Former Edward Little and University of Maine star Troy Barnies drives to the hoop while playing for BK Liepaja in the Latvian Basketball League last season. Barnies will be hosting the fifth annual Troy Barnies Summer Slam Basketball Clinic at the Union Street basketball courts, also known as The Gully, on Saturday. Submitted photo

The basketball courts at Union Street Park in Auburn, aka The Gully, are where Troy Barnies learned to love the game of basketball and honed the skills and work ethic to become a star at Edward Little High School and the University of Maine.

Given what the game and the setting mean to him, there was no way Barnies was going to let the coronavirus prevent him from passing on his passion and knowledge for basketball to local youth for a fifth year a row.

On Saturday, less than a week before he departs for Lithuania and his ninth season of professional basketball overseas, Barnies will host the fifth annual Troy Barnies Summer Slam Basketball Clinic.

The pandemic and state restrictions have forced a number of changes to this year’s clinic, the most notable being participants are required to register before Saturday so organizers can stay within those restrictions and hold a safe clinic.

Barnies, who had to leave his team in Russia before its season ended due to the pandemic, wasn’t sure the clinic was going to get off the ground for its fifth year. The event is usually held in conjunction with Auburn’s Summerfest weekend, but most of those festivities had to be canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Basketball is still being played around the state, as Barnies has seen for himself, having coached AAU and Edward Little summer league teams. So after teaming up with his friend, former Portland High School star Colby Emmons, Emmons’ company, TRU SPORTS, and the Auburn Recreation Department, keeping the clinic going for another year became a slam dunk.

“The logistics came together and we just thought, ‘Why not?'” Barnies said.

The free clinic is for boys and girls entering grades 3-8. It runs from noon to 2 p.m.

The clinic is limited to 40 spots. Those unable to secure a spot or who do not feel comfortable participating due to COVID-19 can still register to receive a free “swag” care package, which will be handed out in a drive-thru at The Gully before the clinic, from 10 a.m. to noon.

“If we surpass the number for the clinic, we’ll have to turn them down, but that’s why we have those care packages for the kids,” Barnies said.

Over its first four years, the clinic has sort of served as a final hometown hurrah of the summer for Barnies before he heads overseas to play professionally. It will be that way again this year, as he will leave for Lithuania on Aug. 7 to play for BC Lietkabelis, with whom he signed earlier this summer. The club is part of the the top league in Lithuania, the LKL, and participates in the EuroCup, the second-best basketball league in Europe.

“It’s a really good job that I couldn’t pass up,” said Barnies, a 6-foot-7 forward who split time with teams in Latvia and Russia last season, his first back after sitting out a year due to knee surgery. “This team plays at a very high level and is very prestigious in Europe. It’s probably the best team in Lithuania, and they’ve been playing in EuroCup for a while now. It’s the best team I’ve ever been on. I’m so pumped to get back to that level.”

Barnies was relieved to learn he could attend the clinic before he has to leave for Lithuania. He’ll be tested for the coronavirus when he arrives, and, if he passes, get settled into his team-provided apartment and start the preseason Aug. 10.

As important as it was to keep the clinic going, Barnies wanted to make sure it could be done safely. While holding it outside was a given anyway, organizers will still try to provide as sanitary of an environment as possible and keep participants as socially distant as possible. Kids will be kept in small groups and stay at one part of the court rather than rotating stations. Staff members serving as coaches will be wearing masks.

“The best part about this is I get to do it right before I leave for Lithuania,” he said. “I’ve been lucky because every year it’s turned out that I’ve been able to do it right before I head out to play, and it always gets me pumped up.”

Those wishing to take part can register at www.auburnrecreation.com or phone 207-333-6611.

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