The most popular jersey among more than 100 kids in the Mack Sports Complex on Friday at Hofstra Summer Camps was Carmelo Anthony’s No. 7, in Knicks blue and orange. But when the camp’s guest speaker, former Knicks star and current assistant general manager Allan Houston, was asked if that’s the jersey Anthony will be wearing for the upcoming season, the two-time All-Star shooting guard wouldn’t take the open shot.
“That’s not for me to speak on,” Houston said with a laugh. “That’s for the boss.”
Houston did have kind words for his new bosses, president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. “Steve and Scott have been intentional in their language about what we want to be,” said Houston, who played nine of his 12 seasons with the Knicks. “It starts with identifying what you want to be and then going out and doing it. When I was here playing, it was very exciting and we had an identity. It’s about establishing that identity again. From what I’ve seen, the players are buying into it. I think it’s the first time in a long time that’s been the case.”
Though clearly not intended as a criticism, Houston’s observation was a commentary on the tenure of the Knicks’ previous president, Phil Jackson; the direction in which Jackson wanted to take the team never seemed clear. The current regime appears committed to getting younger and more athletic. To that end, the Knicks brought back shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr., signing him to a huge free-agent contract this offseason.
Houston, himself a former big-ticket free agent with the Knicks, said of Hardaway, “I’m excited for him. People tend to forget he was 20 years old coming into this environment [as a rookie]. Everybody has to grow. Everybody has to mature. He’s developed all the way around and he’s prepared himself for this. That’s the mindset I took. You want to be valuable to your family, your community, your franchise.”
That’s in line with the message Houston delivered to a rapt audience of campers ranging from first grade to ninth grade. He did drills, he gave speeches, he demonstrated shooting mechanics and he dazzled with his still-accurate jump shot from all over the court.
“Hopefully, it’s energetic and it’s fun,” Houston said of his appearance, which was on behalf of his foundation, FISLL (Faith, Integrity, Sacrifice, Leadership, Legacy). He frequently referenced those character traits. “It’s more than basketball. It’s life,’’ he said. “Whether it’s basketball, academics, music, art, dance, math or science, there are certain fundamentals that you need to grow and get better and not be satisfied with where you are. These five fundamentals we talk about are the keys to doing that.”
The kids were attentive and enthusiastic. One, in particular, was aglow all afternoon. He was a bouncy 11-year-old redhead from Syosset named Steven Klein, the only camper who wore Houston’s Knicks No. 20 jersey. “My dad [Scott] told me about Allan Houston and we once met him when we were on vacation in Hershey Park,” Klein said. “My brother [Michael], who is 14, has a lot of jerseys. When I found out who was coming to camp, I wore this one.”
Houston concluded his visit by gathering all the campers for a group photo and delivering a final message. “Why are we here?” he shouted. “To make the next person better. You’re not here for just yourself!”
Then he led the kids in a raucous cheer that verbalized his foundation’s initials, F-I-S-L-L: “1-2-3, Fizzle!!”