As David Fields helped lead a group of nearly 150 campers at the Circle V Ranch Camp in the Valley onto a grass field to stretch next to their new basketball court, the executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul kept getting familiar questions from the kids.


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Fields, who was dressed in warm-up pants along with a Los Angeles Lakers button-up shirt and Lakers cap, was partly to blame for the inquiries.

“Some of the kids were asking, ‘Did you play for the Lakers?’” he said with a laugh.

While he didn’t, the children wouldn’t have to wait long to meet some players who did suit up in the legendary purple and gold.

Former Lakers players Cedric Ceballos, Duane Cooper and Don Ford joined former Lakers assistant coach and current scout Bill Bertka at the expansive ranch on June 30 to help inaugurate the camp’s new basketball court. The multi-purpose court – which replaces what used to be a dirt playing surface – was donated by Watson Land Company, whose owner, Bob Huston, is a board member with St. Vincent de Paul. The court and surrounding grass area were dubbed the William T. Huston Sports Field in honor of Bob Huston’s father.

“This really enhances the park and makes for a really rewarding experience for the kids,” Fields said of the court.

Joining the Lakers players at the Saturday ceremony was ESPN reporter and La Reina High girls basketball coach Steve Delsohn, who brought along several of his team’s players. The La Reina athletes joined with the former NBA players to play a friendly game on the new court against a team of camp staff members and counselors while the large group of campers watched. Earlier in the day, the campers participated in shooting drills led by Delsohn and the La Reina players.

While Delsohn, who officiated the game, said it was a great experience for his players to compete with former NBA athletes, he said the most rewarding aspect was the effect the new court will have on the game’s spectators.

“The best part is they’ve got a really great basketball court now and they’re excited about using it,” he said of the campers. “Now they can go out there and play on a court where NBA guys were playing.” Prior to the game, each of the invited guests spoke to the group of campers, who were members of the camp’s first summer session. Cooper and Ford stressed to the children, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, the importance of broadening their horizons.

“Traveling opens up a whole new world,” Cooper said, relaying some of his own experiences while playing overseas following his two seasons in the NBA. “When you travel, go with an open mind and an open heart. Learn some of the culture there; don’t go over there and eat McDonald’s. You’ll learn a whole lot about yourself and other places.”

Ceballos, who played for five teams in the NBA from 1991-2001 and still plays in the American Basketball Association, encouraged the campers to stay active and highlighted the long-term benefits of participating in sports.

“Sports helps us get along, even though we’re from different backgrounds, and it helps us play together and put ourselves in a position to do one thing: win a championship,” said Ceballos, who came from his home in Phoenix to attend the ceremony. “After you’re done playing, when corporations look at that teamwork, they have no problem bringing you in and saying ‘Hey, this person is going to help my team out.’”

Bertka, who, like Ford, lives in Santa Barbara, drew some “ahhhs” from the crowd when a camper asked how many championships he had won over his NBA career that has spanned six decades. He answered by holding up all of his fingers: 10. One of those fingers held a championship ring commemorating the Lakers’ 2000 title.

Bertka, who noted that it was a camp like the one at the Circle V Ranch that helped start his own life in basketball, said he was proud to be able to take part in such an event.

“There isn’t a better investment in the world than influencing the lives of young people who are in a formative stage of life,” said the 85-year-old, who is still scouting for the Lakers. “That’s the best use of time and money that anyone can make. It’s better to spend time and money now trying to create proper habits, than spending money later on in life breaking bad habits.”

The basketball court was just the latest in a makeover for the camp’s athletic facilities. The field that the court sits on was converted from dirt to grass just two years ago and is now used for soccer, football, baseball, dodgeball and other competitions.

“By the time we get to the seventh session, this will probably be all worn down,” Fields said of the turf, only partly kidding. “Ray Lopez (the camp’s director) will spend the whole offseason getting the grass back.” Fields said that the board may look to add a basketball-only camp to the facility’s lineup of services. If that were to happen, or if the camp decided to stage similar one-day events in the future, many of those involved on June 30 said they wouldn’t hesitate to help out.

“Basketball is close to our hearts and it’s been good to us as individuals,” said Ford, who played in the NBA from 1975-82 for the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. “So when we’re asked to do things, most players are happy to get involved.”

Added Delsohn: “I would do it for sure. Sign me up.”

willis@syvjournal.com