If it sometimes appears Cal forward Harper Kamp can see a play or two ahead on the basketball court, consider that as a young, nationally ranked chess player he often would play out 15 moves in his head before maneuvering one of his pieces on the board.
Could the two be related?
“Absolutely,” said Kamp, who leads Cal (10-9, 3-4 Pac-10) against Oregon State (8-10, 3-4) on Thursday night at Haas Pavilion. “If I’m watching film or thinking about a play, it’s easy for me to place myself in the situation and go through it in my head. It puts me a step ahead.”
Cal coach Mike Montgomery says Kamp, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound junior, is such a smart player that sometimes he’s tempted to tell his younger players, “Just watch what Harper does.”
OSU coach Craig Robinson raves about Kamp’s strength and skill, but adds “To top it all off “… he’s got a high basketball IQ.”
It’s not by accident. Although Kamp clearly is a naturally bright guy, his parents researched the benefits of chess on brain development in young children when Harper was a preschooler.
By age 5, Kamp had been taught the game by his grandfather, Steven Kamp. That same year, Harper won a kindergarten speed-chess tournament in Knoxville, Tenn.
He placed third in the K-3 division as a third-grader at a national tournament in Peoria, Ill., and won individual and team titles as a sixth-grader at the Arizona state championships.
His parents hired a Russian chess
instructor named Igor Ivanov, and Kamp and his teammates, including cousins, traveled the country to find tournaments. Harper has played chess on the beaches of Santa Monica and in New York’s Central Park.
Kamp’s passion eventually shifted to basketball, but Lane Kamp believes chess helped wire his son’s brain in a way that has benefited him in all he does.
“His reaction time and being able to see the floor and having a high IQ in basketball, we attribute that to his chess,” his dad said. “It teaches you to anticipate and calculate very quickly and react.”
Kamp said chess taught him focus, discipline, preparation and patience.
“I played many six-hour games in my career,” he said. “Maybe it’s why I enjoyed basketball more in the end.”
For Kamp, there was one other significant link between the two games. Because he played on a school chess team, Kamp enjoyed the same sense of camaraderie he found in basketball.
Before helping Mountain View High of Mesa, Ariz., win three state basketball titles, he was part of multiple age-group championship teams in chess.
“I loved doing it,” Kamp said. “The funniest part of it was me and my cousins doing it together, all the traveling. It was a big part of my life. It’s pretty much all we did. There’s loads of memories.”
Kamp said he rarely plays chess these days because basketball consumes his time. After sitting out last season because of a second knee surgery, Kamp leads the Bears in scoring at 14.4 points per game.
He is averaging 19.5 points over the past four games, but his value also is found in his toughness and defense, and in the ability to play traffic cop with his young teammates and see the big picture.
In Los Angeles last weekend, the Bears played stretches of both games in a zone defense with a taller lineup. That required Kamp to shift to small forward at times, and Montgomery said he handled the move with ease.
Knee problems masked Kamp’s physical potential the past two years, but not his aptitude for the game.
“You knew he was smart based on how he handled himself (in 2008-09) on half a knee,” Montgomery said. “When he got healthy this year you could see all the things he could do. And he’s getting better.”