red Claws also have clinics planned for Bangor, Brewer, Westbrook, Auburn, Lisbon Falls and Saco.
Now in it’s fourth summer, the Red Claws Summer Clinic Series has made stops across the state.
“We’ve gone as far north as Presque Isle and as far south as Kittery,” Cam Twiss, the team’s director of basketball operations, said.
During the 90-minute clinic, Spates played short games of one-on-one with the children, and taught fundamentals. For young basketball players, the biggest skill to practice is ball handling, Spates said.
“At this age, their ball handling is huge. A kid who can handle the ball will always play,” Spates said.
A Dallas native, Spates played college basketball at Northeastern. After playing the 2010-11 season with the Red Claws, Spates joined the Springfield Armor for a season. Last season, Spates played professionally in Bahrain. It was a good experience, he said, despite the language barrier (Spates’s Bahraini teammates spoke Arabic).
“I was the only American on the team,” Spates said. “The culture was different. They have a king. I’d never heard of that.”
While the exposure isn’t as good as playing in the D-League, Spates said the pay is much better. He plans on playing the 2013-14 season in Qatar.
“I’m 26. I’ve done the D-League twice. I’ve played in Europe,” Spates, who also played professional basketball in Luxembourg, said. “It’s time to make some money.”
For the rest of the summer, Spates is happy to tour Maine and teach basketball with the Red Claws.
“I was a little nervous when I first started (coaching),” Spates said. “It’s fun for the kids, especially the younger players. They like meeting a Red Claws player.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242