When then Southern Miss Interim, now full time, Athletics Director Jeff Hammond first called his name to the podium last April, Donnie Tyndall said he didn't only want to produce a champion on the court, but off the court. He said he wanted his team to be a positive influence in the community.
Tyndall's team had its first chance to do that this week. Monday marked the start of the annual Southern Miss Individual Day Camp. Of course, the camp is nothing new to Reed Green Coliseum, but it's the first featuring Tyndall as the head man in Hattiesburg.
Tyndall expected around 40 or 50 participants to show up. Instead, he saw 80 campers, ages five to 18 and from all skill levels show up. "I think it speaks volumes for the community of Hattiesburg and the surrounding areas," he said, "It was really awesome to meet some people in the community that are Southern Miss fans, that come to a lot of games and want to support us, and also to meet some young people."
It particularly amped up Jonathan Mills, who volunteered along with teammate Neil Watson and former teammate Tory Pelham, to see the turnout. "I really didn't know how many kids were going to be here, but when I walked in the gym, it was like overwhelming when I saw a lot of kids," said the rising senior forward.
Coach Tyndall expressed his desire to run a transparent program; one that's open for the public to see and interact with. Mills says his team is not only doing it because their coach wants them to; they want to. "By me and my teammates giving back to the community, it brings joy to us," said Mills.
"The camp's been tremendous. They bring a lot of energy to the gym, they bring a lot of energy to themselves."
Tyndall says he enjoyed the camp before it ever officially started. "Spending about an hour and a half in line the other day during registration, getting to meet some new folks, shake hands, meet and greet, I enjoy doing that," he said.
If his word means anything, seeing his team volunteer their time for the camp is a good start. And it's something he hopes will last more than the span of a four-day camp.
"I think it's great anytime our players have to get in a situation where they need to demonstrate, teach, speak publicly, it's great for them experience-wise, and it's also really good for the young people to hear their message and what they have to say," said Tyndall.
Says Mills, "We just want to make this a community team, and that's what we're going to continue to do."