TAMPA — Dozens of children bounced from foot to foot on a glossy basketball court.
"Shuffle left, shuffle right," an official shouted. Two-year-old Simone Carpenter followed along.
She's half the height of the other kids, but she knows the defensive drills. She's heard them since she was 6 months old.
"It's in her blood," her dad, Jonathan Carpenter, said.
Simone joined dozens of other children Saturday at the NCAA's Hoop City at the Tampa Convention Center. They shot baskets, gave mock halftime reports and played 3-on-3 tournaments.
Simone learned the moves from her mom, who was a member of Hampton University's basketball team when it won the 1988 NCAA Division II championship. Jacqie Carpenter now works as a director for Division I women's basketball for the NCAA.
"Those two are going to be having quite the duel in the driveway one day," Jonathan Carpenter said.
Down the street from the Convention Center, girl power reigned as members of the women's Final Four teams gave autographs and practiced in front of hundreds of fans. But inside Hoop City, the focus was on the next generation of stars.
Cheryl Baird brought her two daughters to the past three Final Fours. This year, they traveled from Illinois, even though they don't have tickets.
Baird wants tickets, but that's not why they came. She brings Nikki Baird, 7, and Chrissy Baird, 12, because it's a positive environment for girls.
"It builds self-esteem," she said. "And that transfers to different fields."
But to Nikki, the reason she plays basketball is simple.
"It's fun," she said. "You get to run around."
Inside an exhibit, kids lined up to try to make five shots in baskets of increasing heights. Those who made all the shots in 30 seconds entered their names for a chance to win two tickets to Monday's championship game.
Sara Uribe, 11, whizzed through all the shots with time to spare. She's played basketball for a year, and she's happy to say that she's already better than some of her male opponents.
"Girls can be just as good if they try," she said.
She shoots hoops at the local YMCA every day, her mom, Tana Clark, said. And she plans to give up dance and tae kwon do lessons next year to focus on basketball and try out for the team at Tampa's Coleman Middle School.
"I just like it because it's a lot of running up and down the court," Sara said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.